Siblings and support

Kate and Paul’s link worker, Denise, assesses families and matches them to children. She shares her insights into caring for groups of brothers and sisters.

“Part of my role is to identify possible matches and get as much information on the children as I can, so prospective adopters and permanent foster carers can have a realistic picture of them,” explains Denise. “They can then talk through the possible realities and any issues they have, and think about how they could support both the children and themselves.”

Denise feels it is important for carers to recognise the needs of siblings of different ages, life experiences and abilities.

Image of white girls smiling
“Siblings may not have lived with each other for a while and there may be competition between them, or one child may have taken a parenting role with the other,” she says.

“When living with their new family, one child might be at school all day while the other is at home, so carers would need to be aware of and manage their different needs.”

Some children work well with praise and rewards, while some are responsive to other techniques, but carers should always say positive things about being siblings and being a family, and help build the children’s respect for each other. “Siblings placed separately and previous foster carers need to be mentioned too – don’t be afraid to bring up the subjects as they’re not taboo!”

Adoptive and permanent foster families need to look after themselves and their relationships too. Couples have the support of each other, but: “they do have to be careful not to be totally consumed by adoption. Some couples put their relationship on the back burner and start to struggle, so it’s important to make time for themselves and to use their support networks – I do have to encourage them to recharge their batteries from time to time,” says Denise.

“Not only that, they need to deal with their own feelings towards the children, which could even be resentful – remember, having children changes everything.”

Couples therefore have to be able to communicate very well, and this is vital when setting boundaries for the children.

“If a couple has never had to set house rules and boundaries for children, they will need to be very clear with each other what their expectations are,” advises Denise. “Should the children be allowed to watch TV while eating their breakfast? What time should they go to bed? This is especially important if the siblings are older: they will have different personalities and ways of dealing with things, so carers need to be singing from the same song sheet.”

Single carers are setting rules on their own, but there are other issues affecting them.

“Having been used to living by themselves, single carers would need to be able to deal with a number of children competing for their attention,” says Denise.

“They would need to have plenty of patience and be able to set boundaries, and manage everyday things by themselves, such as running baths and preparing dinners at the same time. Single carers can and do manage this all the time, so it’s about gaining confidence. We would be looking for them to have a strong support network, and ideally, a good, broad base of childcare experience, particularly with two or more children.”

As well as drawing on their own resources, adoptive families can receive support from the children’s agency for up to three years, or from the local authority where they live after that time.

“Some families do just get on with it – we know that having a social worker in your life is not what you generally want, and there’s a sigh of relief when we’re gone!” says Denise.

“But other families still want that contact, and the Post-Adoption Support Regulations mean they are able to go back to their agency for help. There are also groups such as After Adoption and Adoption UK that provide support and advice.”

It’s important for all prospective adopters and permanent foster carers to remember that caring for children means a whole different lifestyle.

“Everything changes overnight and carers have to be open and honest, and prepared for the realities,” says Denise. “And I can give Kate and Paul as a good example of a family who’d prepared for adoption completely, with Kate’s previous childcare experience standing her in good stead. Of course, adoption or fostering sadly doesn’t always work out for all families, but Aaron and Daniel have found a secure and stable new family with Kate and Paul, and I think it’s superb.”

All names have been changed.

Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper in July 2005.

Have you seen the Be My Parent features on support and contact?

This article is published with the kind permission of the people involved. You may download it for your own reference but if you wish to use it for any other purpose, please contact Be My Parent for authorisation: Be My Parent, BAAF, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS. Telephone: 020 7421 2666/5/4.

Last updated: 04 December 07

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