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Published Sunday May 10th, 2009 at 9:01am

Original Article by Robert Zullo

When the connections are severed, the void that's left never goes away.

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of children separated from their siblings by adoptions and foster care have faced emotional and legal barriers in their attempts to reconnect.

But philosophical shifts about closed adoptions and the wisdom of separating brother and sisters who go into foster care have begun to trigger changes in some states, child advocates say.

Historically, foster care and adoption systems were set up under the belief that children coming from abusive and neglectful family situations needed to cut ties with their former lives to thrive, according to Linda Spears, a vice president at the Child Welfare League of America, a coalition of groups that advocate for disadvantaged and vulnerable children.

"People wouldn't adopt kids if they thought someone from the child's past would come back and disrupt the new lives," Spears said. "There was really a value that adoption was about trying to approximate a brand new family and a brand-new start with no connection to the horrible past."

Louisiana remains a closed adoption state, meaning adoption records are sealed, even from siblings, according to Trey Williams, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services.

"Even if they petitioned the court, the court would not provide that information," he said.

However foster children who "age out," or turn 18 while in the system, can request copies of all their records. "Included in that would be mostly likely be information concerning siblings," he said.

The state also has a voluntary adoption registry that allows birth parents and children to reconnect if they wish.

Decades of experience have shown the importance of the bonds between brothers and sisters, even if they are separated at an early age, Spears and other child advocates said.

"Kids remember their siblings," Spears said. "We've learned that the losses and separation, the damage doesn't go away unless we really address it."

For a child adopted about 30 years ago, it was "nearly impossible" to get access to records sealed by the state, Spears added.

But case by case and state by state, stances on barring adoptees and foster children from accessing their records have softened, according to Misty Stenslie. deputy director of Foster Care Alumni of America, a network of adults who grew up in foster care and share support and information.

"The laws have definitely changed and the practices have changed a great deal over time," Stenslie said. "It is still an absolutely pressing problem."

Of 600,000 children presently in care in the United States, about 75 percent have been separated from at least one sibling, according to Lynn Price, a former cable television and media professional who has founded camps across the country for foster children to reunite. Price, who was raised by foster parents, didn't know she had a biological sister until she was 8 and didn't reconnect with her until she was 16.

"We're either going to know where they are ... or we're going to be looking for them," she said. "People are saying that this is the relationship that matters."