Sibling relationships are among the most important and longest lasting relationships in our lives. However children in care are often separated from their siblings due to living 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 children and young people we know that care experienced brothers and sisters frequently suffer from not seeing each other either at all or only occasionally. 


Clan Childlaw's case work to support brothers and sisters in care 

Our solicitors regularly support young people to support them to see brothers and sisters and to help them be involved in decision-making about their siblings. Please get in touch if we can help. You can read an example a problem we can help with here.

We recently represented ABC in a leading case on sibling rights in children's hearings which reached the UK Supreme Court. Although ABC's appeal was unsuccessful, the judgment is a really important recognition of sibling rights. Read more about the case here

View our new webinar and toolkits created by our solicitors - see toolkit 4 here on sibling contact

Listen to Lucy Frazer, Clan Childlaw solicitor, on how lawyers can help children and young people with sibling contact


Legislative Change

Clan Childlaw has been calling for changes to the law on this issue for many years.

We are delighted that on 25th August 2020 the Scottish Parliament passed the the Children (Scotland) Bill, which makes significant amendments to the law to help care experienced brothers and sisters stay in each other's lives.

The new legislation puts detail into Scots law about sibling rights, which are protected as part of the right to family life for siblings in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Until now Scots law as has not allowed children to easily address sibling separation and contact. We wrote about the law as it has been up until now and the changes we were calling for in this paper: Prioritising Sibling Relationships for Looked After Children by Fiona Jones with Dr Christine Jones (February 2018). This updates our 2015 publication Promoting Sibling Contact for Looked After Children. Many of those changes have been passed in the Children (Scotland) Bill.

OVERVIEW OF CHANGES IN THE CHILDREN (SCOTLAND) BILL 

Read the Bill as passed here. The Scottish Parliament's Bill page has all the relevant documents and summaries of what the changes to law in the Bill (which covers lots of other things as well as sibling rights) mean. 

This Clan Childlaw Blog gives an overview of the changes in the Bill for children and young people. 

CHANGES IN THE CHILDREN (SCOTLAND) BILL RELEVANT TO SIBLINGS

  • New duty on local authorities to take steps to promote, on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contact between a child in their care and their siblings, as appear to them - having regard to their paramount duty to the child to safeguard and promote their welfare - to be appropriate
Section 10 of Bill, amending section 17(1) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995
  • New express duty on local authorities to ascertain the views of siblings - the Bill expressly adds siblings to persons whose views must be ascertained by local authorities, where reasonably practicable, before they make any decision about a child they are looking after, or are proposing to look after 
Section 10 of Bill, amending section 17(3) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995
  • New duty on children’s hearings/sheriff to considering contact with relevant persons with whom the child does not reside and siblings with whom the child does not reside 
Section 10A of Bill, amending section 29A of the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011
  • For the above three laws, siblings are defined as either: (a) a sibling of the child or (b) any other person with whom the child has lived and with whom the child has an ongoing relationship with the character of a relationship between siblings.
    For the purposes of (a), two people are siblings if they have at
    least one parent in common. 

Section 10(2)(b) of the Bill, amending section 17 of the 1995 Act

and

Section 10A(2) of the Bill, amending section 29A of the 2011 Act

  • New duty on courts in section 11 actions - before making a an order, courts will have to consider the effect that the order might have on (i) the involvement of the child’s parents in bringing the child up, and (ii) the child’s important relationships with other people (this would include siblings)

Section 12 of the Bill, amending section 11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995

  • The Bill also puts beyond doubt that children under 16 can seek and be granted a contact order under section 11 of the 1995 Act without automatically being given parental responsibilities and rights. This is a significant clarification for young people wishing to seek a court order on contact with their siblings    
Section 11 of the Bill, amending section 11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995
Section 16C of the Bill, amending the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011
ADDITIONAL COMMITMENTS FROM SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT IN THE FAMILY JUSTICE MODERNISATION STRATEGY  
  • New duty on local authorities to place siblings under 18 years of age together when they are looked after away from home when it is in all of their best interests (Part 10 of the Strategy). This duty is to be introduced in amendments to the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and should enter into force at the same time as the Children (Scotland) Bill. While current provisions in the 2009 Regulations require local authorities to take the need for sibling co-placement into account, there are no enforceable duties and sibling separation is common.
  • In recognition that legislative changes alone may not meet the policy aims, the Scottish Government committed to engaging with the Stand up for Siblings Partners, corporate parents and key organisations to assist implementation and share good practice across Scotland.
  • The Scottish Government will take further action as required to take forward the Independent Care Review’s recommendations on this issue (work to implement the Care Review's promise started on 1st July 2020 - see www.thepromise.scot)

Clan Childlaw submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee which is published here. The Justice Committee took oral evidence on the Bill in December 2019, January and February 2020 - read more on the Committee website here. Clan Childlaw gave evidence on 28 January. 

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


Care Review Promise

Importantly, the changes outlined above will be implemented in the context of the broader changes to Scotland’s care system based on the Independent Care Review’s blueprint The Promise, published in February 2020. The Promise gave the clear message that siblings must be kept together, 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 must be protected. Work to implement The Promise has begun.

The Promise includes the following:

Scotland must ensure ... a strong legal framework that acknowledges protects and promotes brother and sister relationships in and on the edges of care. Those legal protections must include the right to time together, meaningful participation in decision-making about their siblings and clear, simple rights to appeal.” (Chapter 4: Care, page 63)


Interview with Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People

Listen to Clan's discussion with Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, about children's rights and the importance of looked-after children's sibling relationships


Working together to raise awareness and improve the law, policy and practice 

Clan Childlaw is a co-founder of Stand Up for Siblings, a Scotland wide partnership launched in 2018 aimed at improving and changing legislation, policy and practice to support the sibling relationships of children in care and prevent sibling separation and estrangement. SUFS' website contains information for young people and for professionals, blog posts and news about good practice, academic resources and signposting to organisations that can help.

In January 2020 Stand Up For Siblings published a reworked ‘Seven Steps to Sibling Relationships’, a road map to everyone working to stop sibling estrangement when children become involved with the care system. The revised Seven Steps is an agenda for a five-year programme of continuous improvement.

SUFS has closely engaged in policy work to influence the Children (Scotland) Bill's provisions on siblings. Read about it's work at Stage 3 of the Bill here, Stage 2 of the Bill here and Stage 1 of the Bill here

Delivering training workshops with Siblings Reunited (STAR)

In 2017/18, Siblings Reunited (STAR) and Clan Childlaw, with Scottish Government funding, organised a series of 10 workshops around Scotland for frontline practitioners who work with care experienced children and wanted to know more about how to support children's relationships with siblings they're living apart from.

STAR is a wonderful charity which reunites Brothers and Sisters separated in the care system, or through adoption or kinship care, by providing the opportunity for quality and regular sibling contact. Run from its unique farmland setting in Fife, it provides a safe, fun and exhilarating learning environment where children can foster emotional bonds and help overcome the trauma associated with being separated from their siblings in a natural, calming and fun environment.