The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Testing of a Sibling Intervention for Pre-Adolescent and Adolescent Foster Youth

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 6:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 001A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Brianne H. Kothari, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Bowen McBeath, PhD, Associate Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Lew Bank, PhD, Senior Scientist, Oregon Social Learning Center, Portland, OR
Paul Sorenson, MSW, Doctoral Research Assistant, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Purpose: Approximately 70% of foster youth have one or more siblings in care and over half of state child welfare systems have policies promoting sibling co-placement (Shlonsky et al., 2005). Even though siblings may serve as essential conduits for social support and psychological development for foster youth (East & Khoo, 2005), few child welfare interventions have focused specifically on sibling relationship enhancement. Supporting Siblings in Foster Care (SIBS-FC) is a NIMH-funded curricularized intervention designed for 11-15 year old siblings in foster care with a younger brother/sister within four years of age and also in care. The intervention program seeks to improve sibling communication, cooperation, planning, and problem solving through 8 skill-building sessions and 4 community activities. This study examined intervention efficacy from baseline to 6 months post-baseline in key relational outcome domains.


Methods: 105 siblings in foster care were universally recruited from Oregon Department of Human Services and their foster parents completed baseline and 6-month post-baseline intervention termination assessments; sibling pairs were randomly assigned to either participate in the SIBS-FC intervention or receive community as usual services. At baseline, the mean age for older siblings was 13.10 (SD=1.47) and 10.66 years (SD=1.74) for younger siblings.  Approximately 60% of youth lived in non-relative foster care, and about 40% were mixed gender sibling dyads. Moreover, about 60% of youth and 43% of caregivers were non-Caucasian. Outcomes included youth-reported sibling relationship quality (Shortt & Gottman, 1997; α=.96), sibling self-efficacy (Powers et al., 2009; α=.87), and overall quality of life (Patrick, Edwards, and Topolsky, 2002; α=.78). Based on an intent-to-treat design (Fraser, Richman, Galinsky, & Day, 2009), ANCOVAs were conducted to examine mean differences between intervention and control groups on change scores of the three outcomes for older and younger siblings controlling for whether siblings were living together.


Results: Analyses revealed significant baseline-to-term improvement in quality of life for younger siblings (F=4.57, p=.035) and approached significance for self-efficacy for older siblings (F=2.75, p=.10) with all results in the expected direction. Sibling self-efficacy was significantly correlated with the confidence that they can develop a relationship with their sibling, quality of life, and hopelessness for both older and younger siblings (p<.001).  Although non-significant for overall sibling relationship quality, results were in the expected direction with siblings in the intervention group reporting a more positive sibling relationship 6 months later compared to siblings in the control group. 


Conclusion and Implications: As others (Feinberg et al., 2012) have indicated, the sibling relationship may provide a non-stigmatizing point of entry into the family for prevention programming with at-risk youth and families. Given the promising 6-month study findings in the domains of sibling relationship quality and quality of life, future research may seek to examine the suitability and impact of SIBS-FC and similar sibling-focused psychosocial interventions for different foster youth. Such sibling relationship-focused intervention development and testing is essential in social work and child welfare given the unique family role of siblings in foster care and the considerable social and relational needs of pre-adolescent and adolescent foster youth.