January 01, 2013

The Role of Judges in Implementing Fostering Connections: Sibling Placement Provisions

Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act —Public Law 110-351, (“Fostering Connections”) is a federal law primarily designed to promote permanent families for children and youth in foster care. This law encourages:

  • maintaining family connections (June 2012 CLP), 
  • supporting youth transitioning from foster care (August 2012 CLP),
  • ensuring the health and educational well-being for foster youth (October 2012 CLP),
  • maintaining sibling ties (this issue), and 
  • providing many Native American children important federal protections and support for the first time by allowing Tribes to directly administer their local programs authorized by Title IV-E of the Social Security Act.

Read on for a brief overview of the sibling placement provisions. General judicial considerations for implementation and questions to ask from the bench to help ensure compliance with the law and best practice are also provided.

Title II: Improving Outcomes for Children in Foster Care

Section 206: Sibling Placement

Overview

Fostering Connections helps promote permanent family connections for children by  requiring states to make reasonable efforts to place siblings in the same foster, kinship, or adoptive homes, unless contrary to the safety or well-being of any of the siblings. If siblings are not placed together, the state must document why and make reasonable efforts to provide frequent visitation or other ongoing interaction between the siblings, unless this interaction would be contrary to a sibling’s safety or well-being.

Judicial Considerations

The Program Instruction clearly emphasizes that the courts can play an important role in sibling placement and sibling visitation.

How does your state define sibling?

The Program Instruction allows states to define siblings.

Does your state agency encourage the maintenance of relationships with siblings not in care? How?

How is the court encouraging participation in hearings to discuss sibling issues?

Is a periodic review being conducted to determine whether there has been a change in circumstances that would allow siblings to be placed together?

  • The Program Instruction encourages periodic assessment of placement and visitation.

Are sibling visits dependent on parental visits?

  • If so the court should require a separate visitation plan for siblings, which is not dependent on parental visits.

Does your state actively recruit resource parents who are willing to take in sibling groups with children of varying ages?

How is “contrary to the safety or well-being” of siblings being defined? Who should make such determinations? 

  • Children should not be separated unless a court finds that placement together is contrary to a sibling’s safety and well-being.

 

Questions to Ask from the Bench

Does this child have siblings?

Does the agency know the location of all siblings?

Are the siblings placed together?

Has the agency or court consulted with the child and determined the child’s wishes with regard to sibling placement and visitation?

  • If a child is not placed with siblings, why are they separated?
  • What is the necessary documentation of reasons for separation?
  • What is the agency’s plan for finding a placement that would allow the siblings to be placed together?

Have the circumstances changed that would allow for placement with siblings?

Were “reasonable efforts” made to keep siblings together, and if so what were they? 

  • Reasonable efforts may include referrals to family group decision making and family finding or targeted foster parent recruitment to locate sibling friendly placements.

The Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center serves as a national legal resource in support of grandfamilies within and outside the child welfare system.