WANT TO VOLUNTEER?
Call Sibling Preservation Program coordinator Kevin Nelson directly at 702-436-1624 ext. 220, or email [email protected]
Leaning against the wall outside Cowabunga Bay, towel tossed over her shoulder, 13-year-old Delcie waits.
She’s looking forward to diving into the cold, clear water, and to seeing her older brothers. Delcie is taller than most of the 75 or so kids standing around her on this hot day in mid-June, all waiting for siblings they haven’t seen in a month or longer, who may or may not show up.
Their separation is the result of placement in foster care, despite efforts by Clark County’s Department of Family Services to ensure that doesn’t happen. Delcie entered the system at age 9. She had fun joking around with her brothers a few weeks ago, but they haven’t arrived by the time the other children walk through the water park’s gate.
“They’re fun,” Delcie says of these monthly outings organized by the Sibling Preservation Program of St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. “They include you even if your siblings can’t make it. You never feel left out.”
St. Jude’s puts on these events and a summer camp to maintain or help build bonds between siblings who’ve gone through the trauma of a broken family. You might not think an afternoon of splashing around makes a difference, but relationships can fall apart because of lost contact, even escalate to permanent estrangement, according to the 2013 Child Welfare Information Gateway report on sibling issues that arise in foster care and adoption.
There are more than 3,200 kids in foster care in Clark County, and it’s estimated that only 45 percent are placed with siblings. However, sibling group placements have improved over the past three years in Clark County, up from 39 percent.
Holly Pace, 19, is at the water park to visit her younger brother (whose name is withheld due to the nature of his case).
“I see my brother once a year,” Pace says. “I love him a lot, and just want to have fun and hang out with my brother.”
He’ll start his junior year in high school soon. He has been in foster care for eight years and has three sisters and eight brothers.
“It’s important to me to see my family, any of my family. It’s been a long time since I’ve been reunited with them,” Pace’s brother says. “I love going to these events because it’s all positive, you know?”
There are several reasons why siblings get separated while in foster care, including the size of the group, wide age gaps, situations where they enter the system at different times and agency rules limiting the maximum number of children who can be placed in one foster home.
“We can never replace the quantity of time between these siblings, but we try to create that quality time once a month,” says Kevin Nelson, Sibling Preservation Program coordinator. “Even when you reflect on your own siblings, like when I do, I recall just those simple memories with my sister.”
Brothers Adam and Trace Goldstrom used to go to these events when they were in foster care, but now they attend as volunteers. Nelson remembers the Goldstroms because they were his first experience with reuniting siblings in foster care.
“Watching the impact these events have on the kids is inspiring,” Nelson says. “(These brothers) didn’t grow up in the same house for decades ... but for a few moments or hours they got to make memories together. And now they’re giving back.”
Nelson added that St. Jude’s could host more outings with more volunteers. “Instead of the kids seeing each other once a month, instead of 10 to 12 events, with more volunteers we can do 16 to 20 events.”