Advice on adopting a sibling group


Siobhan Rowe

Cathy Sarino works for Kelowna Community Resources in their Special Needs Adoption Program. Her job is to help children understand, and hopefully accept, that they cannot live with their birth parents or their foster parents. She works with the children and their foster parents to deal with the grief and loss and guide them into a state of readiness to join another family. Cathy works closely with foster parents so that they can learn how to deal with difficult questions and so they can help prospective families understand the child's personality, experiences, and needs. Cathy deals with many sibling groups, and she offers some advice on what adoptive parents should look for when considering such an adoption.

Two young brothers smile with their arms around each others' shoulders.Not all sibling groups live together in foster care. If this is the case for the group you're considering, find out why they're not in the same home. Ask what contact they have had and what practice they have of living together. Sometimes children are separated because of intrusive behaviours of a sexual or physical nature. If they aren't living together, ask if they've been visiting each other and how that is going.

They may be a sibling group but you must see them as individuals. Over the course of the visitation period, be sure to spend time with each child separately. Get a really good understanding of the role each child has in the family constellation. Investigate how they work as a group and how they relate to each other.

If you have other children, don't assume that they are happy with the situation just because they say they are. Be sensitive to them. Let them know about the possible pitfalls of other children joining your family. Make them aware that you know it is hard, and ask them how you can help them feel better. Adoptive parents often put a great deal of effort into the needs of the incoming child when just as much attention should be directed towards the receiving child or children.

Talk with kids to identify their feelings. People often say that their kids are resilient when what they really mean is, "I really hope this works out." Talk with the children to help them identify their feelings. You may need to have this conversation again and again. Kids read queues from adults about the suitability of given topics: for example, "This is something we can't talk about." Acknowledge how tough it is. Ask how you can help them, talk about their worries, but don't forget to discuss the positive things about your new situation.

Practice sharing space. If you have one child and you plan to have another one join your family through adoption, try to give them some practice at sharing you and their space. Invite children of your extended family or close friends into your home. Consider having some sleepovers.

Encourage empathy. Children start to relate as peers quite quickly. Encourage empathy between them, and explain to them how hard it must be for each other. Treating all the children fairly is vital.

Reach out. Cathy stresses the need to reach out for support from professionals, local adoption support groups and other adoptive parents. As well as being a great help for parents, seeing and meeting other families like their own can really help the children. If you are thinking of adopting a sibling group, talk to people who have done so, and stay in touch with them.