Can you imagine being separated from your siblings as a child, and put into a foster home?

I will never forget the day when I had to send five brothers and sisters to three different foster homes

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The Independent Online

I was a foster carer for 20 years in Northern Ireland and during that time I supported and provided a home for more than 40 vulnerable children. It wasn’t an easy job, but coming from a big family myself and as a mother, it was a calling that I simply couldn’t ignore. These children had gone through so much I had to try and make the childhood they had left the best possible.

I now work within the foster care world, for the children’s charity Action for Children. I recruit foster carers to give children the homes and support towards the futures they deserve. That is why our new campaign "Keeping Siblings Together" strikes a nerve with me. We have found that in the UK, in the last financial year alone more than 3,500 children have been separated from their brothers and sisters in foster care.

This strikes a nerve for me because I have been there when it's happened, and I know how absolutely heart-wrenching it can be. After 20 years providing homes for vulnerable children, I took a job at my local trust, and was tasked with putting young people into foster homes.

During the five years I worked there, there was one day that I will never forget. I brought five children, all siblings, into care. It had been confirmed that they were experiencing emotional abuse and neglect, plus the potential for sexual and physical abuse. For their safety I had to immediately bring them into my office while I frantically searched for foster carers who could take them in. 

As the hours went by and the children’s tears continued I couldn’t believe what I was about to do. I couldn’t find a foster carer that could keep them all together, and I was the one who had to tell them the bad news. Not only had I taken them away from their mum and dad, but I was now separating them.

I felt like a failure and I felt useless; as a mother, separating brothers and sisters was unnatural to me. I had to keep telling myself that it had to be done, it was in the best interest of the children. I had taken them out of danger and they were going to live in a safer environment.

As I sat down with the five of them to explain what was happening, the sound of heartbreak engulfed the entire office. If you can imagine a wailing animal in the middle of the night then multiply it by five, that’s what my ex-colleagues and I heard. Not only were the children crying, the whole building was crying — the admin team, the receptionist, other social workers and I. It was the saddest sound we had ever heard.

As we waited for the three separate cars to turn up and take them away, it was like being back at school for them. It was as if the children were being picked for sports day, but on a much more emotional scale.

The youngest two went first — obviously the youngest are always the easiest to place — and then the two oldest children went off. I was left hugging and trying to console the middle child; she had learning difficulties and couldn’t understand what was happening to her. Three cars came, three social workers came and the children were sent away in separate directions, 50 miles away from each other.

Seeing it actually happen in real life and being with the children behind these statistics, being the one that had to peel the children from off each other is one of the worst feelings in the world.

Therefore to help my ex-colleagues and give them the resources they need to help keep brothers and sisters together, if you can be their foster carers, then please do get in touch with Action for Children.