The latest #YouCanAdopt campaign focuses on encouraging people to consider adopting siblings. Figures show that nearly half of the children whose plan is adoption are in sibling groups. Also these siblings wait longer to be placed with adoptive families. The video for the campaign shows families with their children talking about the benefits they’ve experienced adopting siblings.
I am adopted myself, and was adopted with a sibling. As far as we know we were the youngest of several siblings, but it was only us two adopted together. Ours was an international adoption in the late 80s. We sadly know very little of our birth family, and nothing of the siblings we left behind. We then gained additional adopted siblings (non blood related to us). I am now an adoptive parent to a single child.
As the campaign rightly shows, there are huge benefits to keeping siblings together and not splitting them up. In fact, I think in most cases siblings should be kept together. Their shared experiences can be something that holds them together and provides the comfort and support they need when everything in their world is changing and unpredictable. They have that shared identity and history. They have someone who they are blood related to, which for some people is vey important and powerful. They can grow up not feeling that they are alone, and the only one to experience what they have. They have that link to their birth family right there with them.
For me growing up, and now, I would have been distraught if I’d found out I was separated from my twin sister. She has literally been there from the start of our existence. yes, as identical twins we are individuals, but, we do have that exact same upbringing and experience of early life together. We were inseparable when younger. We did support each other in life, we still do. We did take comfort from having each other, we still do.
Interestingly I have only occasionally thought of those other siblings. As I’m writing this now, I do wonder if they survived, if they grew up. If they’re alive, where are they now? I know I’ll never know. I know I’ll never meet them. I never had that connection and sense of belonging to them. I don’t have an overwhelming desire or longing to have a relationship with them. Reading that back, it sounds pretty cold and uncaring, but for me that’s the truth. Maybe if I knew knew names, ages or had pictures I’d think differently. Maybe having something concrete would make wanting to know them more profound. I don’t know. Thinking now though, I do wonder how I would think or feel if I found out I could make contact with them. What would I say to them? How would they react? How would I react?
I don’t remember being more close to my twin than my other adopted siblings just because she was my blood relative and they weren’t. I don’t think I ever thought of it like this. I was close to her because she was my twin, not particularly because we share the same birth parents. I also didn’t feel any less close, or less of an attachment to my other siblings because our genetics were different. Now we’re all grown up, I’d say I see all my siblings equally. We have that shared identity in our adoptive family, and that’s what binds us together. Yes, we have different stories and experiences, but we also have one thing that unites us, and that is that we (well I do anyway) feel that they’re my siblings as much as if we were all bon into the same family. I think what I’m trying to say is that siblings can be created from separate families, and be every much a new family as much as those bon to the same parents can.
The campaign does a great job at portraying the positives and benefits of adopting siblings, and if this means that more children get to grow up together, then good. I’m pleased to see that this time the ‘adverts’ include much more of the children, and they do seem genuinely happy and relaxed to be involved. However, it only just scratches the surface of sibling adoption. Prospective adopters will need to learn so much more about adoption in general, and the challenges that come with it, as well as the added complexities of sibling adoption. It’s not all a fairytale. Having a ready made completed family so you don’t have to go though the process is really not the ‘easy option’. Going from no children to one child is shock. two or more is even more of a shock, and new adoptive parents need to be aware of this, as well as appropriately supported.
What the video doesn’t tell you is the challenges that also come with sibling adoption. the trauma bonds that may exist, the rivalry and jealousy that can be present. It’s more than the normal sibling disagreements, it means that children can’t be left alone together at all, even for a minute. Any two children may need separate parenting skills and techniques, but adopted children also need that extra level of therapeutic parenting. Parenting siblings can feel incredibly lonely as it can split the family so that they rarely get any safe quality time together.
If adoptive parents are well prepared, and have long term support, then yes, adopting siblings can be and is amazing. With that time, love and energy poured into the children, they can achieve great things. What services must do is ensure that a proper sibling assessment is completed before a plan for siblings is decided. Services and professionals must listen to the carers of siblings. Those living with them each and every day. They must believe them and take their concerns seriously. Early and appropriate intervention may be what is needed to ensure that siblings are able together safely.
Sometimes siblings can’t stay together, because it’s in their best interests to be apart. I know there tends to be a bit of a stigma around splitting siblings up, and a view that they should stay together regardless. However occasionally this insistence to keep them together comes ahead of their safety and well-being. I’ve heard adoptive parents say that their children placed together never should have been. That’s not that they don’t love them or want them, or that they don’t try to give them what they need. It’s that they live their trauma everyday, and they can’t give what each child needs.
I know of siblings who are apart but both thriving in their separate families. In those families they each have what they need to feel settled and secure. In some cases they do have contact with their siblings, and they can still have some level of sibling relationship that they can manage. Sometimes contact its not the right option, and in those cases that’s ok. Sibling contact must be carefully considered, and sufficiently supported. Carers for these children must be able to see past their own wishes, and consider what is best for the children, even if it’s not something they would have chosen. I have heard far too many times of parents not facilitating sibling contact, with no particular good reason, and my heart breaks for those children. Of course we don’t know everything about their reasons, but I do wonder if they have really considered the long term implications of denying a child the chance to have some sort of relationship with a sibling. They must think about how they themselves would feel if someone restricted their contact with their own siblings.
We were approved to adopt a single child. This was something that we discussed and thought a great deal about. Something that was explored in our assessment. It was in part decided for us because of the house we lived in at the time. We only had space for one child. However, I think this decision to adopt one was the right one. I know we would have struggled with siblings, especially in the early days. I know we didn’t have the skills to look after siblings. Now we’ve been parents for a few years, and have learnt so much more about adoption, then yes, I think we could parent siblings now. We’ve also moved to a property much better suited to multiple children. I know that there are lots of siblings who’s plan is adoption, but I think that we need to be careful and not push prospective adopters to agreeing to siblings if it’s not the right thing for them. That’s just setting them all up to fail, which is devastating for everyone. If adopters do adopt siblings, then they need to ensure that support will be in place when needed. They need to ensure that they have an excellent support network. Prospective adopters should not feel judged because they have said no to siblings. They know their limits, and they should be respected.
I don’t know if we’ll adopt again, and if we did, It would probably be another single child. I don’t think it would be fair to our daughter to suddenly gain multiple siblings that she initially has no connection too. I’d worry she might feel left out as she can’t share the bond and story they would have. I think she’d be a great sibling, and I have a very positive relationship with siblings so it’s something I’d love for her to have too. From life experience I know that adding additional siblings by adoption can and does work. We have our own stories, but we have that shared identity to our family. Adopting again comes with a huge amount of other things to consider, and the existing child is one of the biggest. If a birth sibling of our daughter’s was born, and their plan was for adoption, then we’d certainly consider it. Of course we know it’s not as easy as that, and they’d still have their separate stories and needs to navigate.
To summarise, sibling adoption is complex. There are huge benefits to keeping siblings together. If they are to stay together, then the whole family needs quality and long term support. Sometimes siblings can’t live together, and if done for the right reasons that’s ok too. In these cases they need support to be able to maintain a connection and relationship if that’s what’s best for them. As someone who has personal experience of sibling adoption and separation as well as adding siblings by adoption, and single child adoption, I know the positives of sibling adoption. However I know that it’s not always straight forward or easy, and that it needs the right people with the right support to make it work.