V. E-1. Sibling Placement and Visitation

Effective 7/25/02

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V. E-1. Sibling Placement and Visitation

Effective 7/25/02

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Introduction:

The importance of the sibling relationship must be recognized and respected.  Sibling relationships often provide needed continuity and family stability during a child(ren)’s placement in foster care.  The sibling bond is important, separate from the bond between parent(s) and child(ren).  They share the same history heritage and biology, unlike any other relationship.  The sibling relationship is unique and must be fostered in its own right. Separation of siblings is a separate loss that needs to be addressed.  

 

Purpose of Sibling Placement:

Placement of siblings together should be made a priority in case planning and implementation of the case plan.  Valid reasons must be identified and documented for not placing siblings together.   Placement of siblings together can serve many purposes.

The primary purposes are:

 Preservation of the sibling relationship and bond.
 Minimize or mitigate the impact of separation from family and familiar environment.
 Minimize the impact of the trauma from abuse and neglect because of their shared experiences in their family, siblings understand each other and their shared history; it is a genuine and irreplaceable relationship.
 Providing support through developmental changes and growth.  
 Establish a healthy, rewarding bond between siblings who may or may not have had any significant prior relationship or bond with one another.
 Strengthen the sibling’s self esteem through acceptance, unconditional love and sense of belonging.
 Strengthen the sibling’s relationship skills through support, resolving conflicts with one another and communication.

 

Placement decisions:

It is recognized that there are situations when placement of siblings together is not possible.  These situations may include the special needs of one of the siblings, an abusive relationship between the siblings, or a foster placement that lacks the resources to care for all the siblings.  These situations should be assessed on a case-by-case basis with the intent to strengthen the relationship and possibly reunite the children in the future.  All placements should consider the best interest and well being of the child.  The following are guidelines to be used when making decisions regarding sibling placements.

(1)The child should have an opportunity to voice their views about placements, and have their views included in the final placement decision.
(2)Siblings who are not initially placed together shall be reunited in the same substitute care setting when that reunification is clearly in the best interests of the children.  The importance of sibling connections is an area requiring ongoing assessment.
(3)Siblings whose case plan is not to reside in the same setting should follow the following placement preference criteria:
 To be placed in the same town/community.
 To be placed in the same geographic region.
 To be placed in settings where the caregiver will promote and facilitate frequent, meaningful contact.

 

Sibling Visitation/Contact:

When siblings cannot be placed together, emphasis should be placed on maintaining contact through visitation, phone contact, letter writing and e-mail.  Sibling relationships will be strengthened and encouraged by the Department. Children will have an opportunity to voice their views about visitation, and have their views included in the final visitation decision. Visitation between siblings is a priority and will be documented in the case plan.  Valid reasons must be identified and documented when siblings are not part of a visitation plan.  Visits must occur in a planful way, be held in agreeable, comfortable settings for the children and may occur with and without biological and/or foster parents present depending on the circumstances and case goal.  Visits should be as frequent as possible.  If visits are cancelled, not scheduled or otherwise don’t happen, this should be fully explained to each sibling and documented.

 

In the initial court hearing for custody, the Department of Human Services will advocate for a court ordered visitation plan between siblings in care and/or siblings who remain with their birth family.  Siblings should be able to write and call each other without supervision unless there is a danger of specific harm to a youth.

 

When a youth moves, the following will occur when appropriate:

a.Siblings are informed that a move has occurred.
b.Siblings are informed of the new location
c.Siblings may be informed of reasons for relocation.
d.When a youth moves, that youth can decide how much information will be provided to their siblings.  That youth may wish to inform siblings themselves and will be afforded the right to do so.

 

Any child in care has a right to confidentiality.  They have a right to decide how much information is shared with their siblings.  An exception to confidentiality is when withholding the information is detrimental to the youth or to others.

 

Adoption Considerations:

When placing youth for adoption, the placement plan should be to place siblings together, unless there is there clear evidence that separation is necessary.  In the case of separation, the Department of Human Services will encourage pre-placement and adoptive homes to have sibling visits.  The Department of Human Services will stress that children should have an opportunity to voice their views about visitation, and have their views included in the final visitation decision.  When a child is being adopted, they and their sibling(s) should be educated about the adoption registry.