There is a good deal of evidence that children who are placed in foster care or adoptive homes post-foster care will adjust better if their siblings are placed along with them. Unfortunately, sometimes that is the very thing that will keep children from being adopted. Hopeful adoptive parents may only want or have the resources to adopt one or two children, but if the child or children have other siblings, they may not be adopted by that family.
I understand both perspectives. If a child has to be removed from their birth family because of abuse or neglect, they are losing everything they’ve ever known. Having a sibling placed with them can alleviate some of the anxiety, especially if one of the children was more of a caretaker for the others. I also understand that people have limits. Maybe hopeful adoptive parents only have room for one or two children. Maybe they are overwhelmed by the thought of having more than two children in their home. It’s a very personal decision.
I don’t envy the caseworkers and judges who make the ultimate decisions regarding sibling placement. Two of my kids were part of a sibling group of three. Because of the behavior of the older sibling, it was almost impossible to find a home for them unless their caseworkers first placed the girls and then tried to introduce the older sibling. I know my girls lost out on at least two families before ours because of that. While I’m glad they were ultimately ours, I hate they had to wait so long before they had a family that loved them.
Because there is nothing like a child to humble an adult, I have had the terrible experience of doing something I swore I’d never do. Twice we had to decide that our kids would do better without their siblings. Both times were because of violent, damaging behaviors in older siblings. And both times I felt guilt and shame because we couldn’t make it work.
The first time was a pre-adoptive placement. Based on the appearance of the profile alone, we couldn’t understand why he hadn’t been adopted. And so we ended up taking in our would-be son for three months before declaring we could not make it work.
He threatened our other kids and became a violent danger to himself and the other children. After several trips to the emergency room and a referral to a specialized team of social workers and psychologists, we eventually had to come to the realization it was not in anyone’s best interest for this little boy to stay in our care.
The second time it happened, I wanted to die. Hearing from a specialist that my precious son had hurt and abused my youngest three counts as one of, if not the worst days of my life. Initially, it wasn’t even a possibility for him to come home to us.
Two residential treatment facilities later and one very overworked foster care system and I found myself being made to choose once again if it would be safe to bring our son home to live with us again. Ultimately, we had to decide we couldn’t keep everyone safe, so my oldest will live with a foster family until he’s old enough to live on his own.
I remember weeping during a family therapy meeting. (Well. I wept in most of them, but this one was notable.) Our son was angry we wouldn’t let him come home and frustrated that he couldn’t at least see his brother who is a year younger than him. I told him he left me with an impossible choice–that he actually took our choices away from us when he hurt his sisters. Several years later and I’m still not sure he believes us that we love him and it’s for the best.
Several therapists and adoption retreats later and I can say with absolute certainty we made the right choices. I still have some PTSD and residual guilt from both situations. I still wish things could have worked differently. Ultimately, I wish these kids hadn’t ended up in foster care in the first place. It is all sad.
It was at a retreat for foster moms that I found out I wasn’t alone in my grief. Unfortunately, this problem is more common than one would think. Several moms there had, if not exactly the same, similar experiences. In those cases, an older sibling victimized a younger sibling because of the abuse they had experienced. What a horror to know that our grief wasn’t even wholly uncommon. Yet, the knowledge that someone else understood the feelings I was feeling was healing.