Family separation can be extremely traumatic, especially for children. At Camp To Belong-Wisconsin in Plymouth, brothers and sisters who have been separated by the foster care system have an opportunity to spend time together once again.
Siblings in the foster care system are separated for different and painful reasons. While each situation is unique, the pain of being taken from their home and their siblings is something these campers have in common. We sat down and talked with two different families at Camp To Belong- Wisconsin. We’re not using their last names to protect their privacy. We’ll introduce you to Vanity, who was featured on another Wisconsin Life story about the camp, and sisters Priscilla and Riaha.
Seventeen year-old Vanity is the oldest of five siblings. They hadn’t seen each other for six years before coming to Camp To Belong-Wisconsin. They expressed how happy and appreciative they were to be at camp.
Vanity says her mother was addicted to drugs and would leave her and her siblings alone for days. This left then 11 year-old Vanity to look after all of her brothers and sister.
“When she left us, she would never call to make sure we were okay. She was more concerned about getting high then taking care of her kids,” Vanity said.
One day, two of her siblings went to visit with their dad, which was against court order without another adult present. When the authorities found out, they took the two youngest siblings out of the home and placed them with their grandparents. The rest of the siblings were separated into two group homes.
Now a teenager, Vanity says she wants her mom to regain custody of her and her siblings. But, Vanity’s preparing to adopt all of her brothers and sisters once she graduates high school…putting college and her independence on hold to care for them.
“I would do anything for them. I just don’t want them to be alone anymore,” Vanity said. “Like if I can step up and do what my mom didn’t do, I’ll do it.”
Meet Priscilla and Riaha
17 year-old Priscilla and her 16 year-old sister Riaha are sitting in the mess hall as they talk about their lives before and after being separated.
The two sisters currently live apart. They have five other siblings. Some of them have been coming to Camp To Belong for four years, but a few haven’t had the opportunity.
“When we were taken out of the home I was 7 and she was 6,” Priscilla said.
She explained how ‘random people’ came to their home and told them to get their stuff because they were leaving. Priscilla said it was confusing at the time and it was a hard pill to swallow when they learned why they were being taken.
They were separated shortly after their youngest brother, Jack, was born.
“He was born addicted to cocaine,” Riaha said quietly.
The majority of Priscilla’s and Riaha’s siblings have been adopted and live in different homes, except their little brother. He was just given back to their birth mother. Priscilla said this was hard to understand because their mother has terminated rights for the rest of her siblings. It is especially hard on Riaha, who got to live with her brother after being separated for so long.
“It hurt because, once again, our mother was interfering in our life and what we needed with our siblings. It was really hard to get over,” Riaha said.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only sibling they’re separated from. Priscilla and Riaha also don’t see one of their sisters. They believe her adoptive parents have cut ties.
“I’ve heard so many things. That she cut us off and that she doesn’t want us to talk to her,” Riaha said. “It just hurts because we didn’t do anything.”
The teenage sisters are still trying to understand and accept their family history and their relationship with their mother.
“She’s not my mom. She’s not the person that raised me to be a good person. She’s not the person that helps me do right from wrong or learn things. That’s what a mom is. It’s not who gives birth to you. It’s the person who guides you through your life and who’s there for you and she wasn’t there.”