Dancing together under the hot sun, Kai’Arre, 11, and Rae’Von, age 7, laughed and nearly toppled as the older sister tried to lift the younger off the ground.
The girls were joined with three more of their sisters for six days and five nights at Camp to Belong Colorado, a weeklong summer camp in Grant during the first week of June.
The girls slept in the same cabin, ate meals together and were happy to spend time together without court supervision – even if just for a week. The remainder of the year they spend apart, living in foster care, separated by the child welfare system.
These girls were among 49 foster kids representing 18 families who attended Camp to Belong Colorado this summer.
The camp is part of a larger organization that operates in 10 states and Australia, launched in 1995. On the Camp To Belong website, the organization says it’s responsible for reuniting 9,000 siblings over the last 21 years.
In Colorado, about 1,100 kids are a part of the state foster care system every year. Stacey Sanders, a camp executive, says that of the youth in foster care, about 500 are separated from one or more sibling each year.
Sanders hopes that Camp To Belong Colorado can expand to bring even more children together, and that she can organize more stable programing for sibling reunification throughout the year, in addition to the week-long camp.
That isn’t an easy feat. Until 2011, in Colorado, foster children did not have the right to visit their brothers or sisters. Once the state legislature passed the “Foster Care Bill of Rights,” which among other liberties, granted foster youth the right to see their siblings, the camp was able to recruit children and work with the state Department of Human Services to identify families that have been separated.
Camp organizers estimate that each year the camp costs about $30,000 to pay for space, for food and for trained workers who can help in the event of a crisis. To learn more about the camp, and the reunification of brothers and sisters in the state foster care program, visit http://camptobelong.org/