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January 14, 2023

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law which gives foster children the legal right to see their siblings

The bill which was introduced by the Department of Children and Families' Youth Council, requires that all foster children must be provided an email address, a phone number, and the home address of their siblings.

A new law signed by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy gives children in the foster care system the legal rights to see their brothers and sisters. 

Murphy signed the New Jersey Siblings Bill of Rights, which was introduced last January by the Department of Children and Families Youth Council, which did not feel visitation was prioritized.

Last May, the youth council released a Youtube video presentation outlining the bill of rights. One of the speakers, Alisson, said, "The Sibling Bill of Rights is important to me because siblings share a bond that is like no other. Who can relate to and understand you better than your sibling, especially in times of chaos? It's a relationship that you will have for your whole life. For it to grow, we must remain together."

There were no laws prohibiting siblings from reconnecting with each other; however, a visitation plan had to be created by foster parents, the Department of Child Protection and Permanency, and birth parents.

"The Sibling Bill of Rights is founded on a simple idea that sibling relationships are important and that the child welfare system should do everything within its power to preserve those relationships," Tawanna Brown, a member of the DCF Youth Council, said. "By including protections for sibling relationships in New Jersey law, we're sending a clear message that this Administration values these bonds and that they recognize their importance to the emotional safety and well-being of children in care."

The council was created in 2020 and made of two dozen teenagers and young adults ages 14-23 years old who have lived in foster care for the state Department of Children and Families better understand their experiences, reported.

Data from the Department of Children and Families notes in October of last year, 3,099 children and youth 21 and younger were in foster care, and 54% had at least one sibling. October. As of October 2022, 79% of children with siblings had visited regularly, according to a report from  Children and Families Commissioner Christine Beyer.

"This bill represents the power of shared leadership and the importance of having individuals with lived experiences in a meaningful role at the table," Beyer said.

Under the law, New Jersey's Division of Child Protection and Permanency makes sure steps are followed so that children and their siblings remain in regular contact. For example, all children must be provided an email address, a phone number, and the home address of their siblings.

On top of that, brothers and sisters will be allowed to participate in any meetings that discuss their siblings' futures.

In 2019 the Child Welfare Information released a bulletin on sibling issues in foster care, noting that connections with brothers and sisters can offer a valuable sense of protection and comfort for foster children.

The bulletin concluded that "maintaining and strengthening sibling bonds is a key component to child well-being and permanency outcomes."