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3.4.16 Placement of siblings

Last Modified: 28-Jun-2018 Review Date: 01-Apr-2017

Purpose

To give child protection workers guidance when a care arrangement is required for siblings in the CEO's care.

Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Communities, and care arrangement refers to placement.

Practice Requirements

 
  • Child protection workers must consult with an Aboriginal practice leader (or Aboriginal officer) when making a decision to place Aboriginal siblings in out-of-home care. All consultations must be recorded (refer to the Assist User Guides – Case Plan – Case Plan Consultation in related resources).
  • All decisions for the care arrangements and/or siblings must be regularly reviewed as part of the case and care plan process and Quarterly Care Report to ensure the short and long term needs of each child is supported.
Process Maps

Not applicable

Procedures

  • Care arrangement considerations
  • Definition of siblings
  • Assessing sibling relationships
  • Sibling contact needs
  • Contact decisions
  • Disruption of sibling care arrangements
  • Care arrangement considerations

    Child protection workers should make reasonable efforts to place siblings in the same care arrangement unless this is not in the best interests of the any of the siblings.

    Where it is necessary to place siblings apart, child protection workers should make reasonable efforts to:

    • locate as many siblings in the same care arrangement as possible
    • locate siblings in the same geographical areas, and
    • encourage and support contact between siblings, unless this is not in the best interests of any of the siblings.

    The following factors should be considered when child protection workers are making decisions about care arrangement options for siblings:

    • Where possible and appropriate, how many siblings can be placed together?
    • What resources will be required by the foster carer to support a large sibling group?
    • If siblings cannot be placed together, can they be placed in the same geographical area and, if they are school age, attend the same school?  
    • If siblings are not placed together, how will regular contact occur (if appropriate)?

    Siblings may be placed separately for the following reasons:

    • it may be in the best interests of one or more of the children to be placed apart – for example, if there is a suggestion of sibling involvement in the risk of harm to the other (sibling sexual abuse, physical or emotional harm)
    • a child has been assessed as requiring a separate care arrangement to address serious health, behavioural or emotional needs (trauma and loss)
    • it is in the best interests of a child to be placed with a family member who can provide a safe and stable home, but is not able to care for another child, or 
    • a child has significant attachment to the current carer but the carer is unable to care for another child.

    Child protection workers should also refer to Chapter 3.4: Child placement principle.

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    Definition of siblings

    Siblings are children who share at least one birth parent and/or children who live or have lived for a significant period with other children in a family group. There are circumstances where children have significant attachments to other children within their extended family or network whom they view as siblings.

    The term sibling could mean any of the following: full sibling, half sibling, step-sibling, adopted sibling, foster sibling and cousins.

    Sibling groups can include any combination of the above and may be different for each child within the sibling group.

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    Assessing sibling relationships

    When making a decision about the care arrangements of siblings, it is important to assess each child’s needs including their relationship with and attachment to their sibling. It is essential, wherever possible, to understand the child’s perspective in order to be able to grasp the importance of maintaining the sibling connections.

    Aspects to consider include:

    • the children’s positions in the family (a genogram may be helpful)
    • gender
    • cultural and family expectations for each child
    • emotional age at which each is functioning
    • extent to which the children have a shared history and family experience, and 
    • the role each child is perceived to have played (if any) in the sibling group before coming into the CEO's care.

    Helpful background information includes:

    • legal status of each child
    • reason for coming into the CEO's care
    • understanding of the child’s early life experience, and 
    • history of the child's care arrangements outside the care system and nature of their relationship with siblings.

    If separate care arrangements must be made for very large sibling groups, the assessment will help make decisions about which sibling relationships are most essential to the wellbeing of specific children.

    Children need to be spoken to individually (age permitting) and asked age-appropriate questions, such as:

    • Which sibling do you enjoy spending time with?
    • Which sibling enjoys spending time with you?
    • Who will play a game with you? 
    • Which sibling do you turn to when you are afraid or hurt? 
    • Which sibling turns to you when he or she is afraid or hurt?

    Assessments should involve consultation with the senior practice development officer, team leader, senior child protection worker placement services, and/or clinical psychologist as required. It may be necessary to convene a special meeting to consider and make decisions about separating, uniting or re-uniting siblings.

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    Sibling contact needs

    When siblings cannot be placed together, prioritising regular contact is critical to maintaining their relationships and minimising the trauma of separation where this is appropriate. This is particularly important where siblings have separate care arrangements and are case managed by different districts.

    Contact arrangements should be discussed and developed through case planning meetings and take into consideration the views of the siblings, parents, foster carers, and any other significant people. Other considerations include, but are not limited to, the age and routines of the children, the strength of the children’s relationships before entering the CEO's care, and the goal of the case plan (reunification or long term out-of-home care).

    Siblings of different ages may have different contact needs, whether placed together or separately. These needs are likely to change throughout the child’s period in the CEO's care and will need to be reviewed regularly.

    Siblings in separate care arrangements (or siblings who remain with family) should have opportunities to spend quality time together to maintain or rebuild a sense of belonging. Where some siblings reside in family care arrangements, child protection workers can allow informal arrangements for contact to be made between siblings where it is safe and appropriate. Where siblings are placed a significant distance apart, different options of contact need to be explored to promote the relationship – for example, maintaining regular contact through phone calls and text messages, emails and letters.

    The foster carer can provide an important role in promoting the child’s sibling relationships as part of their identity/child development work to enhance the planned contact.

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    Contact decisions

    When child protection workers are making decisions about contact, they should consider supporting documentation such as:

    • psychological assessments
    • behavioural evaluations
    • sibling and care relationship assessments
    • the response to any known objections to the care arrangement decision by interested parties
    • the efforts taken to locate an appropriate sibling care arrangementthe efforts to place separated children in close proximity to each other, and 
    • any plans to reunite siblings in a care arrangement.
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    Disruption of sibling care arrangements

    During the placement of a sibling group, the foster family may not be able to continue to provide a care arrangement for all the children.

    Reasons a care arrangement may change include:

    • the original assessment underestimated the needs or behaviours of a particular child or children, or 
    • the original assessment overestimated the foster carer's strengths.

    Child protection workers need to:

    • consider whether the focus of difficulties will switch to another child if one or more is removed
    • reconsider the decision made to place the siblings together or separately, and
    • consider what supports may be required in the care arrangement.
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