Sibling strengths

February 25, 2000

I was concerned to see the prominence afforded to sibling rivalry ("Brother Cain, sister Jane", THES, February 4).

The positive roles brothers and sisters play for one another is underestimated, and siblings in troubled families are too readily becoming separated. The government's push for speedy adoption from care is making this worse; it is forcing social workers to use whatever placements are available, in a context where far too few families come forward to take sibling groups. This leaves practitioners trying to assess the importance of relationships between brothers and sisters, often as a post hoc rationalisation when separation has already occurred. The danger is that any theory that portrays sibling relationships as largely negative will play into devaluing them and imply such separations do not matter.

It is, in fact, normal for siblings to harbour jealousies and rivalries and to squabble and bicker. Focusing on this as if it were something dark and dangerous only obscures the fact that it is equally normal for siblings to care deeply for one another, to be upset at being parted and to want to be reunited later. There is evidence, too, that being placed together may confer benefits, including making the placement more likely to survive.

We need to look a great deal more closely at what brothers and sisters offer one another.

Audrey Mullender Professor of social work University of Warwick

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