Siblings Day, another one of those awareness days that organisations mark, but – and forgive my cynicism – perhaps don’t always lead to much change. However, this Siblings Day has landed in Care Experienced History Month— and there is certainly something to say about progress made, whilst recognising the challenges that are clearly there.
Plan 21-24 sets a framework and expectations of what needs to happen to make sure Scotland is on track to keep the promise. It makes clear that Scotland must stop the practice of separating brothers and sisters, unless for reasons of safety. Relationships between brothers and sisters will be cherished and protected across decision making, and through the culture and values of the people who care for them.
As with so much work across Scotland, there is certainly effort, work and progress: but undoubtedly work still to do.
It is Scotland’s Local Authorities who are the implementing authorities for care and protection measures, but also for the delivery of the legislative entitlements afforded to brothers and sisters in statute. The Scottish Government and CELCIS co-chaired the ‘Staying Together and Connected National Implementation Group’ that has been tasked to supporting implementation of the sibling duties.
Through that group it is clear that all 32 local areas are seeking to ensure, wherever possible, that brothers and sisters relationships are prioritised— and that children are placed together when measures to keep them safe enables this to happen. There are numerous local policies developed and being delivered to support tangible efforts in seeking to prioritise the safeguarding of brother and sister relationships.
It is also true to say that there are ‘system’ pressures that make the ability to meet duties difficult. There continue to be struggles to provide homes that enable brothers and sisters to stay together universally. The Care Inspectorate report on Fostering and Adoption tells of a decreasing number of foster carers. There are efforts to mitigate these struggles, with several areas exploring how they can strengthen the support provided to current and potential kinship carers, and work in Scottish Government to provide a framework and focus to the provision of foster care in Scotland.
Beyond foster and kinship, there is also work happening within the residential children’s sector to be able to meet the needs of sibling groups. The Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, in 2022, highlighted work in residential contexts to support positive childhood experiences and relationships between brothers and sisters. Being creative and having a wide understanding about the ‘care system’ is crucial in ensuring the needs of sibling groups will be met.
Whilst we feel agitated about lack of progress, it is important to mark work done to date that has developed the rights for siblings and ensured that keeping brothers and sisters together is – and will remain – a policy priority for Scotland.
Since July 2021, Children’s Panel Members of the Children’s Hearing System have been required to pay increased consideration to the maintenance and promotion of brother and sister relationships, and relationships which are similar to these in nature. That legislative duty was hard won, and was enshrined in Scots law as a result of years of selfless campaigning and focus. The Stand Up for Siblings Coalition that was formed in March 2018, during the Care Review, provided a vital forum for highlighting issues, challenging legislation and keeping a focus on the rights and needs of siblings. At many times, I shared my own story of sibling separation in order to support this journey of progress we are now on.
Have we got there yet? No.
But are we here today, able to talk about progress and a continued focus on the aspiration that Scotland has for brother and sister relationships? Yes.
And that is because of the persistence and focus on the experience of children living in the ‘care system.’
So across Scotland we need to keep a strong focus on siblings, knowing that collectively we must be creative and persistent in achieving the outcome we are all aiming for.
About the author
Thomas and his colleagues seek to get alongside all those looking to keep the Promise, to respond to their support needs in order to best drive the necessary required change.
It is a privilege to lead the Promise Delivery Partners in this work, which currently has a focus on supporting local areas and organisations funded from The Promise Partnership.