Social workers usually make a significant effort to keep siblings together, especially if the children’s case is moving toward adoption. While there is always a need for more resource parents, it’s worth noting that there is a significant need for foster families for sibling groups. The needs of sibling groups are unique, and as you can imagine, the space and time you must devote to these children is more significant than fostering one child at a time.
12 Practical Tips for Fostering a Sibling Group
Fostering siblings as a group can be beneficial for the children. You allow them to maintain their vital connection with each other, which can reduce the trauma of transition and separation from the rest of their family. It can also be a fulfilling experience for foster parents, too. However, we recommend that resource parents enter this relationship dynamic with wide open eyes. You will need flexibility, realistic expectations, and a willingness to work hard to help the children find healing and safety.
1. Be patient.
Forming a healthy attachment with each child in the sibling group will take concentrated and consistent effort. It would help if you were prepared to invest individual time with each child and expect it to be slow-going while they figure out the dynamics in your home.
2. Expect zero margin.
It’s critical to carve out time with each child, especially when they first join your family. However, between that intention and the rest of your regular life responsibilities, you may feel like there is never any time left for anything else. It will help to remind yourself that this transition is not permanent. Things will level out as you find your new rhythms.
3. Lower your expectations.
Closely related to having no margin for a season, decide that good enough is good enough in these early days and weeks. Lower your expectations for what you get done each day, especially outside of parenting these kids through this transition. Again, tell yourself, “This too shall pass.”
4. Ask for help.
To keep you focused and capable of meeting these kids’ needs, call on your village for practical help. Line up carpools, laundry help, grocery pick-up, and meal prep. Many folks are likely excited about your family’s transition and are looking for ways to support you.
5. Call in the professionals.
Once you have information on the children’s history and experiences, contact a counselor or therapist to help you through the transition. You can ask the caseworker about other support the children have received or might need and begin lining up help for those interventions.
6. Assess your abilities honestly.
Be straightforward with your social worker before placements are suggested to your family about what types of behaviors you cannot handle. Remember, if you take several children at once, the number of challenges is multiplied. Don’t be afraid to say that you cannot or do not want to handle specific behaviors.
7. The children’s transitions will be uneven.
Each child has experienced their life circumstances uniquely thus far. Be careful not to expect the siblings to transition into your home similarly. In fact, expect each child to process their experiences differently once they are in a safe environment – and their behavior will reflect those differences. Try to observe each child and how they are making it through this transition so you can meet them where they are and support them individually.
8. Get your resident children involved.
The children who are already in your home – also called resident children, whether biological or by adoption – can help ease the transition for a sibling group when you prepare them to do so. Your resident kids can be a welcoming presence that proves relatable and safe for a new sibling group. Teach them about the feelings and fears the new children might have. Brainstorm together what they can do to make the transition easier.
9. Create attachments through fun.
Laughter and shared fun can be a glue that cements bonds of trust, security, and love among your family. Schedule a fun family activity each week that you can enjoy together. These activities don’t have to be expensive or complicated to implement.
Try to pick something you will all look forward to, whether it is a movie night, board game tournament, or bike ride through the neighborhood. You can declare Friday to be Family Night and brainstorm a list of activities that each person gets to plan. Involving all the children can help creatively blend your resident children and the new sibling group.
10. Provide adequate supervision.
Be very careful to limit the time the children spend alone, without adult supervision, particularly for the younger children. You may not know all the types of abuse the children may have been exposed to. They deserve to be kept safe while everyone is figuring out these new relationships and boundaries.
11. Offer space for the children to grieve.
The sibling group you are welcoming has experienced loss. They need to be able to grieve those losses before they feel safe celebrating what they have gained. You know they are safe in your home, but that comfort and knowledge might take some time for the siblings to grasp. While they are transitioning to your home life, be consistently and openly empathetic to help them identify that this is a safe space.
Make observations and express curiosity to help them realize they can talk with you about their grief. For example, “I noticed that you looked sad when you heard your mom’s voice message. Would you like to talk about it?”
12. Be sensitive about holidays and celebrations.
Remember that these siblings shared their own family holidays and celebrations before joining your family. The first birthday, Christmas, or Halloween with you might be particularly challenging for them. You can help them prepare for these events by talking with them about what they liked or disliked about celebrating in the past. Ask them what favorite foods they enjoy and consider how to incorporate those into your family’s festivities.
Additionally, remember that these children each have unique sensory preferences and needs that will come to light when triggered. The holidays can be triggering for many people, not just the new foster kids in your home. Try to observe these sensitivities leading up to the celebrations and plan for alternative options or accommodations. Stay tuned in October and November when we focus on supporting adopted, foster, and kinship kids to manage the holiday season.
Fostering a Sibling Group Is Hard Work, But Worth It!
Preparing for the work of several kids transitioning into your home at once can be daunting. But when you apply these practical tips and set your intentions toward providing a safe, welcoming space, you can be the safe landing place they need to heal – and do that healing together with their siblings.
Have you fostered a sibling group? What would you add to our list of tips?
Image Credits: August de Richelieu; cottonbro studio; Monstera