Bringing Foster Care Siblings Together
Organizations like Camp To Belong bring a solution to a very large problem that is known to a very few people. In this story, we will explore the problem facing foster siblings, and how Camp To Belong works to provide these children the much needed time together.
Family is the fabric of who we are, and it plays a part in shaping who we become. We are all the result of generations past who hoped that their children would live a better life than they did. The connections between siblings stand the test of time because it proves that when a physical home does not exist “home” can sometimes be a person.
There are many reasons for why children are placed into foster care, ranging from drug and substance abuse to parents being medically incapable of caring for the children. Both the situation that caused the child’s removal and the actual removal of a child from their home are traumatic events and lead to emotional challenges that can last a lifetime. After a family is separated, the focus is almost entirely on the relationship between the child and the parent, and not on the relationship between siblings. Because of this, siblings can go months or years without seeing each other, even when they live in the same city.
The relationship between siblings has always been one of belonging. It is having someone in your corner with shared experiences. This connection is made stronger by living life together, by having birthday parties or star gazing nights, or pranking younger siblings. When that connection is lost or made impossible to maintain, these kids lose a part of themselves as well. Kids are resilient, but they can feel lost, isolated, and like they don't belong because the person they belong with is not there.
Siblings who are in touch or grow up together have a higher rate of self esteem, stronger relationships, and are better able to cope with stressful situations because they have emotional support.
“Camp To Belong was such an eye opening and humbling experience. It’s amazing to see the bond that children have with their siblings despite being separated. We laughed, cried, and helped create special memories for these kids that will last a lifetime. Camp To Belong is such a unique opportunity for these kids to be able to spend time with their family.” – Lindsey H., an AmeriCorps NCCC alum. CTB Camp Counselor.
It's easy to get lost in the weeds of the foster care system, knowing that family separations are an ugly, but oftentimes necessary and needed result of long term neglect or abuse. Making sure that a child in these situations is taken care of can become a very narrow frame of mind.
As a social worker, co-director of Camp To Belong, Rob Bauer says, “I had to know who they were, as in where they went to school, what medications they took, what diagnoses they had. It was very powerful to go to camp and see them as just children.”
When children are placed into the foster care system, they are often seen as just that; children. You won't see them being consulted on their care or where they are placed because if they were, they’d choose to stay with their siblings. It's important that kids in these situations are heard, that they know what the standards for their care should be, and know how to speak up for their rights. Camp To Belong has seen this issue and strives to address it by having age appropriate programs that teach their campers about their rights as foster children.
After being thrust into a reality in which they have little control, having stability and comfort are luxuries some kids must learn to live without. Camp To Belong allows these sibling groups to participate in a week of normalcy, surrounded by friends and family who understand and love them. They get to be themselves, to express their thoughts and feelings, and to ultimately gain their independence.
“The magic of CTB lies in the emphasis on fun – the entire week is dedicated to these reconnected siblings making memories together, and as a counselor it feels like a privilege just to be there. My first summer at CTB-WI was with my AmeriCorps team and we had no idea just how much the week would impact us. Experiencing our campers unique challenges and vulnerabilities alongside them forced us to become more vulnerable with each other. We became part of the CTB-WI family.” – Erin S., CTB-WI counselor and AmeriCorps alum.