A panel of foster youth advisers recommended a program to policymakers designed to support the relationships of siblings who have been separated in the foster care system.
At the forum Monday sponsored by Connecticut Voices for Children, foster children told lawmakers and state officials that being separated from their brothers or sisters can be painful for children in foster care.
The panel was made up of four foster youths who serve as advisers to the Department of Children and Families, who said among other things they have been looking for ways to keep separated siblings in contact with each other.
Alixes Rosado, chairman of the Manchester youth advisory board, said he knew first-hand the effect the distance between siblings can have. He said that growing up, he looked forward to monthly meetings he was allowed to have with his sister and two brothers.
But in Rosado’s case those monthly meeting were not enough to maintain a meaningful relationship with his siblings who were scattered about the state in different living arrangements.
“It’s really a sad story. Through DCF we were split up. Aside from one very temporary placement we were never together. That’s just the way it worked out. Here I am 22, all of them are grown, over 18, and we don’t have a relationship,” he said.
Kaysha Alicea, a youth adviser and high school student in New Britain, said everyone on the panel understood that the state has a limited number of homes to place foster children in and cannot always place siblings together but said those relationships are important to youths.
Rosado encouraged the department and policymakers to listen to the suggestions of the regional youth advisory boards when looking for ways to improve DCF services.
Seeking a way to strengthen the relationships of separated siblings, Rosado said his board began work on a proposal that initially called for the hiring of additional employees at DCF who would facilitate more sibling visits. The additional social worker in each office would encourage sibling contact and be there as a source of support, he said.
Rosado said he envisioned the project as a pilot program and its success would be measured by the response of kids who participated. But given the state’s tough fiscal climate the plan had to be amended, he said.
Rather than hire additional employees, the board recommended DCF reach out to the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work. Volunteer interns looking to get some experience in the field could be tapped to help support, he said.
“Basically those interns would be responsible for building and maintaining a relationship between siblings,” he said. “So alright a caseworker can do one visit a month but maybe that intern can do another visit.”
Rosado said the proposal the board came up with attempted to address possible complications like what to do about out-of-state siblings and maintaining the relationships of siblings with a large age gap.
The project is not exactly new. Rosado said it has been a finished product for about two years but hasn’t gotten much attention.
“It was given to the last administration, the last commissioner and it kind of sat under a desk or wherever, so we’ve just been holding on to it,” he said.
Current DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, was among the state officials at the forum, and she seemed interested. She asked Rosado if he had the proposal with him. He did not but said he would provide her with it. After the discussion Katz said she was interested in seeing it and determining what the department could do to facilitate it.
She said DCF is also looking to take other steps to provide foster youth with more access to their siblings. The simplest way to accomplish that is to encourage the placement of foster children with their relatives.
“That’s the easy way to do that because that’s the relative to all of those children, so that’s an automatic connection. So we can start with that as one of many, many steps,” she said.
That could help improve family ties for foster children going forward and prevent scenarios like Rosado’s. Though he is now 22 years old, a college student, and a single father of a four-year-old daughter, Rosado said he still wishes he had a better relationship with his three estranged siblings.
“It kind of pains me to know that my daughter doesn’t have the relationship with her aunt and her uncles and I kind of wish it was there. I just wish she was able to grow up with them because I know what a difference it makes but strangely enough there’s no motivation to make the relationship and that’s just because of years, years, years of time spent apart,” he said.
Rosado was not alone in his desire to maintain ties to his family. The panel discussion was attended by dozens of foster youths. Many of them expressed a desire to have more contact with their separated family members and the youths who were placed in the same home as their siblings described themselves as lucky.
Joieanne Canestri, 23 of Bridgeport, said she has two brothers and two sisters but even as an adult, is only allowed contact with some of them. She said she would like to be able to see her two younger brothers who now live in Massachusetts.
“I only saw them when they were six months old. They’re now eight,” she said.