I write this letter fresh from the joy of spending Christmas and New Year with family. This followed the release in mid-December of the report of our inquiry into the significance of siblings and contact with siblings when children are in care. The link between the two was not lost on me and I thought hard about the ‘what ifs?’. What if I had not grown up in the same house, if we had not fought each other for mum’s attention, if we had not stood by each other when things got tough, if we had not loved each other?
There are significant obstacles to children and young people in care enjoying the same close relationships with their siblings. They are often separated in their early years and sometimes live at some distance from each other.
The findings from the inquiry though supported the common belief that most children benefit from contact with their siblings. Beyond this, it gets far more complicated for those who are trying to do the right thing by children in care.
Common definitions of siblings may not apply because children can include both biological and foster relationships in their idea of family. They may be situation and time-dependent, such that the child has a brother now but he may not be a brother in five years time when they no longer live under the same roof. Aboriginal definitions of sibling relationships are likely to include children of maternal aunts and paternal uncles.
We found that children have clear preferences and insights about contact. They hold views about each brother and sister, rather than the group as a whole. Problems arise when two siblings have different views about the amount of time they want to spend with each other.
Children want face-to-face contact. Telephone or social media contact does not substitute. But children also want the contact to be natural and fun, relaxed and free from tension.The success of sibling contact partly depends on the insight and support of the adult carers and social workers.
You can download the full report
or a summary of the main findings and recommendations in PDF.