Everyone agrees about the benefits of siblings relationships, but all too often looked after children face barriers to seeing brothers and sisters. It's time to change this, writes Janet Cormack

At Clan we often get calls from care experienced young people - and adults working with young people - asking what they can do to establish or increase contact with brothers and sisters. Too often when children are removed from the family home, they find that not only will they be living separately from brothers/sisters but that contact between them is much less than they would like and for no obvious reason. 

There are lots of good examples of supporting sibling relationships when children are looked after by local authorities. But equally there are lots of examples where a lack of appropriate contact between siblings is not justified.

It might be down to a resource issue for social workers, complex logistics, or it might be because no one has prioritised the contact between siblings enough. 

When people hear that so many children are affected by this it really shocks them. They can't imagine not being able to see their brother or sister when they like and that children who are already vulnerable might be separated from siblings. 

So what needs to change? 

Our relationships with our brothers and sisters are protected by our right to family life which is protected by article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. What this means is that government and local authorities must respect this right and can only 'interfere' with it, i.e. not fully respect it, if it is lawful and proportionate. 

There are human rights arguments for a change to law to place a duty on local authorities to promote sibling contact, in the same way as they have a duty to promote parental relationships. 

From February, Clan, in partnership with the brilliant STAR (Siblings Together and Reunited), is going to be training professionals working with children and young people on ways they can promote sibling contact for children in care. There are good examples of positive sibling contact and good practice to be shared. Our guidance on sibling contact sets out the law and guidance around this issue and can be downloaded here

Our solicitors at Clan give free legal advice and, where it's needed, legal representation to young people who are trying to achieve contact with siblings. If you or someone you know would like to know more about this, please contact us. Our case studies can help you find out if a lawyer might be able to help. 

Awareness of sibling separation and contact is growing and there is momentum for change. A number of organisations and individuals are working together under the banner "Stand up for Siblings" (more about this soon!) and there is a historic opportunity to help shape the Scottish care system through the root and branch Independent Care Review for which sibling contact should be a central theme. 

8 January 2018

Janet Cormack is Legal Policy Coordinator for Clan Childlaw.