One of the goals in child welfare is keeping brothers and sisters connected and placed together if at all possible. However, there are often barriers that get in the way of accomplishing this goal. This story about Bridget (12) and her sister Caitlin (11) and brother Sean (14) demonstrates some of those challenges and how to overcome them using child-friendly tools that elicit the child’s perspective and share that perspective with others.
The siblings have been placed in the Hernandez home for the past year while they’re waiting to be adopted. Over the past six months, Sean started getting in trouble more at school, would often yell at his sisters, and began running away from the foster home. His sisters were upset and confused by his behaviors. About a month and a half ago, Sean ran away from the foster home. The Hernandez caregivers decided that they could no longer manage Sean’s behaviors and that he wasn’t allowed to return to the home. Sean went to live in a different foster home and the sisters stayed with the Hernandez family.
This is not an uncommon situation for siblings in foster care. Often, one of the siblings may have challenges that prevent them from being placed together. Practitioners usually don’t sit and engage the children to fully understand their position. It can be easy to hear from the foster caregiver or hear in one brief interaction from the child that they no longer want to see their sibling or be placed with them. We often take this surface-level information and use it to continue with our case planning. From the perspective of the child welfare professionals involved in this case, they heard from the caregivers and the sisters that they didn’t want to have contact with Sean and didn’t want to be adopted with him. This posed a major challenge for the child welfare professionals who would like to keep the children together.
In this situation, the child placing agency case manager wanted to know more about the child’s viewpoint and was curious why the sisters didn’t want to talk to Sean or be adopted with him. The case manager was worried that the girls would lose touch with Sean and not be adopted with him. She felt that what the children felt in the moment shouldn’t impact the siblings’ life-long connection. The case manager decided to complete the Three Houses activity with Bridget and Caitlin. This foster care permanency tool helps practitioners elicit the child’s perspective and then share their voice with everyone involved in the case. The Three Houses are the “House of Worries,” the “House of Good Things,” and the “House of Hopes and Dreams.”
Using this foster care permanency tool, the case manager found out that Bridget actually had a change of heart and that she is open to being adopted with her brother Sean. In Bridget’s “House of Good Things,” she shared that she wants to be adopted with her brother and sister so that they can be a family again. The case manager was able to gather detailed information about Bridget’s worries and what she hopes for the future. While Caitlin was more apprehensive, she shared that she is open to communicating with Sean and that her worries related to Sean are mostly about her brother getting hurt. Caitlin shared that she misses Sean and in her “House of Good Things” she said she was happiest when everyone was all together. Bridget shared with her case manager that until now she hadn’t been asked about her specific worries and what she feels is going well. The case manager felt good about her work with the girls and felt better able to advocate for them because she had a better understanding of how they were feeling and why. Now that everyone knows more specifically what the children want to see happen and what they hope for, the professionals along with the caregivers can begin to make plans that honor the children’s worries as well as their hopes. Without this tool, the professionals would be making decisions based on their own viewpoints. Now that they have the children’s perspective, the professionals can make decisions that are more in line with what’s best for the children and for maintaining their family connections beyond foster care.