What do Serena and Venus, Ed and David, and Alistair and Jonny have in common?
They are all famous siblings. Granted some get on better than others, but they all have a special bond which has been formed over years of shared experiences. And this bond, because of its significance, has given us all some memorable moments - four 'all-Williams' Wimbledon finals, a fiercely-contested Labour leadership battle between the Milibands and, of course, Alistair Brownlee carrying his brother Johnny over the line in THAT triathlon.
Despite the odd sibling squabble, it is difficult for many of us with siblings to imagine growing up without them. Their influence on our lives was, and continues to be, immeasurable. And yet, when it comes to fostering, siblings are being split up far too often. We're not talking here about siblings for whom it has been decided they will do better not living together. We're talking about siblings who want to stay together and who social workers and the courts have decided being fostered together is in their best interests; siblings who should be living, playing and arguing in the same household. Siblings who will likely have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect, and for whom being split up from one another will feel like another card stacked against them in their young lives.
Children missing out
The Children Act 1989 requires local authorities in England and Wales to place a child with their siblings 'if reasonably practicable and consistent with their welfare'. Similar legislation exists in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, in England alone there are 455 sibling groups being fostered who should be living together but who are not. That's over 1,300 children who are not experiencing the shared childhood with their siblings that they ought to be.
The cause of this separation? Simply put, there are not enough foster carers who can look after a group of siblings. Three-quarters of fostering services in a survey we conducted in 2013 said that it had got harder to keep brothers and sisters together over the past five years. And things have got tougher since - in a brand new survey, 86 per cent of fostering services told us they had a particular need for more foster carers for sibling groups, as part of the over 7,100 foster families that need to be recruited this year.
This is mainly because of a lack of space but of course caring for two or three children is a bigger commitment than caring for one child. However, those foster carers who do care for siblings often find it incredibly rewarding, especially when they consider that otherwise the siblings might have to be split up.
One possible solution to the issue of space is our Mockingbird programme. This works on the basis of fostering 'hubs' with a hub carer offering support and respite to a number of fostering households. These households come together regularly for events, training, social activities, homework clubs and so on. This means that siblings could be placed in separate foster families but still have regular and natural interaction with each other through the Mockingbird hub.
American author Jeffrey Kluger once wrote that, 'To have siblings and not make the most of that resource is squandering one of the greatest interpersonal resources you'll ever have.' He was right about the importance of those sibling relationships and that's why, this Foster Care Fortnight, our call is for more people to come forward who could consider fostering siblings and allowing one more group of brothers and sisters to have the opportunity of a happy childhood together.
Foster Care Fortnight is the UK's annual campaign, run by The Fostering Network, to raise the profile of fostering and encourage more people to foster. To find out more about becoming a foster carer, visit www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/couldyoufoster