By Heather Noel, Content Manager Connected Foster Care
Imagine being removed from your home by an unfamiliar person, dropped off in an unfamiliar home, with unfamiliar people. How would you feel, having all that is familiar, every person you know, and every place you know instantly removed from your life?
The reality for a child entering foster care is that they experience the immediate loss of all they know. In an instant, their family, their home, most often their school, their friends, even their community, disappears. In most cases, children entering into foster care also lose their siblings due to foster homes that are not equipped to take sibling groups. While it is true that these vulnerable children experience safety as a result of entering foster care, their understanding is one of total loss.
The foster care crisis in our state not only means that there is a shortage of foster homes, it means that children are at an even greater risk of being separated from siblings when place in care. We want to change that reality. Children should not endure the added loss and trauma of being separated from their siblings.
Connected Foster Care has successfully transitioned our campus care at the Arkansas Baptist Ranch and Arkansas Baptist Homes for Children from group homes to foster family homes, specialized in receiving large sibling groups. This transition has allowed stories such as seven siblings who were previously placed in separate homes throughout the state, being brought together in the same home. One of our Connected foster families at the Ranch shares that due to the age range and family dynamic, it would have been impossible to place their large sibling group together without this transition in campus care. Connected Foster Care is in the process of opening community foster family homes specialized for large sibling groups. We are not only keeping sibling groups together through our specialized campus and community based homes, many of our traditional foster families have said yes to placement of siblings. One of our Connected Caseworkers shared about bringing twins together after having been placed in separate foster homes. When the twins saw each other, they ran to one another, embraced, and cried.
One sibling exclaimed, “I’m so happy!”
There are countless stories such as this being shared throughout Connected Foster Care; stories of siblings being reunited as a result of this vital work.
What is the significance of siblings being placed together? In spite of the constant changes of foster care these children are forced to endure, together we are able to provide one constant: their siblings.
When children are able to maintain connection to a familiar relationship, they have a sense of belonging and are able to experience “felt safety.” Felt safety is the requirement for a child to find healing and hope. Maintaining the sibling bond while in care fosters their ability to transition more successfully into foster care as well as in reunification. Allen Elkins, another Connected Foster dad shares, “You can see the comfort and security they give each other. We have had the joy of witnessing the oldest sibling seeing her younger siblings for the first time after being placed apart. Watching her hold them, when you weigh the joy of their connections being maintained against the inconvenience multiple children may bring, there is no question they deserve to be together.”
The ability to keep sibling groups together not only improves the experience for children in foster care, it also positively impacts the entire family. Birth parents are able to focus on working towards reunification, having the comfort of knowing their children are together rather than having the added stress of their children being scattered. One foster family shared that siblings being placed together in their home allowed the birth parents to focus on improving their own relationship which resulted in the family being able to heal.
In all of the confusion and uncertainty, as one Connected foster mother states, “The children have each other.”
This article was originally published in Outlook magazine, a publication by the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home & Family Ministries. To learn more about what ABCH is doing, click here.