Can They Be Kept Together?


The names of the sisters have changed

Situation: Jasmine Small, eight, and her sister
Rosie, five, have been fostered for eight months. Their parents,
both drug users, had a violent and abusive relationship – their
father would pimp for their mother in order to get money for drugs.
The children were taken into care because of their parents’
dangerous lifestyles and neglect.

Problem: Jasmine is quiet and resourceful but
Rosie is noisy, demanding and destructive. Social services placed
the sisters together at first but the first two placements broke
down because of Rosie smashing up the property. Both sets of carers
had said that they would happily continue to care for Jasmine – who
was “perfect” – but not Rosie whose behaviour was uncontrollable.
Indeed, Jasmine returned to the first carers while Rosie was placed
with specialist therapeutic carers. They both attended a
therapeutic centre twice a week partly for contact and partly for
ongoing therapy. Their mother has recently recontacted social
services saying she has left her partner, is determined to give up
drugs and wants her “babies” back. However, she missed her first
arranged contact. The social workers had been moving towards
adoption but while they would like the sisters to be together, they
are increasingly persuaded that, for Jasmine’s sake, she should be
separately adopted. However, during some role play Rosie gave a
line of her “cuddlies” all male names except one, whom she hugged
and called “Jasmine”.

Practice Panel Liverpool social services – children  and
families team

Panel Responses

Steve Oliver
We need to consider the following: should the birth mother
be given a further chance? Do the children need to be separated or
placed together in order to meet their needs? What support should
be provided to improve Rosie’s behaviour and over what

The birth mother has cited a significant change in her life and has
requested “another chance” to care for her children. Here in
Liverpool, we have a “families first” philosophy and we would give
careful consideration to this request.

But there would need to be reliable evidence that any
rehabilitation plan had a good chance of success within a
reasonable timescale before a change of plan from permanent
alternative care is put in place. In this instance a short,
time-limited viability assessment should provide sufficient
information to answer this question. However, the mother’s failure
to attend contact is not a good start.

Assuming rehabilitation is ruled out, should the children be placed
together? A full assessment of the quality of the sibling
relationship will be necessary. Decisions to separate children
should only be taken on the basis of a full assessment and having
considered support options for prospective adopters.(1)

Timescales are also crucial. Just as children often do not have
time to wait for their birth parents to change, neither should the
chances of permanence for one child be sacrificed by waiting for a
sibling to be ready.

However, contact is one way of managing any such separation.
Sibling contact is an essential factor in coping with separation
and research indicates that it can be the essential ingredient in a
successful plan for a permanent arrangement for the sisters’

Finally, it would be worthwhile discussing how individual
therapeutic needs can be met for both children, in particular
Rosie, using the adoption support regulations.

(1) J Lord and S Borthwick, Together or Apart: Assessing Brothers
and Sisters for Permanent Family Placement, BAAF, 2001. Also see A
Mullender, We are Family: Sibling Relationships in Placement and
Beyond, BAAF, 1999

Jill Thorburn
The social worker would first need to rule out any natural
reason for Rosie’s behaviour. It might be that she has learning
needs or possibly has a condition such as attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A psychological assessment of both
children may be necessary.

It is clear that Rosie is attached to Jasmine and that every effort
should be made to place these two young children together.

The reasons why they respond so differently to their circumstances
may never be fully understood. It may well be that Jasmine is a
more resilient child than Rosie. However, Jasmine might be
internalising her feelings rather than demonstrating her upset in
the way Rosie does. It is important that Jasmine has the
opportunity with her carers and in her therapy sessions to fully
express rather than suppress her emotions and thoughts.

Jasmine possibly experienced a less chaotic home life when she was
a very young child which has helped her develop a sense that the
world is not a totally unsafe place. Possibly due to Rosie’s age
she may well not have the vocabulary to vocalise her distress so
that her carers and therapists will need to find creative ways of
helping her express her feelings.

Before considering whether the two girls could be placed back with
their mother a parenting assessment of both her and her partner
should take place. It is a concern that so soon after expressing
her wish to have her “babies back” she failed to attend her first
arranged contact.

To be able to plan a permanent arrangement for the girls’ future
the social worker would need to fully explore the reasons why the
previous placements had broken down. There is a real risk of a
self-fulfilling prophecy happening with these two siblings. By the
age of five Rosie has experienced at least two major failed
attachments and is now so “uncontrollable” she has to be placed in
a specialised therapeutic foster placement.

The main focus of all work with the two girls should be a plan for
permanence. A twin-tracking approach must be used to ensure there
is no delay in the progression of their care plan. The assessment
of their parents will take place alongside the identification of an
adoptive family for Rosie and Jasmine.

User View

Jasmine and Rosie have been through a lot, having been taken
away from their parents, their family, home comforts and familiar
surroundings. Even though their parents’ relationship has been
violent and abusive it’s what they know, writes Chantelle

The two girls are sisters but they have different personalities
and characters. Rosie’s behaviour is probably her way of coping
with what’s happening to her and getting attention. It’s good that
Rosie is going to therapeutic carers. Even though these two girls
are young, kids pick up on what’s happening around them, and this
has been a major change in their lives.  

Jasmine is quiet and well behaved, but might be in turmoil
internally and is not able to deal with it. This needs to be looked
at now or she might bottle it up – with devastating effect in
future years.  

I don’t think at this moment they should separate the sisters.
Jasmine and Rosie have been through a lot and Rosie’s behaviour
could get worse if they split them up. I think it’s too early to
have the sisters adopted. Has any one sat down and asked them if
they understand what’s happened?  

If they do not understand now, as they get older I feel their
past history should be explained to them in a way they can
understand. Have social workers explained what adoption means and
if the sisters would like to stay together or go to different

The social workers should always listen to what Jasmine and
Rosie want even if what the girls are saying is unrealistic. At
least they’re being listened to and their voices are being

Their mother not turning up to visit the girls is a bad sign,
because she could have called or sent a message to the girls, even
if she couldn’t make it. This is not good for the girls because
they need some familiarity and stability in their lives. If their
mother is serious, she needs to make the effort. She needs to get
off the drugs and get clean.  

Have social workers been in contact with the children’s mother
to really look at her situation and whether she is telling the
truth about splitting up with the kids’ father?  

Also, what’s his view of the situation? No matter what he’s done
he’s still Jasmine and Rosie’s father. How do the children feel
about seeing him? 

Chantelle Gordon is a recent care leaver and is now a
teenage pregnancy prevention worker

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