This week is National Adoption Week 2017, the focus this year is on sibling adoptions which makes sense given that apparently 61% of children in care waiting to be adopted are deemed to need to be placed with a sibling.
I have adopted siblings, we adopted them from care. Like most sibling groups they went through a ‘sibling assessment’ to see whether they should be adopted together or apart. Many people with children will wonder why on earth that would be required, why would it ever be in their best interests to split them? Well there are reasons which I’m not going to go into detail for because I am not an expert in psychology. However, a few things to look out for and ask about if you are thinking about adopting siblings are: “they ‘mother’ their younger sibling”, “they get upset when their sibling gets attention”, “they are hyper-vigilant when their sibling is/isn’t around”
That’s by no means exhaustive, but are a few things I’ve encountered along the way. It is also worth looking up the term “Trauma Bond”, it’s usually used in relation to abusive relationships between adults, but it can certainly be applied to siblings who live in an abusive home (and by abusive I mean physically, emotionally, sexually or neglectfully).
My children do not have a negative relationship. Yes, there is sibling rivalry, once Youngest could start walking but before he could speak properly we spent close to 90% of our time mediating arguments over toys, because inevitably they want the one which the other is playing with – even if we had two the same!
Eldest was never in a position to look after his younger brother when he lived with his birth family, he was more interested in looking after himself, and his brother hadn’t been around very long when they were removed. That means that we are not competing with him to parent Youngest. This is not always the case, some children have spent so long being the ‘parent’ to their siblings that they find it very difficult to let that go. This in turn can cause problems with the relationship between adoptive parent and child, as well as between siblings.
In many households that have adopted siblings you are likely to hear things like “That’s a mummy/daddy job, you don’t need to worry about it”, “That’s not your job, let me do that”, “You don’t need to think about that, that’s for me to worry about”. Usually in relation to one sibling trying to do things for the other.
Sometimes that relationship between siblings is so unbalanced that there is no way the eldest sibling can be placed with their younger ones, they will constantly be on edge and hyper-vigilant around them, worrying, unable to relax. This can cause incredible issues for them forming an attachment to anyone trying to be their parent (which in many cases has been missing for the first chunk of their lives). Sometimes it is better for them to be placed on their own, given the attention they need and allowing them to relax and just be children.
Of course, that isn’t enough. You can’t just flip a switch and expect them to stop worrying about the siblings they were caring for. That is where sibling contact becomes very important. Indirect via letters, and direct face-to-face meetings. This allows them to see that their brothers and sisters are safe and well even without them looking after them, and hopefully will bring a bit of comfort in time.
So, even if you adopt a single child you cannot forget about their siblings. With one come the others. Even if in the early days contact between siblings has negative outcomes, some form of link should be maintained, if only to help build a more positive relationship in the future. That is the responsibility of the adoptive parent.
Adopting siblings comes with many issues that adopting one child doesn’t have. But it also comes with benefits. Now that our children are able to communicate between themselves they are able to, for the most part, resolve their arguments without parental intervention. They are able to entertain each other. Seeing them together, knowing their shared history of neglect and how they constantly surprise us brings me great joy.
Am I glad we adopted siblings? Yes.
Do I think we were lucky they have a positive relationship? Yes.
In hindsight, would I ask far more questions about that relationship? Absolutely.
Would I adopt siblings again? Yes.
Would I recommend adopting siblings? Yes, but only if you can get satisfactory information about the nature of their relationship.