By Sean Pleus – 2.17.17
Growing up in a large family I have been blessed to have the support and familiarity of my five siblings, one of whom was adopted. I have also been lucky to have my parents around, however, I still relied and continue to rely on the advice and support of my siblings. I can only imagine how difficult it would be without my parents, and even more so without my brothers and sisters.
Sadly, close to 40% of the sibling groups in foster care in Florida are separated from their brothers and sisters. I cannot imagine being torn from my home, parents and family only to be left in the care of stranger without my brothers and sisters. I learned about this issue as part of my Leadership Broward Class 35. I and seven of my classmates, self-named Sibling’s Rock, were blessed with the opportunity to work with Children’s Harbor, a nationally accredited nonprofit child welfare agency, to raise awareness about sibling being separated in foster care. Children’s Harbor was established twenty years ago to keep brothers and sisters together in loving, nurturing in group homes on their beautiful eight-acre campus in Pembroke Pines.
Upon beginning our project, we got a chance to meet with the children who call Children’s Harbor home and talk to the House Parents who care for them. To say that it was an eye opening experience would not even begin to describe what I witnessed. The dedication of the House Parents who stay with these children and the way in which both the children and parents interact with each other is both inspiring and humbling. These children, some of whom have been through unimaginable life events, are having fun, learning, and enjoying the company of each other.
So why aren’t more siblings placed together in wonderful places like Children’s Harbor? While the Florida law dictates a preference to place sibling together, group homes are often considered the last option for placement. Florida law denotes that children should be placed in the “least restrictive and most family-like setting”. Due to capacity issues in foster homes, this course of action may lead to sibling separation rather than putting them in a nurturing group home.
Research tells us that siblings can assist in alleviating some of the fear, loss, confusion, and anxiety associated with being in care. Sibling relationships are significant in childhood development as they are among the longest and most consistent relationships we have.
The benefit of high quality group homes, like Children’s Harbor, is that they are able to keep brothers and sisters in the same area and coordinate transportation, school, events and other social activities all in one central location. Having seen the bonds of these relationships first hand I can attest to the overwhelming benefit that seeing one’s sibling on a regular basis can play in the development of our youth.
Our Leadership Broward group has had the privilege of interacting with these children, parents and staff at several events and we continue to be inspired by the great work being done at Children’s Harbor.
I would encourage everyone to talk to their legislators about protecting sibling in foster care by supporting group home organizations and learn more about Children’s Harbor and the great work they are doing for children in foster care by going to www.childrensharbor.org. I don’t think I ever would have done so had it not been for Leadership Broward, and because of that my appreciation and understanding of quality group foster care has been forever changed. I would like to personally thank everyone at Children’s Harbor, for opening their doors and hearts as well as my team, Sibling’s Rock: Elaine Wheatley, Adam Lang, Nicole Maron, Jane Kaufman, Roshun Wheeler, Kathryn Sims, and Roger Roa for all of their dedication and support!