Clan Childlaw welcomes important new legal protections for siblings passed by the Scottish Parliament today

August 25th 2020

Changes to the law in the Children (Scotland) Bill will make a big difference in the lives of many care experienced children and young people in Scotland.   

Today the law was changed in Scotland so that brothers and sisters who are separated when they go into care in Scotland will be supported to stay in each other’s lives.

In passing the Children (Scotland) Bill, the Scottish Parliament has taken a big step forward for children’s rights. Provisions include duties on local authorities and Children’s Hearings which will mean better support for care experienced siblings to maintain their relationships when the state takes one or more of them into care. Courts will also be obliged to take into account the effect an order they are considering could have on the child’s important relationships when making decisions such as those about where children should live and what contact they have following the end of their parents’ relationship.

Working to fix the problem of sibling contact has been one of Clan Childlaw’s main priorities from the very beginning of our work with children and young people back in 2008. We quickly saw just how many of our clients were suffering from losing touch with siblings as a result of them coming into care and we have campaigned for changes to the law to deal with this problem ever since. Over the years we’ve delivered training to raise awareness of the issue among front line practitioners, including training alongside our colleagues in siblings charity Siblings Reunited (STAR). Since 2017 we’ve been privileged to work closely with partners in the ‘Stand Up For Siblings’ coalition to draw attention to this issue and seek changes to law, policy and practice.

Perhaps because our collaborative work over the years has led to more awareness of young people’s rights in this area, Clan Childlaw’s solicitors still regularly represent young people and enable them to take the legal action available to them to see brothers and sisters they have been separated from and have their views heard when decisions are being made about sibling contact. 

Our client ABC’s court case about his right to be involved in decision-making by Children’s Hearings about his younger brother went all the way to the Supreme Court last year. In its judgment, issued in June, the Supreme Court expressly recognised sibling rights, which was of huge significance. The Court found Children’s Hearings were compatible with human rights in relation to brothers and sisters and dismissed our client’s appeal, but acknowledged that the reason Children’s Hearings were now compatible with human rights is because in the time since the legal challenge was started, measures had been put in place to allow siblings to participate in Hearings.

Now the Scottish Parliament has legislated for participation rights in Children’s Hearings which should help young people like ABC play a much greater role in the future. This change to the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 was added to the provisions of the Bill today.

The provisions already in the Bill which are designed to support siblings – and which make changes we have been calling for on this issue – are:

  • a new duty on local authorities to promote personal relations and direct contact with siblings
  • an express duty on local authorities to ascertain the views of siblings before taking decisions about a child
  • a new duty on children’s hearings, when deciding whether to include a direction regulating contact between the child and another person, to consider the relationships between the child and their siblings
  • a new duty on courts to take into account, as part of its consideration of a child’s welfare, the effect an order on issues such as a child’s contact and residence might have on the child’s important relationships with other people such as siblings
  • finally clarification that children under 16 can seek and be granted a contact order, for example with siblings, without automatically being given parental responsibilities and rights

The importance of children’s relationships with brothers and sisters is prominent in the Independent Care Review’s blueprint for change ‘The Promise’, published in February this year, which calls for siblings to be kept together in care, and where that’s not possible, supported to keep in touch, and their rights to be part of decision-making about their brothers and sisters respected. Work to implement The Promise has now begun and will build upon today’s important reforms.

Clan Childlaw’s co-founder and Principal Solicitor Alison Reid said:

“Siblings often provide our longest lasting relationships, but for children in care, maintaining contact with brothers and sisters has for years too often been overlooked. These legal changes today are the result of courageous young people speaking up about the effect this has had on their lives, and a concerted effort to draw attention to this issue by ourselves and the partners we’ve worked with in the voluntary, public, legal, and academic sectors.”

“This is a very significant day in society’s recognition of children’s right to family life with their brothers and sisters and one all the team at Clan and our colleagues at Stand Up for Siblings are delighted has finally arrived.”

About Clan Childlaw:

Clan Childlaw are lawyers for children and young people. Clan Childlaw’s work aims to give children and young people in Scotland access to legal representation to ensure their rights are realised when legal decisions are made which affect their lives and futures. We use our legal knowledge and front line experience to feed into policy development. We train other professionals and key workers in areas we know make a difference to young people’s lives and futures.

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Download the pdf version of this statement here.