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Keeping siblings together

Samir happy at play with his younger siblings
Samir happy at play with his younger siblings

When children can no longer be cared for by parents or extended family, staying together with their brothers and sisters is often a key desire. Sibling relationships are frequently the longest-lasting ones of our lives and where possible, we believe in keeping siblings together.

For children entering care, being with brothers and sisters can help youngsters adapt. Children often feel more secure with someone from their own family nearby. When siblings are separated in care, psychologists have found such a separation can trigger grief and anxiety. This can particularly be the case when children have experienced the traumatic loss of parents and need to have their siblings around for support.

Separation can hinder recovery

Unfortunately, given the lack of foster or adoption places for family groups in countries across the world, it’s still common for siblings to be separated when they are taken into care. We strongly believe that more should be done to keep children together, though in certain circumstances (for example where there has been abuse by an older sister or brother), it may be appropriate to re-home siblings apart.

More research is needed about the importance of being with siblings, but recent studies have shed new light on this area. For example, historically, children’s services often separated older children who had been caring for younger siblings, in order to free them of this pressure. But new research suggests separation does not allow older children to recover emotionally or move on from their feelings of responsibility.

Samir only ever wanted to stay together

Two brothers at SOS Agadir TPA 57003
Two brothers at our SOS Village in Agadir

This was the case for Samir. At fourteen, his childhood in Morocco came to an abrupt end when his father died and his mother abandoned the family home. Samir was suddenly the head of the household, with two younger sisters and a little brother to look after (Sana, Hiba and Saber). Life in rural Morocco is tough and Samir’s aunts and uncles were too poor to take in extra mouths to feed. Neighbours did what they could to help, but eventually Samir had to drop out of school.

To feed everyone, the fourteen year-old took a low-paid café job in the city of Safi on the Atlantic coast. Four hours away by bus, Samir had to leave his siblings with a family friend, returning only once or twice a month to bring back money. During this time, he was very unhappy, constantly worrying about his siblings.

On one of his visits home, a former teacher told Samir about the SOS Children’s Village in Agadir and said “you could all stay together”. A few weeks later a social worker made the necessary legal arrangements and Samir, Sana, Hiba and Saber were welcomed into their new SOS family.

In SOS Agadir, there was now someone else to look after Samir’s brothers and sisters. But for months, Samir would still get up early to wake his sisters and brother and dress them for school. His SOS Mother recalls “It took a lot of patience and time to earn his trust and help him let go. Day after day he saw that I was taking care of his younger siblings and that they trusted me.”

Becoming a child again

Eventually, Samir could see his new SOS Mother was doing a good parenting job. He felt able to return to his studies and take up his own hobbies once again. Today, Samir’s best friend is Kamel and they like nothing more than talking together. In Agadir, Samir has been learning some Spanish and teaching Kamel about local dishes such as fish couscous of his home region.

Though going back to studying was hard, Samir managed to pass his entrance to high school. This means he must now go to a boarding school and leave his siblings behind. But thanks to the care of his SOS Mother, he sees they are being well looked after. “Leaving my sisters and brother behind has always been inconceivable for me. But I realised that the family was not falling apart, that our SOS Mother would stay with them.” Samir knows that he has a place to come back to every weekend and most importantly, that his siblings will be safe while he is away. At last, Samir is free to be a child again and pursue his own dreams for the future.

We have been helping children like Samir in Morocco since 1985. Find out more about our work in Morocco...