Celebrating National Sibling Day in Pennsylvania by Enforcing Act 115 of 2010
April 10th is National Sibling Day - a reminder of the importance that brothers and sisters have in our lives every day. Siblings provide identity and belonging and are a crucial source of support. Sibling connections are especially important for youth removed from their homes, where they can serve as vital life lines to a youth’s sense of permanency and family.
Youth in care have told us repeatedly how important the sibling connection is to them. Law makers have agreed. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 requires that child welfare agencies make reasonable efforts to place siblings together, and that frequent visitation be provided when joint placement cannot be made because of safety issues.
In 2010, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law to give enhanced protection and support to the sibling relationship. Act 115, which took effect in January of 2011, was passed in large part due to the advocacy of youth and young adults leaders. It requires that siblings be placed together, and that visitation be provided when, in the rare care, joint placement is not possible.
Specifically, the law requires the following:
- The child welfare agency must make reasonable efforts to place siblings together unless joint placement would not serve the safety or well-being of either sibling.
- If siblings are not placed together because it is contrary to their safety or well-being, visitation must be provided no less than two times per month.
- At all permanency hearings, the judge must inquire and make findings about whether the above requirements are being met and make any orders about placement or visitation to ensure that the law is being followed.
These requirements are now part of state law and court rules. They should be met before a child is placed and at every hearing where the case is reviewed. After the state law was passed, the Office of Children, Youth and Families issued a Bulletin that provides more detail on implementing the law and strategies for making sure the requirements are met.
Act 115 is one of the strongest laws in the country for supporting siblings maintaining their relationships; however, youth continue to tell us that they are not made aware of the law, and that many of them are neither placed with their siblings nor are visiting with them. This is a great month for case workers, administrators, and youth advocates to talk about Act 115, how it is being implemented in their counties, and how to increase and enhance joint sibling placement and visitation.