Academic journal article Child Welfare

Sibling Kinnections: A Clinical Visitation Program

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Sibling Kinnections: A Clinical Visitation Program

Article excerpt

The growing literature on sibling relationships throughout their lifespans is of great importance to those working in the child welfare system, and in adoption services in particular. Sibling bonds are important to all of us, but they are particularly vital to children from disorganized or dysfunctional families. These relationships assume even greater importance when children from these families enter the care system. Supporting and sustaining these sibling bonds should be, and most often is, a priority throughout the child welfare system, with practice literature providing guidelines for arranging and sustaining sibling contact. However, children in the care system may also have dysfunctional sibling relationships as a result of their early experiences, and sibling visitation alone may not be enough to ensure a healthy, long-lasting relationship among siblings. Some form of sibling therapy, or 'clinically supervised visitation,' may be required to help children remove the barriers to form mutually satisfying relationships and to reinforce life-long relationships with each other.

The Sibling Kinnections Program (SKP) is a program of the Center For Family Connections (CFFC). At the heart of CFFC's work is the conviction to understand the needs of the children involved in complex blended family1 situations and to put these needs above all else. CFFC works with deep commitment and passion to assure that this happens and to motivate other professionals and advocates to act with the same principles. CFFC believes Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao's (2005) quote: "...adoption is about finding families for children, not about finding children for families."

CFFC was the first, and is still, one of the only agencies that provides pre and post adoption (including foster care, kinship, guardianship, reproductive technologies, and other complex families) clinical work, consulting, and training of parents and professionals without the conflicting demands of placing children as well.

Professionals and members of the adoption triad are increasingly raising concerns about the impact of cutting children off from the very experience of birthf amily, which may help them heal, and may, in many instances, be the route to better and sustained attachment. Thus, whether or not siblings are placed together, maintaining connections to their birthsiblings as well as to their birthparents, when safe and appropriate, is quite often a vital factor in healthy development. CFFC began Sibling Kinnections in response to the needs observed by families receiving services for Clinically Supervised Visitation2 (CSV) with a birthparent. CFFC staff identified the lack of resources for families desiring supportive and clinically structured visitation between siblings being raised in different homes.

CFFC staffs observed that siblings separated by the adoption and foster care systems and not receiving support for maintaining their sibling connections are often impeded in the ability to form trusting, permanent attachments with their adoptive parents and new siblings. This lead to the hypothesis that siblings were better able to form healthy attachments to their adoptive families when they experienced fewer disturbances in their relationships with their birthfamilies, especially their birthsiblings.

The commitment and involvement of the adult caregivers is key to the children's ability to form these connections with their siblings by birth, and to sustain them over time. CFFC hypothesized that it is essential that parents are willing to build relationships with the various adults parenting their child's siblings. Staff observed that when adults were not provided the opportunity to meet together and address any ambivalence or questions they have regarding visitation, they were less likely to facilitate relationship development of the siblings over time. Therefore, it is imperative that the adult caregivers be provided with supports as they negotiate complex relationships. …

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