Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption

Category: Culture
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Historically, social workers have advocated against the concept of sibling separation for sibling groups that have been placed in the United States Foster Care System. Presently, the separation of siblings remains prevalent in the U.S. Forster Care System, with as many as 60 to 73 percent of foster children being placed apart from their siblings (Nelson, 2014; Kernan, n.d.; Whelan, 2003). The splitting of siblings has continued, and this has raised concerns about how separated siblings have the potential to develop psychological detriments. In Richard Blanco’s Looking for the Gulf Motel, a boy reminisces on his nostalgic memories with his father, and reveals his feelings of anger, pain, and grief toward this change, which, as a study performed by Sonya J. Leathers shows, separated siblings experience when they forcefully part ways (Blanco, 2012; Kernan, n.d.). In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.

This act mandated that efforts would be made to place sibling groups removed from their homes in the same foster care, guardianship, or adoptive emplacements, unless the State documents that this placement would be inhibiting the safety or health of the siblings (White and Jernstrom, 2014). But the promise that the Fostering Connects Act makes does not translate into an opportunity for thousands of siblings because of numerous legal obstacles that are limiting its effectiveness. Although separated siblings try their best to cope with these changes, it is imperative to recognize the current position of siblings that are being separated and how the U.S. Foster Care System needs to manage this issue. The evaluation of this topic brings up the question: Should sibling separation in the U.S. Foster Care System be illegal? Altogether, an analysis through the legal and psychosocial developmental angles shows that sibling separation does merit regulation by the U.S. government, and should be made illegal. These governmental regulations will assist sibling groups in foster care through minimizing the health detriments (largely caused by the traumatic change of parting from a sibling) and in maximizing their security and well-being.

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From a legal standpoint, although U.S. courts have not interpreted the U.S. Constitution as recognizing the rights that siblings have in foster care, the legislation and interests regarding this issue have increased at state levels (Shlonsky et al., 2005). The main issue is that the extent in which these state policies address sibling placement vary significantly, and range from advanced laws that attempt to ensure that siblings are placed together, to policies that simply recommend siblings be placed together when it is in the child’s best interest.

The National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice and Permanency Planning conducted a review of all 50 states on their policies on siblings in foster care; their review found that approximately 50% of these states currently have a policy in place that addresses the needs of sibling’s in foster care (McCormick, 2010). While state policies seem to be improving, there is still an absence of federal policies that advocate for the relationship rights of sibling groups in foster care. An example of this is the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), which expresses expedited permanency planning, the termination of parental rights, and the adoption over family reunification and placement with other existing relatives (Lacara, 2016). Professionals, like Amy Pellman , argue that the ASFA’s preferences are antagonistic of a sibling’s rights to association because this Act’s policies unreasonably splits bonded siblings (Phillips, 1997; McCormick, 2010). Moreover, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 was the first Act of federal legislation to specifically address the problem of keeping sibling groups together, showing that the U.S. has taken small action towards this growing issue. Although this Act contributes to the regulation of sibling separation in the Foster Care System, it does not mandate it as illegal, which needs to be done in order to prevent bonded siblings from being separated throughout their lifetimes.

Furthermore, the U.S. government has not made sibling separation illegal in the U.S. because of certain barriers in maintaining sibling relationships. Consequently, caseworkers do not have to justify sibling separations, they only consider a child’s parents and adult relatives, and exclude a child’s siblings in placement deliberations (McCormick, 2010). Moreover, child welfare worker’s express circumspection when it comes to separating siblings or keeping them together (Ryan, 2002). For these reasons, it is critical that professionals advocate for the rights of siblings to be raised to the constitutional level, in hopes that states will actually carry out what they believe. Research shows that the larger a sibling group is, the less likely they will be placed together, leading to another barrier to maintaining siblings intact (Hegar, 2005; Gibbs & Wildfire, 2007)). This counter perspective on making sibling separation illegal shows that since there is a limited number of foster families that have the resources to manage large sibling groups, there are few incentives for foster families to take in siblings. After considering this counterargument, it is evident that more needs to be done to provide the necessary resources for foster families in the U.S. Foster Care System to care for sibling groups in order to keep together.

The U.S. government cites reasonable cases where the separation of siblings is ‘necessary,’ making this is an important factor in determining when the separation of siblings is appropriate. Furthermore, analyzing the psychosocial developmental effects that separation has on siblings further contributes to why sibling separation should be illegal.

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Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption. (2021, Jul 05). Retrieved from