…every effort should be made to enable siblings to maintain contact with each other, unless this is against their wishes or interests

United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, UN General Assembly, 2010, A/RES/64/142

Sibling relationships are among the most important and longest lasting relationships in our lives. However looked after children are often separated from their siblings due to being placed away from each other either in foster placements, residential units or by one sibling being accommodated and the other remaining with parents at home. From our work with vulnerable children and young people we know that looked after siblings frequently either do not see each other or do not spend sufficient time together, either through a lack of action from the local authority involved, or simply due to sibling contact not being given the same priority as parental contact.

Whereas under section 17(1)(c) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 a local authority must “take such steps to promote … personal relations and direct contact between the child and any person with parental responsibilities …”, no equivalent duty exists in respect of siblings. 

The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 impose a duty on a local authority to assess the child’s need for contact with family members where the local authority is considering placing a child away from the birth parents, with kinship carers, foster carers or in a residential unit. This is a duty to assess, not to promote contact.

The Guidance on Looked after Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, at p32, supports sibling contact:

“Both in the early stages of placement, when holding on to familiar contacts is reassuring, and for children who spend prolonged periods looked after away from home by a local authority, contact with siblings living elsewhere… needs similar attention as contact with parents.”

Yet attention to sibling contact, in our experience and that of our clients, is not always given. The issue of sibling contact, whether direct or indirect, can be overlooked in assessment, care planning and preparation of reports.

The law as it currently stands does not allow children to easily address sibling separation and contact. 

We are calling for legislative change to place a duty on local authorities to promote sibling contact and to enable brothers and sisters to have rights they can vindicate in order to maintain sibling relationships. 

Read more: 

Joint Stand Up for Siblings response to the consultation on the Review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and creation of a family justice modernisation strategy 

Clan Childlaw's response to the consultation on the Review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and creation of a family justice modernisation strategy

Significant ruling issued for brothers and sisters in care

Paper on Prioritising Sibling Relationships for Looked After Children by Fiona Jones with Dr Christine Jones (February 2018)

Promoting Sibling Contact for Looked After Children (published November 2015)

Barriers to Sibling Contact, Vicki Straiton, Clan Childlaw, The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland (2012)

Clan Childlaw Sibling Contact Briefing for MSPs during the passage of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 & stage 3 briefing

Research Briefing: Supporting Sibling Relationships of Children in Permanent Fostering and Adoptive Families, Dr Christine Jones, University of Strathclyde & Dr Gillian Henderson, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration  

Clan Childlaw is a founding partner in Stand Up for Siblings, a Scotland wide partnership aimed at improving and changing legislation, policy and practice - the 'Stand Up for Siblings' website contains information for young people, information for professionals, blog posts and signposting www.standupforsiblings.co.uk