Sibling relationships in care

Iriss Outline
Published in Outlines on 16 Jan 2023

Read the full evidence outline that provides an overview of the literature on how to best support the relationships of siblings in care (including references).

From a developmental perspective, siblings are widely seen as instrumental in creating opportunities for the development of trust and understanding between young people, often due to reciprocal interactions such as play and conflict. Research shows that early sibling bonds can be extremely beneficial and can help the development of later relationships (Kosonen, 1994). A shared developmental and affective history places siblings in a situation in which they can become a source of emotional support for each other (Howe, Aquan-Asee, Bukowski, Lehoux, & Rinaldi,2001). 

Practice wisdom and limited research support the basic premise that children experience better outcomes when placed with their siblings in temporary care. These outcomes include greater stability, fewer emotional and behavioural problems, fewer placements, and fewer days in placement (Meakings et al 2017). Meakings et al (2017) argue that sibling relationships in the context of care impact children's outcomes in substantial ways. It can impact:

  • Placement stability and cohesion within the foster family; 
  • Permanence (including reunification); 
  • Health and well-being; and 
  • Educational progress.

The decision or desire to place siblings together or separate them when they must enter foster care is often based on the policies, procedures, and strong preferences of child welfare agencies. Sibling separation is more likely if children come into care at different times, if sibling groups are large, if the sex of siblings is not matched, with older children and where the age range of siblings was great, and when placement is in residential (group) care. 

Suggested citation: A Bocioaga (2023) ESSS Outline: Sibling relationships in care. Iriss.