Sibling Bonds Matter, Especially for Children in Foster Care

April 10th was National Siblings Day, an unofficial holiday first launched in 2015 to honor the bonds between siblings. It’s not as well-known as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, but it’s an idea that’s catching on. This year, #NationalSiblingsDay was a top trending topic on social media as celebrities and everyday citizens shared their joy and gratitude for the brothers and sisters in their lives.

Sibling relationships can be extraordinarily important in providing emotional support, stability, and a sense of connection in our lives. For children in the foster care system, the feeling of belonging is even more important because they must cope with the trauma that landed them in foster care in the first place, as well as the pain and stress caused by separation from their families.

Researchers studying the effect of sibling bonds on children in foster care found that the anxiety and pain children feel is exacerbated when they are separated from their siblings, causing them to feel “they have lost a part of themselves.” When sibling relationships are maintained, however, it validates a child’s “fundamental worth as a human being.”

Children’s Rights recently signed on to an amicus brief, authored by the National Center for Youth Law  about a particularly egregious instance of neglect at the hands of a government system charged with protecting children. The suit was filed in the Ninth Circuit against Alameda County in California and its contracted foster care agencies on behalf of J.P., now seven years old.

J.P. and his baby sister M.M. had been placed together in an unsafe foster home. They only had each other. M.M. was rushed to the hospital after ingesting methamphetamine. After she recovered she was inexplicably returned to the same home instead of being removed along with her brother. On October 16, 2015, after ingesting methamphetamine for the second time, three-year-old M.M. died in her brother’s arms.

Defendants have asked the Ninth Circuit to revoke all First Amendment protections for siblings in foster care. Our brief argues that such a ruling runs counter to Ninth Circuit law, federal and California law, California public policy and well-established social science research confirming the significance of sibling relationships as a means of promoting stability and improved outcomes for children in foster care.

A decision is expected in the coming weeks, at which time we will post an update to this blog. We hope the decision will provide justice for J.P., and reinforce the critical importance of sibling bonds, especially in the lives of our most vulnerable children.