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5.1.7 Policy on the Placement of Siblings

This chapter was added to the manual in February 2015.


Contents

  1. Policy Principles
  2. Research
  3. Definition of Siblings
  4. Assessing Children in Sibling Groups
  5. Indicators for Separation
  6. If Split, Who Should be Placed Together
  7. Contact
  8. Siblings of Children Adopted, Born Subsequently or Looked After
  9. Siblings Born to Children in Foster Care

    Appendices


1. Policy Principles

The relationship that brothers and sisters have can be the relationship of the longest duration in a person’s life and the benefits of those relationships are well known. For children coming into care, a placement with a brother or sister can ensure that family identity is preserved and that some sense of security and normality is maintained. Losses incurred when children come into care or are adopted are significant and remaining with siblings can mitigate against the effect of those losses.

Nationally, around 50% of children awaiting adoption placement are part of a sibling group.

The adoption register reported in 2013 that whilst 49% of children referred were part of a sibling group, 62% of adopters only wanted to consider the placement of 1 child. There is an obvious miss match there which means that it takes longer for sibling groups to be placed for adoption than for single children.

Locally we know that of the 125 children who came into care in 2013/14, 67 of them were part of a total of 23 sibling groups.

It is essential therefore that the cohort of foster carers and adopters approved is sufficient to meet this need and that every effort is made to place siblings together when this is their assessed need. Whilst being with a sibling has many benefits, it is also acknowledged that some children who have had particularly difficult family experiences may have significant individual needs that mean that they cannot be placed with a sibling. In order for children to develop psychosocially it is essential that they have the opportunity to form a stable secure relationship with a safe and trusted adult. Where the sibling relationship dynamics, or the individual needs of one child are such that any child is prevented from having the opportunity to form a stable relationship with an adult then it is necessary to consider separating the sibling group.

In such cases this should be identified through assessment prior to admission into care or whilst in care and prior to permanent placement. It may be necessary at times to seek the opinion of a psychologist to advise on such matters so that any decisions made are based on a thorough exploration of that sibling relationship and as such the reason for that decision can be explained to the children as required.


2. Research

80% of children who are looked after have siblings but only a third are living with one or more siblings. This reflects the often variable circumstances in which children come into care rather than thorough planning.

Research shows that sibling placements can be more positive and may be more stable than the placements of children on their own. Some studies indicate that sibling placements have better outcomes than singleton placements where children are separated from their siblings, although in some cases children may have been placed alone because of particularly complex needs or difficult behaviour.

Sibling relationships may be of particular value to children who have suffered adversity and who have been separated from their parents. They may provide some protection from the difficulties children often experience moving into a new family.

There is also some evidence that siblings placed separately may not develop "family" taboos and can sometimes, when meeting first as adults, feel attracted to each other and form sexual attachments.


3. Definition of Siblings

The department uses the following definition of siblings:

  • Children who share at least one birth parents; and/or
  • Children who live or have lived for a significant period with other children in a family group.

Many children looked after have complex family structures with step siblings and half siblings, living with them or elsewhere. It is vital to establish who the siblings are. The first question to ask is "who are the child's significant siblings?" At this stage do not discount anyone, carefully record sibling relationships, where the siblings live and what kind of contact there has been. This should include step siblings, adult siblings, and paternal siblings, which are more likely to have been lost.

Talk to and listen to the child and allow children to say who they think their brothers and sisters are. Those who adults think of as the children's siblings, because of genetic or family connections, may not all be equally important to children. Identifying who the child thinks of as their siblings, as well as the views of their parents and carers are an important part of assessment and decision making.

Different cultures may see "sibling" relatedness in different ways. This should be checked out with members of the relevant cultural groups.


4. Assessing Children in Sibling Groups

It is important to undertake a full assessment of each child in a sibling group to inform any decision whether siblings are placed in a foster placement or an adoptive family together or separately. Even if it seems clear that the siblings should remain together, a full assessment will provide essential information for a new family and will enable this agency to anticipate the extra support that may be necessary.

The child's own wishes and feelings must be taken into account as well as the assessed quality of attachment between siblings and each child's assessed needs.

Key people who know the children should contribute to the assessment. Birth parents should be included if they are able to participate in constructive planning. Staff who are included in contact sessions, or therapists could also be included.

Foster carers have a role in the assessment of the children in their care. It should however be made clear to foster carers that, until a definite decision based on thorough assessment has been made to split siblings, they remain together. Siblings should not be split simply because an individual foster family cannot manage the care of one of them or wants to permanently keep one or more but not all of the children.

If siblings are currently placed separately efforts should be made to reunite them in the same foster home. If this is not possible or appropriate, it is essential that siblings have opportunities to come together regularly. Arrangements for this should reflect the primary aim of giving the children a chance to build a sense of themselves as a family group. It is important for those assessing their relationship that other children are not present.

When planning and assessing for a sibling group, it is important to remember that each child is an individual and must have a full assessment in their own right, which accurately reflects their needs. The assessment of their relationship with, and bond to, their siblings is one component of this. To plan an assessment:

The assessment should start prior to the child coming into care if possible or as soon as a child becomes looked after and when permanence planning begins.

A child's quality of attachment to their birth parents, other carers and foster carers should also be considered as part of the assessment.

It is important that each child in a sibling group has the opportunity for some individual work to reflect on their home experiences, reasons why they came into care & what they wish for their future. This includes exploring how much they identify with their siblings, with whom they would like to live & with whom they would like more or less contact.

It is important, even in large sibling groups, to assess each child's relationship with every other child in the group. This assessment should be based on a detailed observation of how the children behave with each other. (Tools used for this purpose might include using the checklist for sibling attachment attached (see Appendix 2: Assessing Sibling Checklist), considering the work of Lord, J and Borthwick, S published in ‘Together or apart: Assessing brothers and sisters for permanent family placement.’ London BAAF 2001 and a paper by Ryan, 2002 regarding Assessing sibling attachment (see Appendix 3: Assessing Sibling Attachment in the Face of Placement Issues).

Researchers have also highlighted 4 key factors which are help in assessing sibling relationships. They are:

  • The degree of warmth or affection between siblings;
  • The degree of conflict;
  • The amount of rivalry;
  • The extent that one sibling nurtures or dominates the other.

Having assessed the relationship of each pair of siblings it is also important, with large sibling groups, to analyse how the whole groups functions. There may be particular dynamics that need considering:

  • Is one child excluded or scapegoated by the others?
  • Is an older child excessively controlling of younger siblings?
  • Do boys or girls have very different behaviours or roles?

Does one child appear to "act out" on behalf on the others? It should be borne in mind that if one child is separated from the group, another child may take on their role & become, for example, the one to act out.

The decision to permanently separate siblings who have lived or are currently living together should be treated with utmost seriousness and every effort must be made to address difficulties in the relationship before a final decision is taken. Time limited work should be undertaken to see if it is possible to place together e.g. direct work with a particularly needy child or group work.

The size of the sibling group must not be the reason for separation in itself; however nor should children wait too long for families. If, within 6 months of the Agency's decision to place for adoption and a Placement Order a family has not been identified, this should be looked at by the Independent Reviewing Officer at each child's review with the adoption home finder present, or giving a report, on the likelihood of finding a family.

All information and the assessment of the relationship of the child to their siblings must be recorded on the Child's Placement Report, (C.P.R.) if the child’s plan is adoption or long term fostering. Placement of siblings and contact arrangements should be considered by the ADM when deciding whether a child should be placed for adoption.


5. Indicators for Separation

Occasionally, if children are placed together, it may be impossible to help them recover from dysfunctional and destructive patterns of interaction from their birth family. Significant behaviours that may indicate separation are:

  • Intense rivalry and jealousy with each child totally preoccupied with and unable to tolerate the attention which their siblings may be getting;
  • Exploitation, often based on gender. For example boys may see themselves as inherently superior to their sisters with a right to dominate and exploit them;
  • Chronic scapegoating of one child;
  • Maintenance of unhelpful alliances and birth family conflicts in the group;
  • Maintenance of unhelpful hierarchical positions from the family e.g. a child stuck in the role of victim or bully;
  • Sexualised behaviour with each other.

Other factors can also be:

  • Considerable age difference between siblings resulting in differing needs e.g. an older child may be in permanent foster care & not able to invest emotionally in a new family;
  • A child may have significant attachment to their carer & it is too damaging to disrupt this in order to unite the child with other siblings. This should not apply to a very young child but to children who have developed attachments over several years.

Where separation is problematic social workers should seek advice from fostering managers or adoption panel advisor before finalising the decision to split.


6. If Split, Who Should be Placed Together

This decision should not be purely based on who is together at a given point in time. Children may be separated for all manner of reasons in a crisis situation and it is important to look at every possibility as part of a comprehensive assessment.

The decision should be based on the assessment as set out in Section 4, Assessing Children in Sibling Groups i.e. by looking at each child's needs, their wishes, their relationships and their interactions with each other.


7. Contact

Wherever children are placed apart consideration should always be given to some form of contact, which can be sustained throughout childhood. It has to be effective, practical & workable with all the carers involved.

Contact plans must be included in the child's Adoption Support Plan when the plan is for adoption and in any final care plan for siblings.

Adoptive parents of separated siblings should be open to facilitating contact particularly with siblings placed with other adoptive families. The adoption plan should be thorough. It should specify who will initiate contact arrangements, who will travel, how often, and how to handle any changes. Any differences in family incomes must be recognised to ensure potential venues are within all adopter's means.

The post adoption service can offer support and, if necessary, mediation and a review of contact for up to 3 years after the child's adoption order.

Where some siblings are still in contact with birth parents and others are not, this can pose a dilemma and must be discussed with the post adoption team before firming any decisions.


8. Siblings of Children Adopted, Born Subsequently or Looked After

These procedures apply should a sibling of an adopted child be born (or pregnancy known about) or if a sibling starts to be looked after, at a later date.

There is a principle that there should always be a discussion with families who have already had a sibling placed for adoption or adopted, with them. Priority should be given to the new child joining their brother or sister in the placement. At the very least, the child in placement has information about the existence of their sibling. Thought can also be given as to the viability of some form of contact.

Planning ahead and keeping to a tight timescale is the key to ensuring the child's needs are best met. Early identification of the possibility of adoption is important. This should be considered at the Single Assessment stage (if case had been closed) or at the point a sibling becomes accommodated/looked after. Legal advice must be sought.

If either accommodation or a Care Order is being considered (even when child is unborn), contact the adoption panel advisors for a planning meeting. Any files on the child's siblings should be retrieved for information on the placement of the child's siblings. The planning meeting should consider:

  • The legal position of the case;
  • If an unborn baby, the likelihood of that baby being looked after/accommodated;
  • If a child is already looked after, the first Review should identify whether adoption or twin tracking is recommended;
  • Consideration could also be given to fostering for adoption;
  • Depending on the above, a decision made about when the siblings' adopters will be approached about the child (or unborn) and by whom;
  • Decision about the timescale of the Child's Permanence Report presentation to Adoption Panel, for the decision to adopt;
  • Medicals should also be started.

If the sibling's adopters express an interest in potentially adopting the child, the adoption team manager should allocate an adoption worker. They should do an initial home visit with the child's social worker to assess whether a formal application to adopt is appropriate and get an update on the family's current situation.

If the second adoption application is accepted, the adopters P.A.R. (Prospective Adopters Report) should be prioritised.

Consideration should also be given as to whether a fostering placement would be appropriate in the meantime or whether fostering for adoption would be appropriate.

The Adoption Panel can hear the approval and match of the adopters and child together.

However the match cannot be agreed as an adoptive placement until the Placement Order has been agreed by court.


9. Siblings Born to Children in Foster Care

Consideration must be given as to whether the new child should be placed with siblings. Assessments pre-birth should consider this in detail. Matters to be considered would be:-

  1. The likely outcome for the unborn child. Will they need to come into care?
  2. The likely permanence plan for the child. How possible is it that the child will return home? If not what will the permanence plan be? It is important the permanence plan for the children already in care is the same as the new child if they are to be placed together. A different plan for the unborn child may result in further losses for all the children;
  3. What will the effect be on the existing children of the placement of a new baby?
  4. Are the current carers able to take another child and if not balancing carefully the needs of all the children in coming to a decision? Could the siblings be brought together at some point in the future if not immediately? Is the security of the existing placement of fundamental importance to the well-being of the children already in care?
  5. The age of the children. The plan for a baby may be different to the plan for much older siblings.


Appendices

Appendix 1: Siblings Together or Apart

Appendix 2: Assessing Sibling Checklist

Appendix 3: Assessing Sibling Attachment in the Face of Placement Issues

End