Sibling RIghts by Mandy Alvarez-Pinero

My mom yelled, and I saw my mom’s water break, there was so much water on the bathroom floor! I saw my mom in so much pain, it was unbearable; I couldn’t even start to imagine what that would feel like! The panic started again.I could hardly breathe – I was so scared. I could hear the pain and fear in her voice and it stuck in my head and kept rerunning like a skipping CD. I called 911 as I checked on my mom. The paramedic was telling me exactly what to do if the babies were to be born before the ambulance got there.

My life instantly changed in those 10 minutes!

I started to black out once again, then I realized I had to right then become a complete woman! That was God’s challenge for me, he wanted to see if I could accept what he threw at me, or if I would let him down. The time was NOW! I knew God was using me to help bring my sisters into this world.

I did it – I had delivered my newborn baby sister. I was in tears! Crying so hard, not even knowing what would happen to this baby, it was not her time to come yet! It was too early! When I looked down at the little girl, whom I had delivered, she was so little she fit in the palms of my hands! No bigger! She was so tiny, barely crying, and her skin was so thin! Her hands were so little, her head was the size of my palm. Her eyes, as blue as the sky on a sunny day. Just like my mommas!

Would she make it? Would she live being the size she was? These type of questions kept going through my head. I remembered a quote by Desmond Tutu, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you.”

I felt so close to her, I felt like she already knew me.

I had been there daily helping my mom look through baby books to find baby names for the triplets. I had been there daily rubbing my mom’s belly to feel the babies kick. I had been there daily to talk to them. I wanted to be there for them and my mom, now. I wanted them to recognize my voice. I was excited to have three new little sisters! I knew I would be the best big sister ever.

When the paramedics got there, and I handed my little sister to them. Little did I know that would be the last time I saw her alive. We named her Angel for the brief moment she touched our lives. Sarah and Kelsey were delivered shortly after, each weighing under two pounds. Sarah blessed our lives for 10 days before she joined Angel in heaven. Kelsey being the smallest baby born of the three, turned out to be a fighter and now she is living today as a normal bubbly 2 year old.

This event changed my life forever! This is the moment that Child Protective Services, or CPS. stepped into my life, and ripped my siblings away from me. To my frustration and society’s downfall there are no laws protecting the rights of siblings.

Laws must be enacted upholding sibling rights.

Today, though my own story, as well as experts in the field of child development, we will discuss the importance of siblings and the negative impact on them when they are torn apart; the lack of laws protecting siblings; and finally how we must solve this problem in order to uphold family values and rights in America.

First, sibling relationships are important, and when the relationships are damaged it negatively affects the children.

William Wesley Patton, and expert on sibling rights, stated that “Brothers and sisters spend more time together and have longer relationships with one another than children have even with their parents.” (Patton) I wish could say this is true for my biological family, my two older siblings Chris and Jenny, and my two younger siblings Jr and Kelsey .

“GO TEAM GO!” Ah, football games once again. I was a cheerleader, and I loved it! Every Friday I was go to school, go home and take a shower. Then my mom would pick me up, we would go to the pizza place she owned, and there I would eat, change into my uniform, and mom would help me with my hair and makeup. “Time to go! Come on, Mandy can’t be late!” mom, step dad, brother, sister, and I would hop in the car and head to the game. I loved it when I had the support of my whole family, for some reason it felt like I remember everything perfectly, and didn’t miss a beat! I felt so much adrenaline pumping through my vanes. I could hear my sibling yelling for me from the stands. It was perfect, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Clara Ortega. is quoted as saying “To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.” (Bielecki) We may live outside the touch of time but when CPS becomes involved we also live outside of touch itself.

After the birth of the triplets, CPS investigated the whole situation with the well being of my sisters and me. In the meantime, I went to live with Jenny to give my mom some time to heal and have some alone time. A couple weeks went by and CPS did a home study of my sisters home. The results came back and said that she did not have enough money to support and raise me. I was then placed in a foster home, scared and confused. The state could pay a stranger but not my sister to care for me. To top it off my little sister Kelsey was placed in a different foster home than me! That’s not fair! I was now separated from all siblings! I was alone!

Look at me. Hear my story. But realize, I am a statistic! I am one of 35,000 brothers and sisters separated by CPS a year. None of these children, including myself and my siblings, did anything to come into the system. Yet we are the ones arrested, placed in strangers homes, group facilities, and given no rights. (Patton)

This is a national tragedy and it seriously harms children. Because of how important the relationships children have with their siblings, children in foster care may experience anxiety, trauma, grief, guilt and loss of identity. Gordon Johnson, of the Jane Addams Hull House Association, state, “When we split up foster children from their brothers and sisters, we are taking away the only connection they still have to the people they love, The pain literally drives children crazy.” (Kernan).

Secondly, there is a lack of laws protecting siblings, in fact there are none! That’s right -none!

A study done on siblings in the foster care system reported that no state has laws addressing all of the sibling rights issues.(Herrick and Piccus) Separating siblings is not a last resort, but has become the norm when deciding where to place each child.

In fact, the laws concerning adoption harm sibling relationships rather than uphold them.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 or ASFA’s goal is to adopted children quickly, this often forces strongly bonded siblings to be split up. William Patton and Amy Pellman, experts in sibling rights, argue that ‘the ASFA are antagonistic to siblings’ rights to association.” (Patton and Pellman)

And once adoption is complete- there are no laws requiring or guaranteeing sibling visitation. Adoptive parents are the sole decision-makers as to whether their adoptive child should have continued contact with siblings, and the courts won’t mandate ongoing visitation between them. So, at the moment of adoption of one of the children, all sibling rights are stripped away. (Child Advocate)

The foster family that I went to not only was willing to adopt me, they were also willing to adopt my little sister Kelsey. But the foster family which she was in, since she got out of the hospital, was wanting to adopt her too. So for 9 months Kelsey would live at our house for 3 days a week, and live at the other foster family’s home for the rest of the week. After those 9 months were up, my foster parents went to court with the other foster family that was trying to adopt my little sister. Hours had past, and it seemed like the court case would never end. Nervously waiting at my parents friends house. We got the call, we were supposed to meet my parents at a restaurant. Expecting to hear good news come out of their mouth; I was surely wrong! They told me that without a reason the judge had decided to split us up, and adopt us to two different families. I was in shock, and so much pain, I was not expecting that. Why again? I just didn’t get it. I had already lost 2 of my little sisters, and now it feels like she is gone too. My triplet sisters – the ones I helped deliver, I helped name, they were all gone from me now. Even though Kelsey lived, it was as though the judge ruled that she was dead to me. Visitation was never again guaranteed. Now the only thing I can do is hope and pray that God will keep this relationship between me and my little sister going.

So, what can and should be done to solve this problem?

First, from the moment children enter the system, siblings should be placed together unless it would harm one or more of the siblings.

Secondly, children in foster care, who are old enough to do so, should have a voice and be allowed to help in the decision as to placement (Leathers)

And finally, Sibling right of association must be recognized as a constitutional right

The first and fourteenth amendments upheld the family’s right to intimate association – but the Supreme Court has refused to rule on a case extending this right to siblings.

The National Center for Youth reported that “If sibling association is to be truly protected and promoted it must be recognized as a fundamental right, protected by the Constitution.” (Kernan)

The day that I held Kelsey in my arms in the neo-natal unit. I knew that she was my little sister and she was part of me. And that I would do anything I could to maintain a relationship with her, as well as my other siblings. But I may not be able to maintain and grow those relationships if laws are not enacted to guarantee sibling rights. Mine, and 35,000 other children’s, human rights are being violated every single year!

We must uphold family values, we must uphold the basic human rights of our children.

Let us not forget that in the entire history of our nation, the only institutions, other than CPS, which forced siblings apart, were indentured servant-hood, and slavery. (Bielecki)









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