One third of the 11,082 children placed in foster care last year had been separated from their siblings, according to research by Action for Children.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by the charity found 3,598 children in care (one in three) had been separated from their siblings.
There were geographical variations, with 45% of sibling groups split up in the East Midlands between April 2013 and March 2014.
Action for Children’s chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said: “For many children, being taken into care can be a confusing and upsetting time; add the distress of being split up from your brother or sister into the mix and the impact will last a lifetime.”
He highlighted the national shortage of foster carers who are prepared to look after siblings and said a dedicated pool of people who can provide a loving and caring home to groups of children needs to be established.
A poll by the charity found over half of children who had been split from their siblings and live in foster care were upset and angry about it.
John Simmonds, director of policy, research and development at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said he was not surprised by the figures.
“I think everybody will be very concerned to see that is the case, but it probably does reflect the feeling that is on the ground.”
Simmonds commented on the “well established” housing crisis making it difficult for sibling groups to find homes together as they need to have the accommodation to do so. He also spoke about the significant amount of resources it takes to house sibling groups.
He called for “creative thinking” to be part of the solution. “Central government, local government, independent fostering providers, there needs to be some kind of coming together to explore it in a more proactive and creative way,” he said.
Sue Kent, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said: “Social workers report that council fostering teams are so stretched that there is an emphasis on placing children within their own local authority, rather than with external providers who may be best placed to support a larger sibling group but who may cost more.”
BASW members have told of placements outside the local authority coming to an end regardless of the child’s needs, Kent said.
She also warned spending cuts are effecting the workforce which does not have enough capacity in the system to get foster carers who could offer accommodation to sibling groups assessed quickly enough.