Placement of siblings

Key findings

Practice points

What we know from research

For many foster children, the relationship with their brothers and sisters is what they value most about their family and contact is very important (7), (13-15). One 15-year-old said (2):

'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:

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).