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Sibling separation in care

My name is Hannah. I am nineteen years old and a care leaver. Growing up, I lived with several families before finding a stable home with my long-term foster carers, Jean and Hossein, who foster with Five Rivers Child Care.

I’m currently studying at Leeds Beckett University to become a social worker. I also work with Five Rivers Child Care as a young trainer, sharing my lived experiences of being a foster child with people who are going through the process of becoming foster carers. I am also a peer mentor to children currently in foster care.

I was ten years old when I went into care. I have two brothers, one who was six at the time, and another who was fourteen. My older brother was able to stay with my parents, but my younger brother and I were placed in foster care.

Initially, we stayed together during several short-lived placements, which all eventually broke down. The reason for this, I think, was because of the dynamic between my brother and me. At the time, I was quite protective and tried to act as a mother figure. I was used to caring for my brother at home, providing for him and ensuring he was safe. When we were taken into care, I didn’t understand the role of our foster carers. I found it difficult to trust them, and I felt I needed to step in to protect and look after my brother. I didn’t really have much thought or awareness about why I was being looked after. My little brother was always my focus. As I was only ten and very traumatised, I think it was because of this dynamic that we were eventually separated.

I wish my social worker had sat down with me and explained this. I just remember thinking, you can’t take him away. You can’t split us up. This isn’t right. No one asked, and no one listened. I felt brushed to the side.

My brother was placed with new foster carers and was very lucky and stayed with them. He still lives with them now. At first, I saw him weekly, but that didn’t last very long. It didn’t feel that there was an official agreement put in place by the courts or in a care plan. I always requested to see him, but in the end, we could only see each other three or four times a year. When I eventually met him, it was in a contact centre, which wasn’t very nice. I wasn’t even allowed to phone him. There was very little communication between us, and what we had – needed to be arranged by the adults.

I’d see my older brother when I saw my parents. However, meetings would get cancelled and rearranged, which was very disappointing. There was never a stable amount of contact between us.

I’m now nineteen, and I’m still unable to phone my little brother unless I arrange it with his foster carers in advance. I also see him when he has unsupervised contact with my Dad, which is great.

Splitting us up was very detrimental to our development and relationship, but I can also see how it has benefitted us as well. When you’ve been taken away from your parents, you become very attached to your siblings, who form a massive part of your sense of belonging and security. When I was taken away from both my parents, as well as my brothers, I felt very isolated. Because I took on that mother figure role to my younger brother, I also lost a sense of who I was. Suddenly I didn’t have to worry about him or his needs anymore. There wasn’t a slow transition, it was a huge shock and a trauma. I think more thought, time and therapy should have been put into helping us develop a healthy relationship and dynamic as siblings – instead of just splitting us up. Social workers should have spoken to us and taken what we said seriously about what we wanted. Losing your family means losing your identity and a sense of who you are and where you belong in the world.

Hannah is a care leaver who won the Outstanding Achievement Award at The Fostering Network’s Fostering Excellence Awards 2021. 

As part of the national participation programme run by Five Rivers Child Care, Hannah was involved in the creation of a film called “The Masks We Wear”, which depicts common traumatic experiences that affect young people in care, including sibling separation. The film was created to inform adults that work with care experienced young people (foster carers, social workers, teachers etc.), about some of the reasons why children are taken into care. This film was not intended for a younger audience due the nature of the content.

The process of creating this film gave the young people an opportunity to share their personal experiences and contribute to the plot. The group had to negotiate difficult decisions about which story lines were included in the film. They then worked together to create a script based on their lived experiences, which was then incorporated into a spoken word piece used in the film. Through sharing their experiences and working on this project together, the participants gained a strong connection with one another.

You can watch “The Masks We Wear” here.

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