How Is Fostering a Sibling Group Different from Fostering a Single Child?

There is always a need for foster homes that can take sibling groups—but this can present some unique challenges.

Kristy O'Neal June 02, 2018
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Sibling groups, especially larger sibling groups, can sometimes be hard to place in foster care, at least without splitting children into different foster families. Because of this, there is always a need for homes that can take sibling groups. But beyond the obvious challenges of adding two or three or more children to your home instead of just one, there are few things that make fostering a sibling group unique. This list below is by no means exhaustive, but it will hopefully give you a few things to consider.

Birth Order Changes

For most kids, the way they fit into a family is defined a lot by the order in which they’re born—first born, middle child, or youngest sibling. For a foster family, these typical roles shift and change often as the children in the family change. Foster children may struggle to adjust to these changes, even moreso when they are part of a sibling group and part of their original family has moved with them. There are many different ways that this can play out, but regardless, it will take some time for the new children to figure out their place in the family.

“Parentified” Kids

It’s quite common for children who are the victims of abuse or neglect to be “parentified,” a term used to describe a child who assumes the role of the parent. This is a survival technique for many traumatized kids, especially those with younger siblings, and it can be difficult for them to release that role to someone else once they are in a safe place. This can be challenging for a foster parent, who must find a way to help the child be a child while not ripping away part of the kid’s identity as a caregiver.

Defining Sibling Relationships

Bringing a sibling group into a home where there are already other children, whether they are biological, adopted, or foster children from a different family, can also make defining relationships tricky. It is important to nurture biological connections, especially for children who will someday be reunified with their parents as a sibling group, and yet it is also important to guide them toward positive relationships with their foster siblings. This can be further complicated by the language used to describe these relationships. Therapists tell us to let a child decide what to call caregivers. Some of my foster children have called me mama, some have called me by my first name, and most have used an ever-changing combination of the two. When you add in brothers and sisters, it can get quite confusing! All of these relationships can be difficult to explain to children, especially younger ones.

Navigating Different Experiences and Bio Parent Relationships

It might be easy to assume that just because two children are siblings, they have a shared history, but sometimes this is not the case. Kids may not be full siblings, there may have been significant family changes between the birth of one child to another, or one child might be a parent favorite (and therefore have experienced more or less abuse and neglect than another sibling). And every child experiences and reacts to trauma differently. While some parts of being a foster parent are not doubled by taking a sibling group (still usually one lawyer, one CASA, one child’s social worker), the children may still find stability and heal in different ways.

If you’re a foster parent who has accepted both single placements and sibling groups, what has been your experience? How is fostering a sibling group different than fostering a single child?

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Kristy O'Neal

Kristy is mom to two sweet, funny, wonderful kids and works full time in information technology. During her spare time, she likes to browse Pinterest and thrift stores, create things, and hang out with her kids. As a foster parent, Kristy cares about advocating for the needs of kids in foster care and supporting foster families. You can read her thoughts on these and many other topics at her blog.

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