Sibling rights

Initiative Policy Goal

Place siblings together (unless safety is an issue) or facilitate sibling visitation See Related Resources.

Issue Definition

Young people tell us that one of their primary needs is to remain connected with their siblings when placement in foster care is necessary. Relationships with siblings provide the most enduring family connections. Too often, however, for young people in the foster care system, removal from parents also means losing their connections with brothers and sisters. Youth people removed from their families as adolescents may leave younger brothers and sisters for whom they were the primary caregiver or older siblings who played a parenting role in their lives. Research indicates that when young people in foster care are placed with siblings, they feel safer, may experience better outcomes – such as improved placement stability and reunification - and have fewer emotional and behavioral problems. Sibling relationships are critical social capital and essential in the healthy development of adolescents and young adults.

The federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 requires states to make "reasonable place siblings removed from their home in the same foster care, kinship guardianship, or adoptive placement...and in the case of siblings removed from their home who are not jointly placed, to provide frequent visitation or other ongoing interaction between the siblings." The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families issued Program Instruction ACYF-CF-PI-10-11 on July 9, 2010 that encourages child welfare agencies to develop standard protocols for assisting caseworkers when they consider not placing children with siblings and for periodically reassessing sibling visitation in those cases. The Program Instruction also states that agencies may establish their own standards for visitation and contact, but reiterated that the visitation or contact must be frequent which means at least monthly.

Examples from the field

  • Even prior to passage of the Fostering Connections Act in 2008, states such as Iowa, Michigan, Georgia and Maine enacted sibling connections legislation that was inspired and in some cases drafted by young people in foster care. Youth Leadership Boards from several Initiative sites produced advocacy documents, each one emphasizing the importance of sibling connections. In the Iowa document, L.I.F.E, Kayla states: "Keeping siblings together helps the siblings grow fully. When I didn't have my siblings it was the hardest thing and I didn't feel as though I was growing the way I should be growing. I have now gotten in contact with my siblings and I finally feel whole." Michigan’s Voice 2 document puts it in stark terms: "We want to stay connected to our brothers and sisters." In Georgia, young adults state they want to be placed with their siblings; if they cannot be placed together they want regular visits; and as a last resort, they at least want to be informed of significant events in the lives of their brothers and sisters. The passage of Maine’s LD 1682, An Act To Support Sibling Rights in Child Welfare Custody Matters (now Public Law, Chapter 526) was spearheaded by members of the Maine Youth Leadership Advisory Team.
  • Under Illinois policy, if the Department decides to separate siblings who are placed together, it must notify each child (if seven years of age or older) and the children's attorney and guardian ad litem in writing no later than ten days prior to implementation of its decision unless remaining in the joint placement poses an imminent risk of harm to one or more of the children. If there is an imminent risk of harm, the Department must notify each child (seven years of age or older) and the children's attorney and guardian ad litem in writing no later than five days after its decision to separate the siblings.
  • Wisconsin allows the use of exceptional foster care rates to support the placement of siblings in foster care. Agencies can determine, based upon the needs of specific children, the amount of additional reimbursement needed to provide for and support the care and placement of siblings together in an out-of-home care placement. For example, the efforts of foster families to transport children to appointments, assist in therapy or treatment plans, and work with sibling groups to help them cope with the circumstances they have experienced individually and as a family unit are measurable efforts that can result in additional exceptional payments and can prevent children from going to more restrictive placements. Agencies have significant flexibility in determining an exceptional payment. Related Resource

Related Resources 

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption.

Children’s Defense Fund.  FAQ: The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act of 2008: Maintaining Sibling Connections

EmpowerMEnt: Hearing the "Me" in the Voices of Georgia's Foster Youth; Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Opportunities Initiative

L.I.F.E.: Listen.Inform.Future.Empower; an Iowa youth advocacy document of Moving On Up! Passport to Independence Youth Leadership Board, Youth Connections Council, and elevateTM

Voice 2: Discussing Issues and Concerns of Michigan Foster Youth

Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. (2011). Social Capital: Building Quality Networks for Young People in Foster Care.

New York Office of Children and Family Services.  (2007). Keeping Siblings Connected: A White Paper on Siblings in Foster Care and Adoptive Placements In New York State.

Youth Law Center.  (2005). Keeping Siblings Together: Past, Present and Future. 


The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative is a national initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.