Key opportunity to shape the law on sibling contact

June 27th 2018

Sibling contact is one of the issues the Scottish Government is seeking views on as it reviews the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and shapes its family justice modernisation strategy.

This is a great opportunity to speak up for changing the law and guidance to help brothers and sisters keep in contact when there is family disruption or children are looked after outside the family home, whether that’s with kinship or foster carers, in residential care or with adoptive parents. The deadline for responding to the consultation is 7 August 2018.

The consultation covers lots of issues, but three main questions relate to protecting sibling relationships:

Helping children continue relationships with family members

Firstly, the government is asking what steps should be taken to help ensure children continue to have relationships with family members, other than their parents, who are important to them, when parents split up or children are cared for outwith the family home (question 7). One such step could be to introduce a specific requirement for decision makers to consider whether there is another relationship to consider such as a sibling, grandparent or other relative, when they are making decisions about a child. Here, it is important that the definition of sibling is broad enough to cover those whom the child themselves sees as a sibling, based on their family life – that could be biological, full or half brothers or sisters, but equally could be step siblings, siblings through adoption or foster or other children living in the same family.

Clarifying the law on who can seek contact orders

Secondly, the government is asking whether the specific law which is used to make an application in the courts for contact (section 11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995) should be changed to make it clear that actually it is not only parents who can apply for such contact orders, but other people like siblings (question 9). By changing this section of the law, it will remove some of the confusion that there is about who can ask for these orders.  It will also make it clear that when you ask for sibling contact in this way, this is a completely separate issue from who has parental rights and responsibilities for the child.

Helping children looked after away from home stay in touch

Thirdly, the government is asking what can be done to strengthen existing guidance on contact between children who have shared family life when they are looked after away from home (question 10). At the moment guidance says that local authorities should try to ensure brothers and sisters are placed together where that is in their best interests, or if that’s not possible near each other with frequent contact maintained, but the fact that so many children in Scotland experience sibling separation and infrequent or no contact with brothers and sisters when they are in care suggests that what’s in the current guidance is not enough and more steps should be taken to help ensure a child can keep in touch with other children they have shared family life with.

We had lots of interesting discussions about steps that can be taken at the Stand Up for Siblings launch event in March 2018 – read a summary of the points raised here.

Child-friendly questions

Importantly, there are a separate set of child-friendly questions which aim to encourage more children and young people to give their views. You can view these here.

 Child Contact Centres

The consultation is also looking for views on regulating child contact centres (question 6), which include centres where siblings can go to spend time together.  You can read the consultation document here.

Please consider giving your views to send a clear message to government that legislation, policy and practice must stand up for siblings!

For further information, potential changes to the law in Scotland are discussed in a paper on Prioritising Sibling Relationships for Looked After Children by Fiona Jones of Clan Childlaw and Dr Christine Jones of the University of Strathclyde from February 2018.

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