Siblings belong together: Valerie’s story shows how separation in foster care impacts children in the foster care system—and the transformative effect of keeping siblings together. Valerie Ramirez is a student at Texas State University and is the president of Foster Care Alumni Creating Educational Success. She is currently completing her clinical internship in physical therapy and will graduate in May with a degree in Exercise and Sports Science. After graduation, she looks forward to spending time with her family, traveling in Europe and starting her professional career.
My Brothers Were My Everything
From a young age, my brothers were my everything. My siblings were why I would come back home; they are my happiness and comfort. When we first went into the foster care system, this event intensified the need to be closer. Without anyone else, we relied on each other through thick and thin. Yet, there was always the fear of separation lingering in the back of our heads no matter how “safe” we felt.
Fear of Separation in Foster Care
To put it frankly, I was very scared. First, I was traumatically taken away from a family I’ve known my whole life. Second, I was put into random people’s houses and told to be on my best behavior. Lastly, I had to act normal even if I was terrified because my brothers relied on me. I was the oldest and therefore had to protect my brothers. As an 8-year-old, I advocated for any social worker that would listen to keep us together. I knew that one fight, one mistake, or one disagreement could destroy our safety net.
Plus, we always heard about sibling separation in foster care, and I knew firsthand how unsettling it is to be alone in a new place. It’s already complicated being in the foster care system and navigating all the hardships that come with it, but to do it alone is so much harder.
With my brothers, I was able to talk about family, have others that could relate to me, and always be there for me.
My youngest brother was always in and out of hospitals during our five years in foster care. The first time being away from my brother was the hardest. I cried all night into my pillow, believing I would never see him again. The following day, I was helping my other brother with his homework, acting normal because I didn’t want to scare him. By 12 years old, I was planning on getting a job at a nearby gas station to save up money for an apartment near my foster house once I aged out.
By that time, I believed that once I hit double digits, I could never find my forever family.
Adoption: We Were the Exception
In the end, my only dream was to be near my brothers, make sure they were safe, and to see an amazing family adopt them. It was almost unheard of for a family to adopt three siblings at once, and I understood how rare that was. Yet, we were the exception. We found a family that adopted all three of us. The relief as I walked out of that courthouse with my new family was bittersweet, I could finally be a kid again.
I could finally breathe and know that my brothers and I would be safe.
Yes, there were a lot of difficulties after adoption from teenage rebellion, mental illness, and healing from abuse. However, looking over at my family, I don’t regret fighting to keep us together. I saw my youngest brother take his first steps when he was a toddler and watched him take his first date to a homecoming dance. I remember helping my middle brother learn how to write his name and saw him graduate high school. Without my brothers, I wouldn’t have been as happy or as successful as I am today. I love my family so much and cherish them deeply. My brothers are my everything, and I am glad I have them alongside me growing into adulthood.
There is a huge need for foster/adoptive families interested in helping siblings stay together. If you are interested in fostering or adopting siblings, please join one of our upcoming Information Meetings. Here, an Arms Wide coordinator will walk you through the process of fostering or adopting sibling groups.