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The Importance of Maintaining Sibling Relationships in Foster Care

When we think of foster care, we can be forgiven for considering one child or young person benefiting from the safe and secure home of a foster family. But for a significant percentage of children and young people in the foster care system, they are not only children. They are part of small and large sibling groups. Siblings for whom staying together represents their own security, their own home, their own safety. But who often face separation, whether temporarily or not, from their brothers and sisters when there is shortage of foster carers. Every effort should be made to maintain these sibling relationships both for the interests of the children, but also in the interests of foster families and our society overall.

Why Sibling Relationships are so Important

Life Long Relationships

Sibling relationships are for most of us, the longest held relationships of our lives. Out-living friendships, partnerships, marriages and even our relationships to birth parents. Siblings are some of the most fundamental relationships we have in our lives, they represent a long term sense of who we are and where we come from. Finding ways to continue these relationships is crucial. In particular as children and young people undergo some of the most emotionally challenging years of their lives, retaining sibling security is hugely important.


Children and young people in the care and foster care system often experience anxiety and trauma. They may have been subject to abuse or neglect within their birth homes, they may suffer guilt at not being able to help ‘fix’ their home lives and for many, they experience a loss of identity that comes with leaving their birth families. If these children/young people are able to remain at least with their siblings, some of those problems can be minimally eased. Having someone with you who has shared your life experiences and understands what you have been through in a way that no one else can, is invaluable.

Getting to know foster carers and foster families can be far less daunting when done with your brother or sister at your side. And it has been suggested that staying with siblings has allowed children and young people the confidence to be more open in forming positive relationships in their foster homes.

Studies around the world have shown a number of positive impacts on the wellbeing of cared for children when siblings are placed together. From improvements of behaviour towards peers to experiencing fewer emotional and behavioural problems, performing better in school and encouraging protective behaviour towards one another. The results are unquestionably positive.


It has also been found that keeping children and young people together with their siblings has a positive impact on the stability and permanency of any placement. Higher rates of reunification with birth families, adoption and guardianship have been reported with children and young people who have stayed with their sibling groups versus those who have been separated[1].

The Challenges Facing Sibling Groups in Foster Care

There are reasons why keeping sibling groups together is difficult. In many cases, sibling groups are large and foster carers do not have the space, time, and ability to offer a home to all of them. There can, for example, be between 2 and 9 children in a sibling group. Practically, placements seeks to keep 2 or 3 siblings together at once since placing any larger number is often prohibitive.

These sibling groups are also spread in age and this broad range of needs presents another challenge for foster carers who might also have birth children in the home and may feel it is too difficult to meet the needs of several children all at very different stages.

In many instances, children and young people enter the care system at different times based on their birth parent/s’ circumstances. This can mean that one child is already placed in foster care before the others are even in the system. Or it could be that siblings are in different types of care: kinship or non-kinship foster care, or adoption. In these circumstances, everything possible must be done to enable meetings between siblings and to encourage ongoing family time since the longer that children are in the care system separated from their siblings, the more likely they are to lose track of their brothers and sisters.

Types of Foster Care

Potential foster carers may feel that taking on a group of siblings is impossible for them in the long term. It is worth bearing in mind however, that foster care takes many shapes. Whether a short term or emergency placement, a long term or kinship arrangement, there are many ways in which our foster carers can provide much needed help and security to children and young people in need. Offering a safe and loving home even for a temporary period of time can make all the difference to a group of siblings.

Find out more about the different types of foster care available

It is well recognised that maintaining sibling relationships is hugely positive for children and young people in foster care and with benefits felt for the individuals themselves as well as for foster families, schools, and the greater community, it truly is something that should be encouraged.

[1] Jones 2016, Akin 2011

Get in touch with us to enquire about becoming a foster carer.