ADVICE FOR CARERS
Fostering siblings: everything you need to know
At a glance
- How likely is it that I’ll be asked to foster siblings?
- Do Local Authorities generally try to keep siblings together?
- Do I get paid more for fostering siblings?
- Do I need two spare bedrooms to look after two young people?
- Are there benefits to the siblings from staying together?
- What about the impact on my own children of introducing siblings to my home?
- Will the siblings have separate social workers, etc?
- What is the matching process like for foster carers and sibling placements?
- What is the most enjoyable aspect of fostering siblings?
- What’s been the biggest difficulty in fostering siblings?
- What is the most surprising thing about fostering siblings?
- What did you most appreciate about the support you received fostering siblings?
- What advice would you give to applicants who are considering fostering?
When you imagine being a foster carer, you probably picture welcoming one young person into your home.
While that’s often the case, it’s very common for Local Authorities to need to find placements for siblings and, quite often, there’s a preference to keep those siblings together, if at all possible.
So, what does it mean if you agree to fostering siblings?
In this article, we’ll try to answer all the questions you might have — from the basic administrative stuff (for example, do I get paid extra?) to what the experience is actually like for the carer (including hearing a first-hand experience from one of our carers).
Probably a quarter of all enquiries we get at Lika, as an independent foster care agency working across London, are for sibling placements. These placements could be for two or three children — or even as many as seven (although you’ll be relieved to know, that’s not as common).
If you’re a new foster carer, we’re unlikely to offer you a sibling placement if the young people are also new in to foster care. There are too many unknowns. We need to get to know you a bit better, and we need to understand the kids a bit better, too.
If you don’t have room for two young people (for example, you’ve only got one spare bedroom), you’re unlikely to be asked to foster more than one young person.
If you do have the space, it’s possible that we’ll offer you a placement with up to three children, but we’ll discuss this possibility with you during the assessment process. Going at your pace and what fits your family is crucial.
To be able to foster four or more children you have to go through a special approvals process that involves getting permission from the Local Authority, so don’t worry too much about suddenly being asked to look after a big group of kids. That’ll only happen if we’ve done a lot of work together beforehand to get you ready for it.
When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense that Local Authorities might have to find placements for more than one child from any given family. It’s quite likely, but not inevitable, that the circumstances that affect one young person might also affect any brothers or sisters they might have.
If it is in the young people’s best interests to keep them together, then Local Authorities will generally try to keep them together. Quite often, though, larger family groups have to be split up. When this happens, a lot of work is done by social workers to determine the best splits and pairings. These could be based on age, gender, or even around who feels safe with who.
If siblings or sibling groups are split up in this manner, then there are usually special arrangements made for contact between them. That might look different in each situation, but it’s worth noting that it’s likely to be a feature of fostering siblings from larger family groups.
When you’re looking after more than one young person, it’s expected that expenses you have as a foster carer will also increase. So, it’s fair to ask if the compensation you receive as a carer will also go up.
In short, yes, you’ll get paid more for looking after siblings. Both the reward and allowance portions of your payment will increase. If you look after two young people, for example, your payment is likely to almost double.
Looking after two young people can also be a lot more work than looking after one, so it is hoped that, if you’re working and agree to look after siblings, perhaps the increased payments will allow you to reduce your working hours.
One of the very first things we ask potential foster carers when they initially call us is “do you have a spare bedroom?” Generally, it is believed that each child will benefit from having their own bedroom — a space they can call their own, a place to retreat to, to feel safe, to be alone.
So, ideally, siblings would have separate bedrooms, but the Local Authority will generally make a decision around whether a bedroom can be shared. Sometimes, if the kids are the same gender or if they’re both under the age of about 10, then siblings in foster care can share a bedroom.
You might be wondering whether it’s in the best interests of the young people to be put into a foster care placement with their sibling. Well, not always. It’s always done on a case-by-case basis, on the advice of social workers, and in conjunction with the Local Authority.
But often there are many benefits to keeping sibling together. There’s often an emotional attachment and they’ll often look after each other. Being in care can be incredibly scary for some children, so having someone they know, and who knows them, alongside them can be a great source of comfort and support.
We will always discuss the appropriateness of any placement with you but, if you have children of your own, we will absolutely be having a conversation with you (and with your children) about whether any particular sibling placement is right for you.
We want you, and your birth children, to have a good foster care experience. You’re not going to have a good experience if your kids don’t, so we give this serious consideration.
It’s quite possible that looking after two young people will double the amount of admin you have to do as a carer. They might go to separate schools, for example, not only making the school run longer but doubling the number of parent-teacher evenings you have to attend, and so on.
It’s also entirely possible that they will have different social workers, different contact arrangements and different log books, and have other diverse and separate requirements. Sometimes arrangements can be made to simplify things (Local Authorities might do their reviews together, for example), but that’s not always possible.
The matching process is carried out with all the due care and diligence that it normally is, but with some special considerations (like those outlined above).
But what does it feel like from a carer’s perspective? We asked one of our carers, Janet, what it was like for her when she was matched with siblings.
“When matching us, Lika considered me and my family’s cultural background, alongside the child’s culture and heritage,” Janet said. “This meant that we felt more confident we could meet the needs of the child. They also thought about my experience and what I had shown I was able to manage well, as well as what I might find difficult.
“I feel that this led us to have a really good match with the siblings we had placed with us.”
Lika’s professional team shared information about the referrals with Janet and her family before putting them forward as a match for the siblings.
“As a family, we appreciate that Lika look at the child’s background holistically and they consider all the needs of the child against our skills and abilities and look into the future to consider if we will still be a long-term match,” Janet said.
“We have been trained in different skills in parenting, therapeutic approaches, attachment and social learning theory, so that we feel more confident in our parenting.”
We asked Janet what she enjoyed most about fostering siblings.
“I most enjoy the fun and varied games and activities we can now be engaged in,” she said. “The siblings we have are so different, even though they are from the same family – which is so interesting, and beautiful to watch how individual they are and how unique they are.
“My husband and I have worked hard to help the siblings feel settled and safe. They had experienced a lot of trauma and loss in their little lives and they needed a lot of nurture and explanation and we needed to be patient.
“They did little things like steal food, not feel able to tell us the truth, but we worked with Lika to understand that this behaviour was coming from their fractured experiences, and they were fearful of caregivers’ responses to their behaviour. That helped us respond more helpfully to them.
“So, we all worked hard on the relationship between my husband, the two siblings and me. We feel really proud that we have built a trusting and secure relationship with them, and one in which they feel able to be honest with us.
“They feel connected to our grandchildren and us, and want to spend time with us. They feel that they know our boundaries and trust our responses to their behaviour and find us reliable.
“This is a huge development for these children, as other professionals, including their social worker and court guardian, have stated to our social worker, and us, that they haven’t been seen as settled before in other placements.
“So, this is what we most enjoy — as we feel they’ve worked as hard as we have. It feels like an amazing collaboration between our foster children, both our extended families and the Lika team, and we do feel like a family.”
The siblings Janet fosters, a pair of brothers, were considered “at risk” due to their previous experiences. Janet said that created a complex safeguarding situation where she and her husband had to be careful about who knew where the boys were. Communicating this situation to the boys was difficult.
“We had to find lots of creative ways with our social worker, and the therapist at group supervision, in order to give them an explanation which they would understand,” she said.
“We used a metaphor about their bodies; that we have parts of our body on show to others, but we also have private areas of our body that we don’t show to anyone.
“Therefore, there are stories we have that we can share with others, but we have personal stories that we only share with a few people who we trust.
“This helped our siblings to understand what stories they can share safely and ones that we should keep at home to keep them safe.”
“There wasn’t anything that really surprised me, because we have raised siblings — so we know what they are like,” Janet said.
“We knew they might argue, be harmonious, be different from each other but be thick as thieves too! This was expected.”
At Lika, we believe foster carers are professionals — and we work hard to give our foster carers the training and 24/7 support they need to be exceptional fostering caregivers.
Janet said that instant support from the agency was key to making the foster care placement a success.
“No matter what time of day it is, I will always get the support I need, there and then,” she said. “This makes my husband and I feel that there is always someone behind us – even when it’s 1am.
“We know them and they know us; they don’t just take the information from us when we need support – they offer us suggestions to manage behaviour. This is very important to us, as sometimes we are managing difficulties which makes thinking ‘out of the box’ impossible. We need that skilled support in order to help us do something different in our parenting. It makes our job a lot easier.”
Janet said she and her husband both also love group supervision.
“It’s also vital as we share skills and experiences with other carers who have the same outlook as us, and the therapist is very knowledgeable and gives me many things to think about,” she said.
Given Janet is an experienced (and fantastic) foster carer, we asked her what advice she would give people thinking about becoming foster carers. Here’s what she said:
“I would say that if you want to be a foster carer you should think about the reality of bringing someone into your family life. This is not just bringing someone into your home, but it’s bringing someone into your heart and your mind.
“The young person has to be considered to be part of their family and the child’s family is also being accepted as their extended family too. It’s very important that both the children’s extended family and your own extended family are able to have a positive experience of fostering and the young person in the middle feels comfortable and accepted by everyone.
“The fostering role shouldn’t be seen as a ‘job’. It is more than that. It’s about changing lives forever. It’s about making families and giving people the chance to have a sense of family and belonging.
“I feel that my family is bigger and these siblings are my family now.”
If you’re in south or east London and you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, give the helpful team at Lika a call on 020 8667 2111. We’re here to answer all your questions.
We’re in the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Bromley, Merton, Lambeth, Westminster, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Southwark, Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea.