Siblings, the people who are a child’s first experience with sharing love and life. Children are required to share a parent’s attention, affection, and time with a sibling. As important as identifying and growing close with mothers and fathers is, for a child, seeing a sibling can be like seeing a reflection of all the good and bad things in a family. A sibling can be the closest relative and greatest comfort a child, especially an abused child, has.
Here at CASA we see many siblings and many incarnations of the sibling relationship. We see children who are born very close together or very far apart. We see siblings who are born of the same two parents, are half siblings, are cousins who have grown up as siblings, and siblings made through foster and adoptions. What we cannot deny is the importance of the sibling relationship in helping a child build his/her identity. Siblings are often the only people that know and can map a child’s experience in their shared family.
In the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse’s article, which can be found here, it shares and elaborates on this. It tells the stories of children in the foster care system, separated from parents, who are then also removed from their siblings. Its easy to see how damaging this is for the minors. One very telling part of the article says, “I will never forget the day I had to leave my sister. We were both crying, and I felt like the world was a terrible and hostile place. As the months went by, I could feel myself close up. The more I thought about what happened to me, the more angry and bitter I became. If the social worker who was supposed to be concerned for me had the power to take away my sister, I could never trust anyone again.” What happened to this girl, who was removed from her sister due to being too much of a parental figure and caretaker for the younger girl? She lives by herself, which is her preference. She feels that if she does not make any lasting bonds, she will not have to suffer when those bonds are broken. Her existence is noted in the article as being “solitary.” Her sister? She’s been divorced twice and states that maintaining any sort of interpersonal bond is nearly “impossible” for her. She does not know the appropriate way to behave when someone loves her.
Another part of the article that really demonstrates the significance of the sibling relationship is where it says, “Today, a greater number of former foster children are searching for their siblings than are searching for their biological parents. They are suing child welfare agencies in order to get them to release information — and they are winning.” Why? Because the bond between siblings, even siblings who only resided with one another for a very short portion of their lives, is lifelong. It is a feature in a child’s life that is never forgotten. The article articulates this when it says, “Studies have shown that even babies experience depression when they are separated from their brothers and sisters. In one such study, it was found that a 19-month-old girl was better able to cope with the separation from her parents than from her siblings. The children in this family were placed in different foster homes, resulting in the baby’s loss of speech, refusal to eat, withdrawal, and an inability to accept affection. This pattern persisted even after she was reunited with her parents. It was not until her brothers and sisters rejoined the family that this little girl resumed her former behavior.”