Placement of siblings
- Placing siblings together is not straightforward and there are many factors to take into account. In practice social workers try to keep siblings together but, for many different reasons, it is not always possible.
- For children, contact with siblings is often very important and represents what they value most in family life.
- There is insufficient evidence to suggest that placing siblings together always produces better outcomes for children, but overall it does not appear to produce any worse outcomes.
- There are complex issues when considering placing a child apart from their siblings when they have been rejected, neglected or abused at home.
- Remember that if possible siblings should be placed together, especially if this is what they want, but also ask yourself if you have balanced this with using your professional judgement and 'fine tuning’ for individual children’s needs.
- If you cannot place siblings together ask what this means for them and do all that you can to facilitate the contact they want.
- Remember there are complex decisions to be made about placing children apart from their siblings when they have been rejected, neglected or abused at home.
'I’ve got two (siblings) that are adopted and the only time I get to see them is right between Christmas and New Year … I helped my mum bring my little sister up and my two brothers … I had that bond … and now I get to see them for two hours every year. I don’t know what’s harder. I mean having somebody there and never seeing them, or somebody being dead … When you know they’re still out there it pisses you off so much.’
Placing siblings together in the same foster family is not always straightforward. Brothers and sisters may have various relationships. Some get on well together and want to be together, others do not and there may be jealous tendencies. Children from sibling groups can present a wide range of needs, which some foster families find hard to meet. Furthermore, there is generally a shortage of foster carers able to take sibling groups.
Research does not provide consistent evidence that placing siblings together improves outcomes on average (50), (56), (76-78). One study (79) found that children placed alone had poorer outcomes than those placed with their siblings, but this could be explained because they had more needs than the siblings who remained at home.
However, another study found successful outcomes in the cases of emotionally close siblings who were placed together (80).
Research has indicated some clear-cut results that suggest that:
- children placed away from their siblings are more likely to have experienced rejection at home, (for example, neglect and abuse)
- children who have siblings remaining at home are more likely to have a disrupted placement than those who do not
- children who have been rejected and placed apart from their siblings are less likely to have stable placements than if they had been placed with them
- relationships between siblings can have both a positive and negative effect on their placements (3).
In practice, social workers try to keep siblings together but it is not always possible. There is also a need to make judgements in individual circumstances, for example one study argues against placing children from sexually abusive families together (77).