Third of foster children are separated from siblings

08/09/14

A third of foster children are split from their siblings

Imagine being told you could no longer live with your brother or sister.

A Freedom of Information request has found that is what happened to one in three children in foster care last year.

Those who have experienced it first-hand have told Newsbeat it left them feeling "empty and alone".

Government officials have said they are working with councils to recruit more foster carers who can take on children who are "harder to place", including brothers and sisters.

A leading children's charity has called separating a child from their sibling after they have been taken into care a "devastating double whammy".

The facts

Around 11,000 children under the age of 16 with at least one sibling were placed into the care of local authorities in the United Kingdom between April 2013 and March 2014.

An FOI request by Action for Children has found around a third (3,582) were made to live in different places to their brothers and sisters.

The charity asked all 211 local authorities in the UK and 89% responded.

Figures varied from place to place, but more children were separated from their siblings in the East Midlands compared to any other region, with a rate of 45%.

'I felt like someone had stolen my brother'

Scott King, 25, was put into care with his older brother when he was six months old and says he has stayed in about 36 foster placements, though he cannot be certain of the number.

"My brother was my whole family encompassed into one person," he explained. "I felt safe when he was there. I didn't trust adults because every adult that came into my life had let me down."

When Scott was eight, he and his older brother were split up.

"One day I got home and I went out to the rope swing where my brother used to sit every day after school and he wasn't there. I asked where he was and I was told he had gone to a children's home and that he wasn't coming back," said Scott.

That was the last time Scott and his brother would live under the same roof.

"We used to have fights and not really get on," he admitted. "But at the same time he was my only family. I looked up to him and I needed him.

"When he left, I felt quite alone and like there was no one there to look after me. I felt like someone had stolen my brother."

What do the experts think?

Action for Children says separating siblings can have a long-term impact on their emotional and mental health and that it can also act as a pathway to problems in school, homelessness and criminal activity as well as drug and alcohol addiction.

Chief Executive Sir Tony Hawkhead said: "It's difficult enough for a child when they are taken into care; it's twice as difficult if not worse still when they are taken into care and they are separated from their brothers and sisters.

"There are some cases where children are so challenging that it's important for them to have one-to-one care," he explained. "But in the vast majority of cases it is really important to keep brothers and sisters together.

"The truth is the reason we can't do that is because we simply don't have enough foster carers in the UK at the moment, we are about 9,000 short."

What now?

A Department for Education spokesperson has told Newsbeat it is working with councils to increase the number of foster carers in England and has invested money to try out new ways to recruit them.

The latest figures show there has been an annual 9% increase.

It is a similar story for the Scottish government, who has has teamed up with local authorities and charities to try and boost numbers.

The Welsh government is two years into a 10-year plan aimed at providing more support and training for foster carers. It is also trying to create a "fairer" allowances system, which helps carers cover the costs of looking after a child.

Newsbeat has contacted government officials in Northern Ireland and is waiting for a response.

Sir Tony Hawkhead said: "Foster carers can come from all different backgrounds, people who live in rented accommodation, single people, older people, people from same sex relationships. All we ask is for people to offer a loving and caring home."

Anyone who is interested in becoming a foster carer can call Fosterline, a free confidential service offering a range of advice and support.

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