Do you have a sister or brother? Someone that understands you better than anyone else in the world. That special person who knew you from the start and is always there when times get rough. I am fortunate enough to have both a sister and a brother. We have shared so much along life’s journey. Imagine…if you and your siblings were separated by circumstance beyond your control.
In Greenville County, 71% of children in the foster care system have a sibling who is also in care. And 56% of these children have at least one sibling in a different foster placement than all the rest. Recognizing the importance for foster children to maintain a close relationship with their brothers and sisters inspired the creation of Sib-Link™, a partnership between Greenville County DSS and Fostering Great Ideas®.
Fostering Great Ideas®, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of children as they struggle in foster care, was founded in 2011. This organization has a three-prong approach to its work. First and foremost it ensures that foster children are treated with dignity so they know that they truly matter. Second, it seeks to reform and improve the foster care system. And thirdly, it encourages and facilitates key relationships in a foster child’s life. Thus the genesis of Sib-Link™ among other important programs.
When a case manager believes more sibling contact is needed, Sib-Link™ orchestrates additional visits at regular, monthly intervals. While the children have fun spending time together during these visits, the primary purpose of Sib-Link™ is to re-establish bonds weakened as a result of prior trauma. Therefore, the time spent together is focused on problem solving, team building and shared experiences, so the siblings can be resilient throughout the difficult journey ahead. The statistics are staggering. Close to 30% of children remain in foster care for more than 2 years.
Along the way 51% of foster kids go back to their primary caregiver. However, when re-unification is not possible, the anxiety of siblings living in different foster placements greatly increases. At that point, their ability to see each other is left to the goodwill of the case team, since the court system does not require sibling visits. The Sib-Link™ program turns goodwill into certainty, ensuring that siblings will spend quality time together each month. These visits enable life-long sibling bonds to strengthen and in turn help to decrease a foster child’s anxiety about the loss of family and the uncertainty of the future.
During a recent interview Latece Logan, Sib-Link™ Program Manager, shared the story of the Harling sisters, Sarah, five years old and Abby, three years old. Through DSS these little girls had scheduled visits every other week. However as you might imagine they longed to spend more time together. Sarah cried every night begging her foster parents to see her little sister, Abby. Through Sib-Link™ two additional sibling visits were scheduled each month enabling the Harling sisters to see each on a weekly basis for the past 5 months.
At first the sisters had a hard time after each visit. Sarah would act out and it would take a few hours for her to settle down. Despite these difficulties early on, the sisters have established a very close sibling bond. They have started calling each other “Sissy.” They play very well together and seem to love each other dearly. Sarah no longer cries at night for Abby; her anxiety has decreased tremendously.
“Witnessing the transformation from anxious and scared to secure and confident little girls is why I do what I do. It brings great joy to my heart to offer them a sense of belonging,” explained Latece.
One of the things Sarah and Abby enjoy doing together is playing Jenga®, a wood block stacking game. They build block towers. Through this game, they must learn to take turns, encourage each other and have patience. They really have a great time as they bond through teamwork and play. And the girls’ story does not end here.
Both Sarah and Abby’s foster moms, soon to be their adoptive moms, have established strong bonds as well through Sib-Link™. They have started including each other at family events and outings, like birthday parties and trips to the Greenville Zoo.
David White, Fostering Great Ideas’ founder and chief idea officer, shared, “Healthy sibling bonds are critical for all children; particularly those in the foster care system. I am delighted that Sarah and Abby’s adoptive parents understand this and are committed to continuing their sibling visits after the girls’ adoptions have taken place. This commitment will offer them stability and the foundation for a bright future. I truly wish this was possible for all children in foster care.”