Staying together and connected: getting it right for sisters and brothers: national practice guidance

Guidance supporting implementation of the new duties for Scottish local authorities: that every looked after child will live with their brothers and sisters, where appropriate to do so. Siblings should be supported to sustain lifelong relationships, if appropriate, even if they cannot live together.

1. Introduction

This guidance contributes to the implementation of new duties for Scottish local authorities. This is that every looked after infant, child and young person lives with their brothers and sisters, where it is appropriate to do so, and sustains strong and positive lifelong relationships with them. Implementation of these duties is part of the collective responsibility to uphold the rights of children in Scotland and Keep The Promise of the Independent Care Review (2020). The guidance encourages agencies responsible for children's care and protection to work together with infants, children, young people, their families, carers and communities to do so in ways that are innovative, flexible and focused on solutions in the best interests of the child.

This guidance is offered within the context of the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law and the foundation of care articulated in The Promise that "where living with their family is not possible, children must stay with their brothers and sisters where safe to do so and belong to a loving home staying there for as long as needed".[2]

A pioneering approach was taken to developing this guidance. The evidence base for this guidance includes the necessary and vital voice and views of children and young people with care experience, parents, adoptive parents, kinship and foster carers and the multi-agency practitioners who work alongside them.

It amplifies the necessity of ensuring that those voices which depend on adults noticing, listening to, understanding, articulating and advocating their needs on their behalf are fully to the fore – including pre-birth, babies, infants and children with disability.

The guidance is offered as a resource that provides practice advice based on research and evidence about what all children need to grow and flourish through positive connection with their brothers and sisters and sibling-like relationships.

The guidance spotlights creative solutions, examples of excellent practice already underway in Scotland where practitioners are working hard to ensure brothers and/or sisters can live together and are supported to maintain positive and meaningful relationships with their brothers and sisters wherever they live.

The views and experience of many have shaped this guidance, as referenced in the Acknowledgements. Each contribution has been welcomed, valued and has informed the guidance.

During this period, a national survey inviting views on what should be included in the guidance was circulated via stakeholder networks, resulting in over 400 responses from young people, parents (including adoptive parents), kinship and foster carers, and practitioners; (online) engagement with parents, adoptive parents, kinship and foster carer groups and their membership agencies; and practitioners.

We held discussion with the Children and Young People's Centre for Justice, the Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group, the Stand Up for Siblings collective, and groups of practitioners within local authorities.

A team of people with care experience provided a consultancy and reference role, offering views and advice on the content and structure of the guidance over a series of meetings and offered feedback on the drafting. Our Hearings Our Voice, Who Cares? Scotland and Care Inspectorate Young Inspectors provided input, as did groups of young people with care experience within local authority responses. The Stand Up for Siblings collective also offered feedback and critique on the guidance in its final stages of drafting.

All these voices and views assisted in the development of the content, setting the collaborative, and constructive tone required and emphasising the collective intent needed from everyone as the national implementation of these legislative changes begins.

In addition to legislative changes explained in this guidance, the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009, as amended by the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2021, also include amendments that provide an added exemption to the foster care placement limit (of three unrelated children) in exceptional circumstances. This change enables children who have been placed on an emergency or short-term basis to remain in the foster care placement where the placement limit is exceeded, if this safeguards and promotes the welfare of all the children involved. This amendment continues temporary modifications put in place by the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, and as such, comes into force when those modifications expire (due on 30 September 2021). Supplementary guidance will be added at that time.

This guidance is one resource to help with the early implementation of the new duties. Section 9, Innovation and Creative Practice, and Next Steps at the end of Part 1 of the guidance offer further consideration of the staffing, financial and material resource and the national collaborative intent which the implementation of these legislative changes require. Individually appropriate provision is required to enable each child to live with and/or be in regular connection with their sisters and brothers.

Following publication of this guidance in July 2021 we will work with children, young people and the many partners who have informed it, to regularly review and refresh this first iteration. We journey together in Scotland to uphold the rights of looked after infants, children and young people to live with their brothers and sisters, where it is appropriate to do so, and to sustain lifelong relationships with them, where appropriate, and they choose to do so.



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