Martin Leitch, Head of Fostering at Five Rivers Child Care
Rachel De Souza’s Siblings in Care report highlighted that one in three children are separated from their siblings when they come into care. This statistic is shocking. Sibling relationships are often important, and separation can seriously impact children’s sense of belonging and identity.
In response to the report, Five River’s Care Leaver Hannah (19) shared her experience of being separated from her siblings on the Children’s Commissioner’s website. In the blog, she said: “I remember thinking, you can’t take him away. https://nationalvoices.org.uk/our-work/Voicesforimprovement’
Sadly, Hannah’s experience is shared by many children across the country. Finding suitable families for children in care has always been challenging, and in the wake of a foster carer recruitment crisis, it’s more complex than ever.
The increase in children coming into care and the national shortage of foster carers has led to a short supply of suitable families. The global pandemic, subsequent societal changes, and mounting financial pressures also reduce the number of fostering households. The requirement for children to have their own bedrooms further reduces the number of fostering families with more than one spare room.
At Five Rivers, we follow a thorough process to find suitable families for children in care. Placement matching is an area we will not compromise on, as we know how important it is to fully understand a child’s needs and how best to meet them to ensure stable, long-term solutions which are in their best interest.
Unfortunately, when looking for homes for larger sibling groups, finding a foster carer with the space to keep them together can be even more challenging. We address this by working in partnership with Local Authorities and Foster Carers to find creative, meaningful solutions to ensure regular contact and communication between the siblings.
Establishing and maintaining good communication channels is essential in preserving siblings’ bonds. Facilitating good communication between social workers and children is also vital to helping a child feel heard and helping them to understand the situation and the next steps.
At Five Rivers, it’s routine practice for our staff to encourage and support young people to use technology to speak to their siblings regularly. This is not a statutory requirement but is a core component of our care planning. There is a recommendation in the Siblings in Care report for ‘clear and practical’ recommendations for maintaining sibling bonds, which we’ll look at further.
Another example of how we’re helping siblings stay together is through creative, partnership-based commissioning. In Dorset, for example, we are working with two sisters who foster with us and live close to each other. The sisters jointly took on a sibling group of three; one child lives with one foster carer, and two young siblings live with the other sister.
Whilst all three siblings do not live together, they are now part of an extended, blended family who see each other most days. Similarly, we have two Midlands-based foster carers living in the same village and caring for a sibling group regularly seeing each other.
The findings from the report are tragic, as every professional working in children’s services tries their hardest to keep siblings together. I hope the recommendations in the report will be embraced and help to bring about a positive change to the experiences of children in care. In the short term, we have to never waiver in advocating for children’s rights and finding creative ways to keep them together.