I grew up in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, with my brother John and my sister Claire. We were all very close. John and I were born only 15 months apart and played together all the time. Claire, although four years younger than John, was very much a member of his gang, following John around and not wanting to be left out.
Our childhood consisted of running around outside, playing on our bikes, kicking the football against the wall. Classic kids games, always played with lots of energy and noise. My strongest memory is playing cops and robbers with John. As the oldest brother, of course, I always tried to win which meant that I was determined to be the cop. That close bond stayed with us as we became teenagers and then young adults.
Then in 1994 our bond was shattered when Claire died from brain cancer just after her 31st birthday. Our family was heartbroken. Our sibling tie was suddenly destroyed and the grief of losing Claire will stay with John and me forever.
I have been at Action for Children for six months now and we have discovered that thousands of children are being separated from their brothers and sisters in foster care. In the same way that I felt the terrible loss of my sister, these children will also suffer and grieve for the loss of their siblings. The thought of them not being able to play with each other, ride their bikes together, or be those best friends that brothers and sisters are makes me both sad and angry.
That is what our latest campaign 'Keeping Siblings Together' is about - it basically says what it does on the tin; we are asking for members of the public to step forward and consider fostering to help us keep brothers and sisters together when they are placed in foster care.
In the last year our Freedom of Information request to all local authorities has found that a third of UK children, that's 3,582, have been separated from their brothers and sisters. We have surveyed children in foster care who have been split up from their siblings and they told us that being forced to live separately from each other makes them feel upset and angry. This is completely understandable. It is how I and I suspect most of us would feel as well.
Being in care means these children have already gone through things that no child should have to experience: neglect, abuse, the death of a parent and many more heart-breaking experiences. In a few cases, siblings may have to be separated to help them overcome those issues, which may have affected their behaviour and be impacting on their mental health, but this should only happen in extreme circumstances. We must do all we can to preserve that special bond.
Unfortunately, widespread sibling separation is actually happening on our doorsteps. That is why I am asking you to help us build a team of willing and dedicated foster carers who can open up their homes to brothers and sisters and help us to sustain the most important relationships children can have.
We know that one in thre people are willing to foster children. Last year, we tackled the myths about who can be a great foster parent. We know that people from all backgrounds, it doesn't matter if you're older, own or rent your home, whether you're single, co-habiting or married, male or female or in a heterosexual or same sex relationship, can all be brilliant foster parents so there should be no stopping you. If this is you, if you are willing to open your home to children who desperately need you care and support, please step forward. We need you as do our country's children.
As a fostering agency that specialises in finding homes for sibling groups, we will be with you every step of the way so let's help to create wonderful future memories and keep siblings together across the country.
And if you can't foster today, why not show your support and show the children in care that you care, by taking a 'sibling selfie'. As together we can help keep siblings together.