It’s been a popular TV trope for decades, but for thousands of estranged orphan siblings, the desire to reconnect with their long-lost brother or sister is all too real. One program in San Diego seeks to make reconnecting easier. It’s called Camp Connect, and it saw its biggest turnout yet in the month of August. On the 6th, one hundred and ten children currently in foster care boarded a bus and headed to the campground, where foster children and their siblings converged. Some of them were meeting for the very first time.
14-year-old Anthony Racine was there to reconnect with his two sisters, who had been placed in separate foster homes. “Hang out, as much as possible,” he said, “without getting too attached. Because we all don’t live together.” His 17-year old sister, Tiffany, added: “A bunch of things have happened to our family. There may be cracks and small fissures, but we’re not broken, and we never will be.”
The three attended the camp last year, where they spent four days together enjoying being a family once again.
In San Diego County, there are at least 3,195 children in foster care. Recent changes to California state law encourage social workers to keep siblings together whenever possible, but thousands of children are live apart from their siblings, separated when authorities stepped in to handle cases of abuse, abandonment, or unfit living conditions.
Camp Connect’s official website explains the goal of the program:
“Each year, Camp Connect organizes a fun-filled four-day summer camp in the mountains of Julian. At this special camp, siblings connect through activities such as horseback riding, swimming, music therapy and zip lining, among others. Camp provides these children with an environment of fun and safety, allowing them for a short time to set aside their trauma and experience the joy of being a kid. Children not only bond with each other, but also with their adult mentors. Hundreds of San Diegans volunteer their time and energy to work Camp Connect events each year, dedicating themselves to these foster children and supporting a program that provides the best experience possible for brothers and sisters to reconnect and bond.”
They add that of the 2,849 foster children who have siblings, some 500 are eventually separated. “The same brothers and sisters that most often helped them survive their traumatic abuse or neglect, are not there to offer comfort while in foster care,” a statement on their website reads. Indeed, prolonged battles between the state and San Diego family attorneys can leave children in foster care “limbo”, where children aren’t sure if they’ll ever reconnect with their families. During these times, younger children especially rely on comfort and support from their siblings, who share the heartbreaking experience with them.
The camp is a joint effort from San Diego County and the private charitable organization Promises2Kids. It was developed in 2008, when the county and Promises2Kids combined forced and “researched ways to support children in maintaining their family bonds when it is impossible for them to live together in the same placement.”
Their website offers some impressive statistics regarding the program’s success:
- 70% of children maintain some form of contact (text, email, phone) with siblings between events
- 70% of children report positive self-esteem and confidence
- 50% of caregivers notice improved behavior in participant
- 90% of children describe themselves as happy to see their siblings
- 70% of children report these events were new experiences
Following the summer program, Camp Connect also offers year-round daytime camps, allowing siblings to stay in touch and engage in fun activates like ice skating, museum trips, and attending ball games.