New rules to protect sibling relationships for children in care in Scotland

Legislation comes into force in Scotland giving local authorities a duty to ensure siblings are supported to stay together, where appropriate.

05/08/21

New rules to protect sibling relationships for children in care in Scotland

Legislation has come into force in Scotland to help siblings in care stay together.

The new rules protecting sibling relationships are due to Part 13 of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 and the Looked After Children (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021, which means local authorities now have a statutory duty to ensure siblings are supported to stay together, where appropriate.

Where it is not appropriate for brothers and sisters to live together, the new guidance says steps should be taken to help them stay in regular touch with each other and to nurture their relationships.

The new legal duty means local authorities must take steps to promote contact between ‘looked after’ children and young people and their brothers and sisters, as well as establish the views of the child’s brothers and sisters before making any decisions about their care. Authorities must ensure that, where it is safe for them to do so, brothers and/or sisters are able to live together or as near to each other as possible.

The new rules also mean changes in the way Children’s Hearings are carried out, as brothers and sisters are given new rights to appropriately participate. Siblings will be supported, including through advocacy services, in Children’s Hearings where contact with their siblings is being considered.

Scottish Children’s Minister Clare Haughey said sibling relationships were “vital” to the sense of belonging and wellbeing of children in care.

“All children need the same things to thrive ­ a stable home, strong support and steady, loving relationships.

“Thankfully, most siblings who experience care away from home are now placed together, but where that is not possible, it is important that those precious bonds are protected and nurtured through spending time with each other.

“The changes that come into force today are a significant step in our commitment to keeping The Promise to drive the changes needed in how we care for our children, young people and families”
Aileen Nicol, Head of Improving Protection and Permanence at CELCIS, said the change was overdue.

“For far too long, the relationships between children who have sisters and brothers with experience of care have been irreparably changed or prevented.

“This has undermined an approach founded on the principle of what is in the best interests of a child. This guidance is one important practical step in the culmination of many years of work to provide challenge and share and amplify the necessary and vital voices that led to the change in law.”

Guidance, developed in consultation with children, young people and families with care experience, has been published to help social workers and other practitioners to implement the legislation.

The guidance, created after a national process led by the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection (CELCIS), takes the user through what to consider and what to do, and provides practical advice based on research, evidence and listening to experience about what all children need to grow and thrive through sustained, positive relationships with their siblings.

The guidance advises how to listen and talk to children about these relationships; the legal definitions of siblings, and ‘sibling-like’ relationships; and what to consider in planning and decision making concerning children’s contact and connections with their brothers and sisters.

Saffron Rohan, who was on the consultants working group for the National Practice Guidance, said she hoped guidance will give practitioners the “knowledge and direction” to ensure children’s rights are continuously upheld and meaningful relationships are supported to flourish.

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