Ohio foster care youth and alumni recently shared their insights during an Interested Parties Meeting facilitated by Representatives LaTourette and Boyd regarding HB 448: Sibling Rights to Connection.
Participating experts, via lived experience, were:
1.) Jewel Harris
2.) Julius Kissinger
3.) Jerri Braswell
4.) Amanda Davis
Panel Moderator: Rep. LaTourette asked the following questions:
1.) Name, age, and whether or not you were placed with your siblings during your time in foster care/adoption
2.) One of the things this bill would do is to expand the definition of siblings. For those who experience foster care, the definition of sibling is often more broad. Do you have any personal examples of this?
3.) This bill strengthens the wording requiring child welfare agencies to place siblings together when possible and maintain frequent contact when siblings are not placed together. When you were in foster care did you ever go long stretches of time without seeing your siblings? How long? Were you told why?
4.) How would things have been different for you if you were not separated from your sibling(s)? What do you feel could have been done differently? Did your agency/county support or help you when asked about sibling visitation/contact?
5.) Explain in your own words how it feels to be separated from, and out of contact with, a sibling. How does this impact your/their Safety, Permanence and Well Being? (the three areas that the federal government measures child welfare on)
Insights shared included the following:
- Siblings are a core part of who we are. It's not "normal" (aka: Normalcy) to be separated from siblings. This loss can make a young person feel isolated - lost and alone in a great big and uncaring world where all they can do is sink or swim.
- Being disconnected from siblings is a traumatic loss that should be taken seriously, and it should be included when it comes to the mandates of a young person's individual service plan.
- Outcomes matter - and being disconnected from siblings can and does impact interpersonal relationships as an adult.
- If a young person experiences abuse in an out-of-home (or bio) placement, and has siblings to support them in that moment, this can be a major protective factor in empowering that young person to share what happened, and for them to stand together in demanding to be removed from that placement. But without sibling support, a child or teen can feel incredibly alone.
- For those who wish they could have been there to protect their siblings, but were separated from them, trying to build a relationship later in life is painfully difficult. It is tough to prove that you are a safe person to a younger sibling who hasn't seen you in years, and who has had painful experiences during which you weren't there to help. Especially when you wish you were there, but had no choice when it came to not being able to be there to protect them.
- Truly caring about the immediate needs and long-term success of Ohio foster care youth and young adults means moving beyond clinical descriptions of carefully chosen case files gone well. It means listening to the youth themselves about what they long for, and what they need. In most cases, they don't ask much - literally, the greatest ask I've heard lately was a young person whose Children Services agency is within a couple blocks of her high school -- and all she wanted was for her caseworker to consider meeting her at her high school, giving her a ride home, and just listening to her during the drive.