Today (Tuesday 25 August) is a hugely important day for all children in care who have brothers or sisters. It is the final opportunity for MSPs to consider and vote on amendments to the Children (Scotland) Bill, which will be debated in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon.
If passed, this new law will introduce a number of important provisions that have the potential to transform the way the relationships of Care Experienced brother and sisters are recognised and legally protected in Scotland.
In relation to Care Experienced children, these include:
- Section 10, amending section 17(1) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to place a 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(3) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to expressly add 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 10A of Bill, amending section 29A of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, placing a duty on children’s hearings/sheriffs to consider contact with relevant persons and siblings with whom the child does not reside.
In relation to children in family court actions, these include:
- Section 11, amending section 11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, putting 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.
- Section 12, amending section 11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, placing a duty on courts to consider the effect an order might have on the child’s important relationships with other people, which would include siblings.
If passed during the parliamentary debate this afternoon, Amendment 34 would also give individuals – presumably including siblings – the opportunity to participate in a Children’s Hearing.
Ahead of the Stage 3 debate, the Stand Up for Siblings coalition has submitted a further briefing to MSPs outlining our support for Amendments 43, 44, 45 and 34, which can be read here. As well as welcoming the proposed changes, this briefing highlights some further issues that require consideration when accompanying guidance is produced. We have highlighted:
- The importance of sibling relationships being defined from the perspective of the child.
- The need to take account of the changing nature of relationships.
- The importance of children’s needs and wishes being taken into account and regularly revisited.
- That the provisions in the Bill must apply equally to all looked after children, regardless of their legal status or type of placement including children for whom adoption or permanence is planned, or those already subject to Permanence Orders.
- That decisions about participation in Hearings centre first and foremost around the wants and needs of the child at the centre of the Hearing.
We look forward to seeing the results of today’s debate and seeing this important piece of legislation pass into law.