Sibling Separation in Foster Care

There are many things that happen when a child is removed from the birth family.  Some good, some bad.   In my opinion, the most tragic is sibling separation.  It’s a reality of foster care.  Siblings are separated due to availability in foster homes, to raise their chances of being adopted, or for various other reasons.  Even as just a pair, my boys were passed over twice before we found each other.  The fact that one couple only wanted Antwan and the other didn’t want to adopt black children; is disturbing, but also a lucky break for us.   

My three live together with us, but there are other biological siblings.

They have a sister.  She is probably about 23.  Brian and I have never met her and don’t really have any idea where she is.  William barely remembers her.  I don’t know too much about her except that she took care of her younger brothers when the birth mother wouldn’t/couldn’t.  I know that she was never adopted and aged out of the situation.  She is also the one that alerted the appropriate people when the birth mother was pregnant with Antwan and doing drugs.  She was worried about him.  I am grateful for that.  So, without ever meeting her, I’m pretty sure that she kind of rocks.

They have a brother who is 16.  After hanging out in the system for too long (because any time at all is too long), he was adopted by a local family.  They are very nice people and he is very happy. Sadly, we have lost touch with him. When my phone broke, as mine often do, I lost his mom’s number.  But, the good news is, just today, I was able to track it down from the agency that had their cases.

Then there is Patrick.  That’s not really his name, but I’m not sure what the rules on confidentality are and Patrick’s a nice name.  So, he’s Patrick! 🙂  He’s 12 and was adopted a few years ago.  It seemed like he had his happy ending.  But, it turned out, not so much.  He had all kinds of issues.  They tried all kinds of things to help him; including therapy and a trip to Jacksonville to see his older brother and my three.  This is the one and only time that I met him.  It was the first time that William had seen him in a couple of years, at least.  And, it was the first time that he met Lizzie and Antwan.  That’s seriously got to mess with a kid’s mind.

They spent the day together.  It was amazing.  I am an emotional girl and was so overwhelmed by the fact that they were together, like they were supposed to be.  The only sad thing was that, of course, the oldest sister wasn’t there. 

The day ended.  Everyone went back to life.  I brought home our kiddos.  The oldest brother went back to his foster setting (he hadn’t been adopted yet).  And, turns out, Patrick went back to driving his adoptive parents crazy. 

Long story, slightly shorter.  It went from bad to worse.  From email updates, I learned that Patrick and his parents were all miserable and he showed no interest in being in the family.  Eventually, a psychiatrist labeled him as a sociopath (but didn’t formally diagnose) and he was admitted to a hospital.

We sat down with William and tried to explain it to him.  But, how in the world do you explain something like that to your child?  Lucky for me, Brian was involved.  He’s really good at that stuff.  But, no matter how good Brian is with words; William, obviously, was still very upset.  And, we were left to deal with his minor (although they didn’t seem minor at the time) behavioral issues that followed, with no way to really make him feel better.  Because there was no way to feel better about it.  He was just a kid who didn’t ask for his reality and was suffering so much because of it.  We were devastated that Patrick was in such turmoil and angry beyond words at the birth mother for damaging him so much.   

Time passed.  I didn’t hear any more from his adoptive mom.  We assumed he was wasting away in an institution.

Then, the phone rang and it was his caseworker. 

Via voicemail, she explained that he had been returned to the system by the adoptive parents (Yes, that’s actually allowed) and they were hoping to estabish some contact with his siblings.  I left a message saying, of course.

Then I proceeded to obsess the rest of the night about how he was doing.  Was he a sociopath?  Was he angry?  Was he a danger to our children?

When I talked to the worker, the next day, I asked how he was and she said he’s doing great.

He’s happy in his foster home, is on the A-B honor level, is in the 6th grade, and is an all-around sweet kid.  I was surprised and relieved.  And, then I almost cried.  (And, she probably wondered what was up with this crazy lady.)

But, we had worried about him for so long and he’s actually doing well!  Such great news! 

He has some minor and not surprising diagnoses, but he’s ok.  And, whatever happened with his adoptive family, it was evidently a bad combination of a bad match and a kind of messed up kid.  I can’t explain it; I’m just so glad he’s apparently ok now.  

So, we arranged to see him next week.

William was really, really happy when we told him that he gets to see his brother.  We explained that his brother had been returned to the system.  And, yes, that happens, but never, ever to him.  I hope he believes us.  Thankfully, he seems to. 

I’m not sure how to explain this to Lizzie and Antwan.  We have talked about Patrick.  There are pictures of both older brothers on our wall.  But, it’s still such an odd concept for a child that age to grasp.  But, our life seems to be full of odd concepts, so maybe it will be ok.

They say that hate is a strong word.  But, I can honestly say that I hate that siblings have to be separated.  It’s just not fair.  The victims get punished.  What’s up with that?  But, it is what it is.  And, it can’t be helped and there are no easy answers.  So, we’ll make the best out of a still really, really good situation.  And. hopefully, in time, there will be more and more opportunities for each of them to connect.

But, right now, the important thing is, after all this time, the kids will spend an afternoon with their brother.  And, I will get to find out if he can put up with their emotional mom because I am so hugging that boy!

47 thoughts on “Sibling Separation in Foster Care

  1. So I take it that he wasn't diagnosed that UNTIL this last foster family and is all of the sudden fine now? Sounds like it has more to do with the family than him. I think that ya'll are doing a great job with the kids and it's good to let them see their older siblings but make it very clear that they are in different families and maybe say that their families will miss them if you take them in. ? You've taken in so much responsibility and have done a remarkable job. They are just awesome kids.Love.T


  2. I enjoy reading your blog. I want to comment on the part about returning a child to the foster care system. We did that. We had a 12 year old boy placed with us with the intent to adopt. We did all our homework – met with all the appropriate people- and there were no major red flags. However, within a couple of weeks of moving in he attempted to drown another child (while I was right there watching) and began to hurt our pets. We concluded that we were not the right family for him. We simply couldn't offer the level of support he needed. For the record, he had no previous history of these behaviors or anything that would suggest he would take them up. I know it sounds awful to hear of a child being returned to the system, but I do think in this case it was for the best.


  3. Oh wow, I'm so sorry that your family went through that. It makes me sad that you can return the kids, but yes, there are definitely circumstances when it's understandable and necessary, like yours. I heard stories in the Mapp classes about a girl being returned because she turned out to have a learning disability and stuff like that. That really upsets me, but no judgement from me on your situation.Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I really do appreciate it.


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