Monday, February 28th, 2011 | Author: mjward

There are many excuses for separating siblings. Some argue that one child (or more) in the group has too many problems to be placed with siblings. Or that the younger children aren’t bonded with the older ones. Or that the older ones might sabotage the placement. Or that foster parents want to adopt one of the children. Or that you might continue unhealthy relationships among the children. Or that they require too much attention for any one family to meet their needs. Another argument … is that these adoptions require a lot of time and effort. If sibling adoptions make so many problems, why bother keeping children together? After all, placing the children one at a time will avoid all kinds of difficulties, won’t it?

First, separating brothers and sisters is actually a form of emotional abuse. Sibling relationships are extremely important to children who have been separated from their parents. Brothers and sisters are attachment figures too. By keeping them together, we can reduce some of the distress of separation. Often two, or if they are lucky three or four, do move from place to place together. The brother or sister can become the only thing in their lives that stays the same–an emotional shield in a world of uncertainty. These children don’t need any unnecessary losses. Sibling ties are strong–many adult adoptees spend more time searching for brothers and sisters than for birth parents.

From an adult perspective, most of us look back on our childhood remembering our sibling relationships with varying degrees of fondness. Some of us feel that if someone had offered to separate our siblings from us at certain stressful times of our lives, we may have opted for that solution! However, as adults, many of us have realized the importance of our shared history ad experience and have drawn closer to our siblings. It is hard to imagine how different our lives might have been if we had been separated. From this adult perspective, we need to preserve the rights of children to grow up with their siblings whenever and wherever this is possible.

Siblings come as a set. As prospective adoptive parents we don’t have the right to take some and not others. We already have to live with the pain of the children whose parents or foster parents kept some and not others without us being the ones who are inflicting further pain…. Adoption workers who encourage separation…are helping to set families up for unnecessary trouble and to set children up for intense loss/separation problems which may never be fully resolved…. Workers should even explore the willingness of the adoptive family to take yet another sibling if he or she comes into care later. Some agencies have already begun to do this.

Sometimes children are separated because it is reported that one or more of the children has “not bonded” with somebody and is therefore not ready for placement. No one is bonded when the children come into your home! If you get a family interested in taking the five siblings, place them…, get a therapist in place, and then work on bonding. We can’t doom a child to a lack of opportunity for permanence because he didn’t bond to someone we wanted him to bond to. If a family takes a sibling group of five and three bond to them in the next twenty years, they should consider themselves lucky! To the others they have given the stability of growing up in a permanent home with their siblings. That stability is the greatest gift from adoptive parents!

Although placing siblings together is definitely placement of choice, there are some exceptions, for example, siblings who are extremely destructive to each other. Perhaps they have been separated for too long or were abusive to each other in their original home. One group of five children placed together was eventually separated when the oldest siblings tried to kill the two youngest and subjected the other children in the family to sever physical abuse. It soon became obvious that they would before long have destroyed each other and the adoptive family. Unfortunately, this was not predictable before placement as the children had never actually been together before…. The question remains, “Why were they separated for so long and then suddenly placed together with an unsuspecting family, with no preplacement work done? Why wasn’t accurate information shared? Why did the adoption worker set them up for disruption in this way?”

Such horror stories can be prevented from happening in the future. We can, through adequate education, preparation, and support, place most sibling groups together and keep them in those placements. We can help them to grow up in a stable adoptive environment which preserves their history and identity as siblings while enabling them to share in the history and identity of their adopting family.


An excerpt from M. Ward & B. Tremitiere, Kids in Batches: Placing Sibling Groups for Adoption. York, PA: Tremitiere, Ward & Associates, 1990.

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