Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Splitting Siblings

Under what circumstances, if ever, should siblings be split?  

What are the consequences for the children and adoptive families with either choice?


Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Jennifer, an adoption worker in Texas writes:

I think siblings should only be split for the following reasons:
We cannot find a family to adopt all of the children
The children are sexually inappropriate with one another
The children attend therapy and the therapist strongly recommends the separation.

The consequences:
No or limited relationship for the siblings

I think it is very important for adoptive families to maintain contact with the siblings.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Alissa, Adoption Recruiter in Florida, says:

That is a really tough question. For myself and my colleagues, we have to ask, "Is it more harmful for them to be together than apart?" In situations where one child is abusing or has abused their sibling, they are much more likely to be split apart. So many times, as well, we have siblings that are all in different stages/places emotionally in terms of being ready for adoption. We often have to ask, "Should we hold this one back b/c their sibling isn't ready, or should we get them out of the system as soon as the opportunity arises?" I think we ask a lot of families whether or not they would be open to taking the sibling once they are ready if they are adopting one child that is ready. Often, there are siblings that really have no strong bond due to never having lived together (either before or after entering foster care), one abusing the other one, or one being a target child in the abusive situation where other siblings were taught to hate them.

Consequences you must deal with are either risking a disruption by insisting sibs stay together when they aren't necessarily in healthy sibling relationships and extra stress on the adoptive family; OR you will have additional grief and loss issues to deal with. The dynamics of either decision will affect the adoptive family. Unfortunately, no one can predict the future in these situations- all we have as social workers, are the present predicaments of the kids and any red flags that may indicate the likelihood of potential problems of them being together or separated.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Melody, adoption worker in TX, says:

I have had sibling groups who sexually acted out with each other and the decision was finally made to split the group up and that has worked well. With that said...I STRONGLY believe in some form of contact, as long as it is positive and in some cases supervised. I have also had a large sibling group, where the children each had significant issues and no homes were located that could/would take all the children [and issues]. The children were split, so that they could be adopted and their issues better handled.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Robyn, TX Adoption Worker, comments:

Children should be split when one or more of the sibling group is hurting their selves or the other children. Or, if one or more of the children is in a residential treatment center and will hold up the adoption of the others. Some adoptive families will take one child and will agree to take the other child in the RTC when they are released if they are able to live in a foster home.

Consequences for the children are they are split from their siblings and might not ever see them again. Adoptive families have to deal with the questions of why they didn't take the siblings also.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Pattison007 said...

I don't like sibings split at all, but I think there are times that it can't be helped. Resons for splitting are:

Lack of spaces in foster homes

Level of behavioral issues with one or more of the siblings

Age of siblings...some foster homes will take the younger sibs, but not the teenagers. Foster homes that take teens usually have either boys or girls.

Therapist recommendations

Consequences: If you don't have good foster parents and workers that make sure the kids get their visits then the kids don't have the relationship they would have had if they lived together.
I am a big believer in the kids that are split spending holidays and weekend time with each other. I have foster parents that allow the siblings to spend the night with at their homes.

I think it is important for the adoptive family to maintain sibling contact unless the sibling is not a good role model for the other kids....runner, drugs, in jail...

7:17 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Mary writes:

While I agree that if children are acting out sexually or being physically abusive to one another they may not be able to live together, I do not believe in splitting siblings. I feel that in those cases, they should be separated and help provided where possible. And at all means, have some type of contact, however minimal.

I have a sibling group of three; there is a child in the middle who is with another family. This other family had the two older children and the (then) baby; after 10 months, they said they couldn't parent the older two anymore and disrupted, keeping the baby. That's when we entered the picture. By this time, bio mom had another baby (our youngest). We were quite upset with the decision to leave the other child with the other family, separating everyone. And I did question it. Our workers told us that it was a double-edged sword: do they find a home that would take all three children (and potentially four) making everybody move or allow that child who had lived with that family since shortly after birth to experience the pain of being removed from a family who loved her? They opted that two disrupted lives was better than three.

As bad as that is, the part that truly grates me is that this other family absolutely refuses any contact. We have sent pictures of all three of our children for them to share (via the worker); they were returned unopened. My two older children ask fairly regularly if I have had any success in getting a picture of their sibling or some contact with her. I truly am trying but when the other family says "no" there's not much I can do. They are crushed at losing their little sister and worry about her being "OK." I try to assure them that she is doing well and misses them too.

That little girl is going to grow up and someday find out she has three full siblings who do not live with her. She's going to find out that her family kept contact from her (and I don't ask for much; just exchange photos over the years) and she is going to completely go ballistic on them. As an adoptee, if I found out my parents had kept the knowledge and contact of a sibling from me, I would be furious.

I am confident, though, that at some point, this little girl will be a part of our lives, whether it's as an adult or sooner. They have and will continue to miss out on so many important occasions that brothers and sisters share, but I am sure they will share others later in life.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Kelly, adoptive mom of 17, shares:

I think there are extreme cases where siblings should be split. Those cases involve abuse of each other. However, those cases are few and far between. In most situations, siblings should be allowed the chance to finish growing up together.

For our children who no longer reside with their siblings, the impact has been varied. In several cases, the kids feel abandoned by a sibling who chose not to remain in the same home. Others feel a strong longing to find or know the missing the sibling(s). Still others start to think that biological siblings have no place in the adopted child's new reality. One of our sons reacted very strongly when first encountering his bio-brother thinking that the abuse was going to start all over again. In other words, the reactions are varied and not always predictable.

Our most recent reality check regarding separated siblings occured when a 16 year old male sibling came to visit with our family. He was a former adoptive sibling of six of our kids. (We adopted them from a disrupted adoption situation.) Within hours of his arrival, there were episodes of extreme violence and aggression. Although it was difficult for them to express their feelings about the situation, it soon became evident that they were upset about the feelings of betrayal they felt when the one brother decided to be adopted separately from them. It was difficult for all of us.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Kate, an adoptive parent of many children, has this to say:

Although my first reaction, like most people, would be to say NEVER split siblings, I will share two personal experiences where I feel that splitting siblings was the only choice.

1. A girl, 6, and her brother, 3, were placed with me as potential fost-adopt children. The siblings had been together all their lives (birthparents, 2 foster placements, then me.) Within a week it became obvious sis was molesting brother & had been doing it since he was one (when the kids were removed due to Dad's long-term molest of sis.) While I realized sis was re-enacting what had happened to her, she was also using damaging psychological abuse that had likely been used on her (telling him if he did not cooperate or if he told anyone she would hate him & would not be his sister; scratching & hitting him when he didn't cooperate). Sis had all the manipulative molester lingo down pat. She also had other behavior issues (stealing, destroying others' property, lying, public tantrums, hitting & kicking adults, writing on walls, public masturbating, behavior & academic problems at school). Sis needed a higher level of care, and I felt that even if I could prevent her from molesting him again (he began sleeping on the floor of my bedroom with the door locked, with the social worker's approval), he would still be a basket case just seeing her every day while she worked out her issues in counseling. (Imagine if YOU were raped, and the law said you had to live in the same house with the rapist while you both went to counseling...does that seem logical or helpful?) Sis went to a group home. Initially, the plan was for her to come back after treatment. But when she molested both boys & girls in the group home, and continued her other behavior problems, the county decided she & brother needed different long-term plans. Now, 7 years later, I've adopted brother. Sister has been in several placements until they FINALLY put her in a home with no other children; she's been there 2 years, & is doing much better, but her foster Mom & I both feel it is partially due to lack of opportunity; foster Mom wouldn't risk taking young children, & I wouldn't risk having her live under the same roof with brother. They see each other only once or twice a year, and they seem OK with that.

2. Seven girls, ages 3 to 16, full siblings, were removed due to birthparents' drug use. Although admittedly there WERE drug issues, the main problem here was simply too many people under one roof & not enough money to care for them properly. No foster parents had room for 7 kids, but the county strongly felt the girls needed to stay together, so they placed them with Aunt, who lived in a 2-bedroom duplex with her own 2 kids. Honestly, what WERE they thinking??? Theoretically, keeping family together is a worthy goal...but what adult could handle NINE KIDS in a 2-bedroom duplex? The oldest girl, age 16, ran away, and everyone else was at each other's throats by the time the remaining 6 girls were removed 4 months later. The county tried different combinations of girls together, but it turned out one of the girls would influence her younger sisters to lie about being abused (by birthdad or by foster parents) depending on whether she wanted to stay in a particular placement or leave. This same girl (I'll call her Crystal) would sneak out at night, smoke weed, & steal things from the foster parents. When caught, she very convincingly blamed her younger sister Ashley. Soon Ashley had a reputation as a troublemaker & never wanted to see Crystal again. Birthparents cleaned up their act & qualified to get the girls back. The youngest, Amy, was bonded to her foster parents & did not even realize her birthparents were her parents, since she hadn't lived with them since age 1, and she was now 7. She knew them, but thought they were her aunt & uncle. She had lived with the same foster family from age 3 to age 7. The county gave the other 5 girls back, but Crystal & Ashley fought constantly and got involved in all manner of delinquent behavior. Finally Ashley ran away. At that point all was well at the birthparents' home; with only 4 children, the parents could manage to feed & supervise them all, and were not so stressed they needed to turn to drugs. Amy was adopted by her foster family and is doing well. She visits her birthfamily's home once a month.
In this case, due to the size of the sibling group, the different needs of different children, & the animosity between two of the children who did NOT want to live together under any circumstances, it was impossible to keep all the siblings together no matter whose home they were in.
What are the consequences for the children and adoptive families with either choice?
If siblings are split, all caretakers involved must be committed to keeping the siblings in contact to whatever degree is appropriate. People tend to stress over this, but it's really a lot simpler than most people realize. Think about it --- as an adult, you probably have siblings who do not live in the same house with you, & maybe not even in the same state. Does that mean you hate them? Does it mean you've forgotten about them? Nowadays, people --- children as well as adults --- can maintain strong bonds with people they see only once a year on Christmas. They can email on cellphones (get one with unlimited minutes)...and send gifts on birthdays & other occasions. I'd also advise adoptive parents to make friends with the parents of your adopted child's siblings. If they live close by, and you're having a pool party and inviting your neighbors...why not invite Little Joey's birthbrother and the birthbrother's adoptive parents? If these people are your friends, you don't need to make a big deal about preparing Joey for visits, which often makes the child anxious & makes him feel something is wrong because you're singling him out. Instead of saying, "Now, Joey, you're having a visit with Jim, who is your birthbrother," you can say, "Joey, Dad & I are going to the movies, so we're dropping you off at Jim's house for a few hours." Don't feel threatened by the other family --- use them as a resource! You can get a lot of free babysitting in the guise of sibling visits! (Just be willing to return the favor). If it appears the other family feels threatened by you, you may need to re-assure the other family that you are NOT trying to get custody of Jim --- and you may need to say it plainly. If you invite Jim to Joey's birthday party, and Jim's family has another boy close to the same age, invite the other boy, too. The message you want to send is: We are Joey's family and we love him. You are Jim's family and all of us want to be friends with all of you. We should all work TOGETHER for the best interests of ALL the people involved.
If possible, it is best to get to know the other family before adoptions are finalized. THEY WILL BE YOUR IN-LAWS! If you absolutely despise them or vice versa, and the siblings have a strong bond, adopting one of the siblings may make you all miserable in the long run. Look at it this way: You are madly in love with a man who is extremely close to his parents. His parents are involved with a religion that requires them to spend one weekend a month in the woods, worshipping nature. They must sleep in trees, naked, and are forbidden to use port-a-potties and can only eat what they find in the woods. Your true love tells you that if you marry him, you must participate in this ritual. Blinded by love, you figure, it's only once a month...I can stand it...or perhaps he'll change. Maybe, for a few months, you can stand it. But basically you hate it & think it's stupid, and as the years go by it is clear your husband will never change. Eventually you start to despise him.
Don't let that happen with your child! A reasonable person, properly motivated and wanting to do what's best for the children, can probably find common ground with other reasonable people, even if their interests & backgrounds are different. But occasionally the differences may be too great, or the other family really DOES want to turn your child against you, or maybe it's birthfamily the child wants to visit and you know in your heart you can NEVER tolerate or forgive what the birthfamily has done in the past...well, sadly, you may have to face the fact that you are not the right parent for this child. Few children in foster care today live in a vacuum. More and more kids have sibling contact, or even contact with birthparents or former foster parents, written into their adoption plans. If you can't handle it, adopt an orphan from another country, where you won't have to deal with people from your child's past.
On the flip side, you may have to recognize when such contact is detrimental to your child. You may have to stand up to social workers or scary birthparents and say, No, this is not helping Joey. It's only confusing him. We need less contact, or contact when he's older, or contact supervised by his therapist.
But as long as the contact is beneficial, don't fear it. Embrace it. Your child is not required to love you "More" than he loves people from his past; and the fact that he loves them doesn't mean he hates you! If he loves many people...and many people love him...this is a GOOD thing. He is not required to live in the same house with someone in order to love them. Teach him that even though physically apart from his siblings, they can still be close in heart.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Michelle, another Texas adoption worker comments:

Siblings should be split up if there is abuse between them. For instance, I have a case where the two older brothers had sex with each other, and they both had sex with their younger sister (The kids were 4, 8, and 10). There was also a lot of physical abuse between them, mostly toward the 4 year old sister. In this case, therapists have decided that it would be a bad idea to have them together.

8:33 AM  
Blogger michelle said...

For our child, it worked for her to be split up. There were three siblings involved, two fathers. The birthmom signed over one child to a distant relation who had been raising the child from birth basically. The SW's helped her understand that too many things had gone on for her to parent our daughter anymore but they felt she could parent her youngest child.

I completely agree about how important the sibling relationships are. We have opened things up with the middle child's adopted family - we have calls and had our first visit this summer.

We also found out she has three other siblings on her birthfather's side and told her about them. Better to tell her at eight than 18 in my opinion. One is close in age so we set it up for her to write a letter to him through the grandparents on that side ... no response yet but we are still hoping

9:11 AM  

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