Sibling Groups: One Big Fostering Family
When a child enters foster care, they may have siblings who enter foster care with them or remain with the birth family. Going from a quiet house, to one filled with the sounds of 2, 3 or even more children playing can be life changing, and bring so many benefits to both your family and to the children you foster. As part of your assessment to become a foster carer, you can also be assessed for your ability to look after a sibling group. These placements are best suited when there are multiple spare rooms, although a large spare room could provide space for same-sex siblings too, so not having a second room would not rule you out.
We spoke to two of our current carers Kathryn, from Merseyside and Debby, from Cheshire, about what it’s really like to foster a sibling group.
What benefits does fostering a sibling group bring?
Fostering a sibling group allows them to stay together. This allows them to remain in close contact with their family, but also allows them to share past experiences. If their past has been traumatic, they can find comfort in each other as they have a greater understanding of what they have been through together. Debby recently took on a new sibling group, and has found her house has gone from 0-100mph as quick as a flash. By fostering a sibling group the children already know each other, and they already have someone to play games with. This can help them settle into a new house and family much easier, as they already have someone they can trust and confide in.
What challenges are there to fostering a sibling group?
In the same way that having shared past experiences can be a benefit to a sibling group, it can also present a challenge. Sometimes when children come into care, they have been a caregiver for their younger siblings. It can often be difficult for a child to forget this caregiver role, and allow themselves to revert to being a child or young person again. It is important as a foster carer to give them opportunities to be a child and enjoy their childhood. It is also important to support the child as they may not want to hand over the caregiving role due to trust issues. It is important to ensure they understand you can be trusted to look after them and their siblings.
What would you recommend putting in place before the first sibling group arrives?
Kathryn told us about how she set up a routine with her own family and followed the routine from day one. From when the children wake up in the morning, all the way through to staggered bedtimes they all know what is expected of them. It’s also important to make use of the time the children are in school, whether this be doing the housework or getting lunches ready for school the next day, because once the children are home from school the house can become quite chaotic.
Debby told us how the house constantly moves at 100mph so boundaries must be put in place. The children may be young but they understand a lot, and so having the boundaries in place and letting them know what is and isn’t acceptable makes them feel safer. Making chores fun is also a good strategy e.g. make clearing the toys away into a game.
What support do you need around you to help with a sibling group?
Having support around you when you foster is always a benefit. Kathryn has her own birth children alongside a sibling group. When she collects the foster children from school her partner goes to collect the birth children, but if he can’t be there she has a support group of friends at the school who can take them for half an hour if needed. She’ll also return the favour if needed, and so often has a large number of children in her house after school. Even with the chaos that comes with a house full of children, the routines in place ensure they all finish their homework and have a healthy dinner on the table.
Debby told us how “it takes a community to raise a child.” Debby has made close connections with other foster carers in the area, and will take time at the end of the day to support herself and call others just for a chat. It’s important to talk to your social worker too, as they are there to support you when times are tough. Sometimes you’ll have tried all your strategies to calm a situation down but they just aren’t working, but your social worker can provide you with new ideas and guidance to help as much as possible when needed.
Sibling groups can often provide lots of memorable moments
Siblings groups have a bond from the start which give them chance to settle into family life much more easily. Debby spoke about taking the children out for “first times” such as swimming or going to a play centre. Her new sibling group are all very young, but had never been to soft play before. When they arrived they didn’t know how to use it, but were soon having lots of fun. It’s daunting to know that a child hasn’t had an experience before, but provides lots of joy. The children with Debby had never been swimming before, and she was quite nervous to take them along, but they were soon jumping in and shouting about how much fun they were having.
Kathryn took her first sibling group on holiday for the first time. Going to the caravan allowed the whole family to have a much needed break from daily life, and the children got to go crabbing and build sandcastles for the first time. It gave them another chance to be children again, to scramble over the rocks and experience something that most children do with their families. Kathryn told us how “they were 13 and 16 and had never seen a crab” so to see their faces light up filled her with joy.
How to get in touch
If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, or would like to find out more about helping a sibling group, get in touch.
When asked what she’d tell someone looking into fostering, Debby told us “Just enquire. What have you got to lose? You’ve got a lot to gain, and a phone call costs nothing.”