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Managing sibling relationships in foster care


A certain amount of arguing or fighting is normal amongst siblings. Known as ‘sibling rivalry’, this kind of conflict is not all bad. Having a sibling – whether a biological or foster brother or sister – helps children develop their social skills and work out ways to handle conflict.

A child’s ability to manage their feelings, especially feelings of anger and frustration, depends largely on personality and temperament. For children in out of home care, past experiences in their home environment also play a significant part.

A child who has come from a chaotic family environment, or who has witnessed violence in the home, may struggle to regulate their emotions or find it difficult to respond to conflict situations. But there is a lot you can do to create a safe environment based on respect and positive problem-solving.

  1. Prepare for new arrivals. If it is your family’s first placement, educate your own child or children that children in out of home care have had different life experiences. For example, they may have come from chaotic homes, experienced neglect or had other traumatic experiences.
  2. Be realistic. Don’t downplay potential challenges by promising your biological child/children that the new placement will be ‘easy’. Explain the types of challenging behaviour that might emerge and how to respond to this behaviour in a supportive way.
  3. Keep an open mind. Be careful not to tell children how the foster placement will be or how long a child will be in your care. For example, emergency care placements can extend into several months or even years. When a child does leave your care, whether after a long or short placement, prepare the other children in your home for their departure. Read our blog about when foster care ends.
  4. Be welcoming. Make sure your children understand that caring for children in need is not just a job. Throughout the placement, it’s important the whole family supports the child or young person to feel welcome and safe even when their behaviour is challenging.
  5. Empower your children. Giving children ‘big brother/sister’ responsibilities can build their self-esteem and provide valuable life skills. For example, older children can support younger children with household chores, or model healthy life skills such as personal hygiene or good study habits.
  6. Encourage time together. Spending time together is a great way of getting to know each other. A picnic at the beach/river, a family game of cricket or playing a game of Uno around the dining room table encourages communication, and communication builds relationships.

Although some children with different personalities, temperaments and other interpersonal issues may never develop a close relationship, others will form strong bonds for life. Always keep an open mind, remain flexible and don’t expect sibling relationships to be perfect.

Are you concerned about sibling rivalry in your placement? Your Challenge Community Services caseworker will also be able to provide strategies appropriate for individual children in your care or advise you if conflict escalates. Call 1800 084 954 or contact us.




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