Appendix A: Additional Information at Q10
Q10. What do you think would strengthen the existing guidance to help a looked after child to keep in touch with other children they have shared family life with?
The following specific amendments to the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, and the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 were suggested by a range of different organisations.
1. Add a new section 17(1)(ba) and amend section 17(1)(c) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 as follows:
“(1) Where a child is looked after by a local authority they shall, in such manner as the Secretary of State may prescribe - (ba) consider placing siblings together; and (c) take such steps to (i) promote, on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contact between the child and any person with parental responsibilities in relation to him (ii) promote and facilitate, on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contact between the child and any siblings of the child, as appear to them to be, having regard to their duty to him under paragraph (a) above, both practicable and appropriate.”
2. Add a new section 17(8) as follows:
“(8) Any reference in this section to a sibling includes any full sibling, half sibling, step sibling by virtue of marriage or civil partnership, sibling by virtue of adoption, and any other person the child regards as their sibling and with whom they have an established family life.”
3. Amend the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 to:
- place a duty on the children’s hearing to consider sibling contact at each hearing, whether representations are made on behalf of the sibling or not;
- give siblings the right:
- to be notified of hearings;
- to make representations as to sibling contact;
- to seek measures of sibling contact; and
- to appeal against decision of hearing or court in respect of sibling contact.
4. Amend the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 to:
- introduce explicit rights for siblings:
- to be notified of permanence proceedings;
- to make representations;
- to make application for contact with their sibling; and
- to appeal against any decision;
- place a duty on the court to consider sibling contact.
The following changes/additions were also suggested by several organisations and one individual. Respondents considered they should be included in statutory and practice guidance to embed a rights-based culture and achieve practice change:
1. Recognition of the immense importance of life-long sibling relationships and supporting children to maintain this consistency in their lives. Preserving relationships that are important to a child is as important as building attachments with new carers and family and is key to equipping a child to grow up with the necessary skills to develop and maintain healthy adult relationships.
2. Including protecting sibling relationships in corporate parenting plans and activities.
3. Including protecting sibling relationships in Care Inspectorate assessments.
4. Recording of children’s sibling relationships in social work and SCRA systems to help enable cross-referencing and ensure that records of siblings accommodated are linked.
5. A requirement for consistent recording of children’s views regarding sibling placements, direct contact and information exchange as part of the Children’s Hearings, looked after reviews, and court processes. Children and young people must be supported to understand the decisions that are made.
6. Acknowledgement that the nature of sibling relationships change as children develop and mature and flexible support is needed to accommodate these changes.
7. Universal access to life-story work for children permanently separated from birth siblings throughout childhood and early adulthood, to promote emotional and relational wellbeing.
8. Balancing the best interests of all siblings when assessing whether contact is appropriate.
9. Ensuring risk assessment of sibling contact is separate from that of parental contact, to avoid conflation of risks.
10. Where there are emergency situations requiring children to be separated from their siblings, once safety is secured in the short term, the long-term needs of the child must be considered without undue delay, including the need to maintain relationships the child considers important and to reunite siblings at the first available opportunity.
11. Provision of developmental and age appropriate support to sibling relationships, to help maintain and restore these over the long term. This support should take account of both the normal ups and downs of sibling relationships and the need of children who have experienced trauma for particular support to address this and move forward. This will often require input from professionals in relation to how to communicate and sustain relationships with one another.
12. Facilitation of contact with siblings of all ages, including when one sibling is an adult, and irrespective of whether the siblings were known to each other before they became looked after.
13. A range of support, both practical and financial, should be available to carers and adoptive parents to allow them to facilitate sibling contact. Contact will often rely on the co-operation and support of parents or carers. Information, education, training and ongoing support for parents and carers may be required to enable them to understand the benefits of contact and respond to any emerging risks.
14. Removal or interruption of contact should never be a sanction, or method of punishment.
15. Emphasis should be given to the quality of children’s experiences of sibling contact. This should as far as possible mirror typical family practices in terms of timing, location, activities and supporting risk. Brothers and sisters should not be expected to spend time together in unwelcoming office rooms. This is not a family-like environment, and does not allow brothers and sisters to relax, play, talk, re-connect, and spend quality time together. They should also have the opportunity to spend time together without a parent being present, and be provided with a setting where only one sibling group is present at a time. As far as possible venues should be neutral and away from previous negative experiences and association and supervised by staff able to promote positive relationships and assist children in developing such relationships. The facility for high quality direct sibling contact provided by Siblings Reunited (STAR) is unique in Scotland and we would like to see more children benefit from similar experiences across Scotland.
16. Recognition that contact between siblings can take many different forms, not just direct contact. For example, communication via social media or mediated information exchanges can be safer in certain circumstances and can meet particular needs. Simply receiving information about the existence and progress of a sibling may be sufficient in some cases to reassure a child or help with identity issues. Therefore, proper assessment of the purpose and appropriate form of contact is necessary as part of care planning.
17. A lack of information is highly distressing for children and young people. Effort is needed to support children to understand why decisions have been made, especially where contact is not able to happen.