What do you remember from your childhood? Do you recall a special memory with your sibling? Blowing out birthday candles, playing tag outside until dark, welcoming home your first pet? These joyful childhood memories are so important to our health and well-being. Sisters and brothers who experience foster care cherish their sibling relationships. However, once they enter the foster care system it is often difficult for social workers to find enough foster homes for them to be placed together. The result: more than 75% of siblings are separated from each other when removed from their homes.
What can we do to support children who live with this reality? I think one of the easiest ways for people to help transform the lives of thousands of siblings who are separated is to become involved in or create sibling connection initiatives in your area of the country.
I am involved with three sibling connection programs through a really wonderful non-profit organization called Sibling Connections: Camp To Belong MA, Sibling Sundays and We Are Family! Each of these programs provides developmentally appropriate opportunities for siblings to re-connect. Each program is designed to offer a specific experience: summer camp, year round sibling connection events for older kids, and sibling connection opportunities for little sisters and brothers. Each program helps sisters and brothers form healthy sibling relationships, exposes them to new opportunities, and enhances their well-being. They are non-traditional, innovative and fun.
FYI: The quality of volunteers that make these programs possible is simply outstanding. It is clear to me that people are eager to participate in stellar programs serving children who experience foster care. This is especially true of college students and young adults. All we need to do is provide them with a compelling Menu of Engagement Opportunities.
Each of the three programs that we have launched require a Coordinator, Steering Committee and a group of wonderful volunteers. You can establish your own non-profit organization like we did or you can approach an existing non-profit and/or cutting-edge child welfare agency that is already supporting children experiencing foster care to see if they might be willing to partner with you to create a sibling connection program.
Each example mentioned requires that folks fundraise dollars to operate the program. All require partnering with social workers and child welfare agencies in your area, both to make sure you are following state guidelines for child safety, and so your program can become a valued resource to children in your area.
Creating community partnerships to accomplish fundraising for sibling connection programs is doable because everyone understands the value of siblings spending time together. Most people are not even aware that siblings are separated when placed in foster care and, when they become aware of this reality, step right up to offer their expertise, in-kind services, financial support, and/or to become volunteers. It is a wonderful entry point for engagement. It also offers a wide spectrum of engagement options so that many more people can become involved. If they are unable to volunteer, folks can support the program in a variety of other ways.
Here are some great examples of ways that folks have supported our Camp To Belong MA program:
1. Youth celebrating their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs request that family and friends donate money to CTB MA to honor the occasion rather than giving them gifts.
2. Youth celebrating their birthdays request that family and friends donate gift cards to our Birthday Store to support our camp wide Birthday Party.
3. Campers and families at a local day camp donate sleeping bags, pillows, flashlights, duffle bags, water bottles, and journals/pens to campers.
4. Local quilters sew Sibling Pillows for siblings to decorate and give to each other.
5. A scrapbook company donates scrapbooks and expertise to campers so they can hold their memories close all year long.
6. Local bakeries donate cupcakes for our Birthday Party Fiesta.
7. A generous individual donor gifts each camper with their own disposable camera.
8. A game company donates boxes of games for campers to use in their cabins during Rest Time.
9. A group of local stay at home moms host “CTB MA Friendraisers” to provide much needed dollars for program materials and camp activities and events.
10. An accounting firm offers financial support and encourages its staff to be counselors for our week long and year round programs.
I invite you to transform the lives of children by creating a sibling connection program in your region now. Click on the Links for Camp To Belong, Sibling Connections, and the Center for Family Connections for more information and ideas.