Part 10: Prioritising sibling relationships for children in care Background
10.1 The consultation on the review of the 1995 Act sought views on:
- strengthening existing guidance to help a looked after child to keep in touch with other children they have shared family life with; and
- steps that should be taken by the Scottish Government to help ensure children continue to have relationships with family members, other than their parents, who are important to them.
10.2 There was an overwhelming consensus from consultation responses in favour of strengthening the law to maintain sibling relationships. The Scottish Government is aware of a growing bank of evidence that keeping siblings together and maintaining contact is beneficial for a child’s wellbeing.
10.3 There are provisions in the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 which require local authorities to assess sibling relationships and to ensure that brothers and sisters are placed together or as near to each other as possible where practicable and appropriate. There is no duty on legal authorities to promote contact between siblings when they are taken into care. Research shows that siblings are frequently separated when they are taken into care.
10.4 The Scottish Government wishes all looked after children to be supported to maintain contact with each other, where this is appropriate and practicable.
10.5 The Scottish Government aims to ensure that siblings who need to be looked after by local authorities are placed together when it is in their best interests to do so.
10.6 The Scottish Government recognises the importance of ‘sibling like’ relationships to children who are in care.
Duties on local authorities
10.7 Section 10 of the Children (Scotland) Bill introduces a duty on local authorities to promote direct contact and personal relations between a child and their siblings, where this is both practicable and appropriate and in the interests of the child. Siblings are defined to include individuals with whom a child has an ongoing relationship with the character of a sibling relationship.
10.8 Section 10 of the Bill also requires local authorities to seek the views of the child’s sibling in relation to contact when it is reasonably practicable for the local authority to do so.
Amendments to Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009
10.9 The Scottish Government will introduce amendments to the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 to put a duty on local authorities to place siblings under 18 years of age together when they are looked after away from home when it is in their best interests to do so. These regulations will come into force at the same time as the section in the Bill placing duties on local authorities.
10.10 In recognition that legislative changes alone may not meet the policy aims, the Scottish Government will engage with the Stand up for Siblings Partners, corporate parents and key organisations to assist implementation and share good practice across Scotland.
Independent Care Review
10.11 The Independent Care Review has, in engaging with infants, children, young people and adults with experience of care and their families, identified at an early stage in the review that siblings must be kept together, or supported to maintain relationships, to ensure the best outcomes for looked after children. These actions are intended to support those aims. The Scottish Government will take further action, as required, to take forward the Review’s recommendations on this issue when it reports in Spring 2020.