Out of all the looked after children in the care system today, it is estimated that more than half will have at least one brother or sister they do not live with. In our experience, many will not have regular and quality family time together. Some will have none at all and some will not even know that they have brothers or sisters.
In my earlier years as a foster carer, I witnessed the anxieties, stress and traumatic effect this was having on children and young people, and I wanted to do something about it. They had been through enough, and losing touch with their brothers and sisters on top of everything else was just too hard for them to manage. It's an emotionally powerful and critically important relationship, but more importantly, it's part of them, their identity, a link to their past and potentially a huge support throughout the rest of their lives. Children who face adversity greatly value their relationships with siblings, yet often they become disrupted when they are in care or adopted.
When siblings are first separated in the care system, their individual lives will change, and they must adapt to their new families and surroundings to the best of their ability. They are safe, nurtured, loved, and have lots of new opportunities, but many young people have said to us that there always feel like something is missing in their lives and that this became more apparent as they grew older, particularly during their teenage years. Their individual lives have been turned upside-down. And, unless a sibling group is placed together from the start or meaningful visits are set up straight away, they will have such different experiences moving forward. They will likely grow apart and never have the chance to experience this 'new life together.
When they enter the care system, their dynamics as a sibling group must also have the opportunity to change - they were born into a world together and have adapted to suit that world and their place in it. Unfortunately, they rarely get a chance to adapt to this new world together, and when the time comes for permanency or adoption, decisions have all too often already been made.
Set up in 2013, Siblings Reunited (STAR) is the only specialised service in Scotland offering regular support for brothers and sisters separated in the care system. Our intervention not only makes a difference in the here and now, it has the potential to change lives forever. Because of STAR, many brothers and sisters will remain in each other's lives.
As much as we would love every sibling group entering the care system to be accommodated together, we realise that this is unrealistic to expect. Families can be very large and, in some cases, it may be that living together would not be in their best interest. However, there is always a shortage of foster families or adopters coming forward with the capacity and willingness to accommodate a large sibling group. We realised that a special place just for brothers and sisters would always be required: A place to provide them with precious uninterrupted time together to help their relationship realign in the new world they find themselves in. A space to reconnect and help make sense of their ever-changing world, just being together in a safe and new environment with no previous memories - a platform to create new positive memories together.
Over the last decade, STAR has been driving and supporting change as well as helping to make that change happen. We have helped reunite over 600 children and young people from all over Scotland with their estranged siblings, as well as providing front line workers with alternative ways to support siblings. Working with Stand Up For Siblings, we have also helped shape and influence policy, practice, knowledge and service development. This group has been instrumental in driving forward new legislation and regulation in Scotland.
Our journey setting up STAR has been no easy feat. With a charity, potentially the first of its kind, there were so many obstacles along the way, some we thought could never be overcome in the earlier days.
STAR has a wonderful and passionate board, and a team of 50 amazing volunteers, bringing with them a vast amount of experience. We are based on a farmland setting, and offer a safe and fun environment for children to develop emotional bonds and help overcome the trauma of being separated from each other whilst safely supervised by our experienced team.
Referrals come directly from social workers or parents, and STAR can accommodate any size of sibling group, of any dynamics, or any disability. Our largest sibling group so far has been 9, our youngest 2-weeks-old, and our eldest 24. Our ratio of supervisors to young people is dependent on age, stage, dynamics, family size etc. We can have a sibling group of 9 with 5 supervisors, or a sibling group of 2 with 3 supervisors. We make sure that our families have the same supervisors throughout their journey with STAR, where they spend two years with us on average. There is a huge amount of work to do before the family arrive: this is a very important factor and a really good way to start all working as a team from the very beginning.
Although we provide opportunities for new experiences and positive shared memories, we like to stick to the basics - the stuff they tell us they miss: making food together, eating around a table, celebrating important events together. We have a garden and animal section, play areas and an outdoor kitchen, as well as woodland and beach sites.
Our families always choose what activities they would like to do the month before, from planting their own fruit and vegetables in our huge poly-tunnel, or harvesting what they have grown. They can spend time with our animals, bake or cook in the outdoor kitchen, or make pizzas in the pizza oven. They love bonfires at our woods or beach site, making dens, archery, arts and crafts, and so much more - it is their visit and they choose. It is lovely witnessing children being children, whatever their age, and making memories that will last a lifetime.
With a few exceptions, our groups only see each other at STAR, so when there's a birthday or it's Easter, Halloween or Christmas, we go all out as we're aware this will be their only memory together of those special times. When it's time for our families to leave STAR, they take away a book full of memories of their journey with each other.
We often get asked how long families attend for. When they first arrive, they have had many years apart. They might have previously tried contacts at other venues such as bowling, ball pools, or parks, but this did not work for them. We know when the children are ready to move on, but it can sometimes take the grown-ups in their lives (or professionals) a little longer to gain confidence. We help with this process and can slowly introduce the outside world to the brothers and sisters, as well as still having their monthly visits at STAR. It's always a sad last visit for our supervisors, but what a pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.
Visit:- Fostering Families for more.