Hundreds of children are being overlooked for adoption because they have brothers or sisters who also need a new home, according to a campaign to reverse the trend whereby a third of potential parents do not consider adopting siblings.
Siblings make up the largest number of “harder to place” children still waiting for families, according to the latest figures from local authorities in England. These include boys and girls aged over five, children with a disability, and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.
The figures show that 890 siblings were among the 2,030 children waiting for settled homes at the end of last September.
The National Adoption Recruitment steering group said a consequence of splitting brothers and sisters could be “huge disadvantage” to their emotional wellbeing later in life, because it affected their sense of identity and shared history. It urged potential adoptive parents to “spare that extra space in their home, and their heart” for siblings, and said financial and practical support was available.
The former pop singer Sinitta, who adopted siblings in 2007, is among those backing the campaign. “It’s unimaginable to think how one could cope without the other if they were to be split in the adoption process,” she said, adding that her children, Magdalena and Zac, “bounce off one another showing love, affection, support and humour like no other relationship would be capable of fostering”.
If brothers and sisters are not split up they may remain in care, said Sarah Johal, member of the National Adoption Recruitment steering group and head of One Adoption West Yorkshire. “Their ability to lead a healthy, happy adult life may be impacted because they haven’t been adopted,” she said.
Sibling groups have to wait far longer than single children to be adopted, with 28% of people saying they would be interested only in adopting a single child, according to polling by Opinium for the campaign. As a result, more than half of sibling groups wait more than 18 months for their new family, and on average they wait a third longer than single children – spending an extra four and a half months in foster care or other temporary arrangements.
Data from 2019-20 showed waiting times for adoption in general have increased, with children on average waiting 612 days to be placed after entering care.
Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, a clinical psychologist and supporter of the new You Can Adopt campaign, said keeping brothers and sisters together had the potential to make adoption easier for parents. “The brother and sister bond can offer incredible life-changing benefits throughout all aspects and stages of children’s lives. This is especially pertinent for adopted children, with our research showing the bond can support mental health, emotional wellbeing, social skills, and help children settle into a new family.”
Cara Lester-Smith, 44, adopted three siblings in 2013 with her husband, Gordon, a secondary school teacher. After two rounds of failed fertility treatment and one ectopic pregnancy, they adopted Lucas, now 11, Dilan, nine, and Faye, eight, after attending an adoption event.
“It struck us how many sibling groups there were [in the pictures and profiles displayed],” Lester-Smith said. “Not just twos, but fours, fives, sixes. It was heartwrenching. I felt desperately sad that there were these sibling groups who through no fault of their own don’t have a family.”
They decided to adopt Lucas and Dilan, but were then told that the children’s recently-born sister would probably be coming up for adoption as well.
“For me it was a done deal,” Lester-Smith said. “Gordon was being a lot more practical. We had never had a family. How were we going to afford it? How were we going to fit three children in our home? We only had a Fiat Punto.”
But the idea of bringing up the boys without their new sister seemed wrong, and they went ahead. “I suspect for some people it’s the worry about the practicality [that prevents them adopting siblings]. What if it goes wrong and they can’t cope? What if there isn’t support? But in our experience, there is support from family, friends and the social services.”
In common with other adopters, the Lester-Smiths are dealing with the effects of trauma in their children, but the experience has been “life-changing”, Cara said. “We get to experience some amazing things together, have some fantastic opportunities and give them fantastic opportunities.”