Angela and Margaret are students studying for a Bachelor of Arts in Education and Social Services at the University of Strathclyde. They recently embarked on placement with the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) as part of their course, with the aim to use the theoretical skills they had learned into practice in the workplace. 

The placement was conducted in partnership with Siblings Reunited and was overseen by Dr Gillian Henderson (SCRA; Stand Up for Siblings) and Dr Christine Jones (University of Strathclyde; Stand Up for Siblings). Both Angela and Margaret created individual research projects for STAR Siblings Reunited, with the hope that STAR’s founder, Karen Morrison, could use it to promote the service and as evidence for further funding.

They have both written about their experiences…

Angela’s Project

I created a survey is to gain insight into the type of person who volunteers at Siblings Reunited, their characteristics, ethics and values and their opinion on the recruitment and training processes. This type of information is useful to the organisation as it can assist management in the selection of staff, identify problems in the recruitment process and gaps in the induction and training programme. 

As STAR Siblings Reunited is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and management must periodically reapply for funding, the findings from this survey will show the calibre of staff the organisation has, the success of the recruitment and training programmes and the opinion of the staff on the benefits of STAR Sibling Reunited for the children who use the service. This can be used as evidence of the success of the service when they reapply for funding.

The research was conducted through survey format. This format was decided for several reasons. The Supervisors at STAR Siblings Reunited are volunteers and may have other commitments and a survey is quick and as a link was sent by email, the survey could be completed in their own time. Nineteen participants took part out of 22 volunteer staff, allowing me to build an accurate picture of the staff, the benefits of the service and any gaps in the service.

My research found Siblings Reunited is a revolutionary service, that highlights that there are better models of sibling contact available. The management team have innovatively used current research on the psychological damage sibling separation can cause, sought feedback from foster carers, adoptive parents, and care-experienced children, and applied their professional and personal experience of facilitating sibling visitations to create an environment and fills a gap that local authorities and universal services cannot. 

The service has a successful recruitment process and enlists like-minded volunteers that have a wealth of educational and professional experience. The Supervisor volunteers are ethically minded, child-focused and volunteer their time at the service for philanthropic reasons. The service provides extensive training to their staff in both general practice and tailored to the needs of specific sibling groups. Most of the Supervisors are confident in Trauma-Informed Practice and Physical, Behavioural, and Emotional Conflict, and have the opportunity to show self-awareness, and practice self-reflection and reflective practice. As the findings did show that some of the supervisors do not know what these skills are or they may be called by another name by the service, it may show a gap in the training or the need for retraining, that the service may need to attend to.

The service offers many amenities to encourage the children to be free, have fun, and create familial bonds with their siblings without the weight of their situations or under the watchful eye of their carers, and the rural or outdoor environment helped the children social, cognitive and emotional skills, aids their mental health and well-being , builds their self-esteem and self-concept, and teaches interpersonal and communication skills, teamwork, co-operation, responsibility, outdoor safety skills and helps their attention span. 

The children who use the service participate in a life changing journey. They get to maintain family ties, have an opportunity to form emotional bonds, and participate in a positive shared experience in a non-judgmental environment, with Supervisors who revel in their success and are proud of the contribution they make in the children’s lives.

STAR Siblings Reunited’s collaborative work with Stand Up For Siblings has influenced legislation, policy, and practice. It has advertised the need for changes in the way sibling separation and sibling visitations are viewed by universal services and successfully took part in the campaign that saw the Children’s (Scotland) Act 2020 and the Family Modernisation Strategy created. The new legislation places a duty on local authorities to support sibling contact for and the Children’s Hearings System and courts will also have a duty to consider sibling contact when making or changing compulsory supervision orders or dealing with family law disputes.

Angela’s Placement at SCRA

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with SCRA and by the time I completed my placement I have learned many new transferable skills and it was interesting to meet the staff who work within the service and see the theories and legislation I had studies in practice in the workplace. I have learned so much about sibling separation and sibling contact and how the work and research conducted at SCRA and Stand Up For Siblings had made a positive impact for care-experienced children. 

All the staff were welcoming and helped me hugely during my research. SCRA has an inspirational team and they have given me ideas of what kind of role I would like to enter once my university education is complete.

Margaret’s Research

I created case studies to establish an understanding of how STAR volunteers work with siblings whilst attending STAR. The questions asked the volunteers how they prepared for children and young people beginning their journey with STAR, what they felt worked for different sibling groups and how they prepared children and young people for their time at STAR coming to an end. Each group of questions then had sub questions to gather more in-depth details of the process of a child and young person’s journey with STAR.

I asked the volunteers how they would prefer to complete the questionnaires by offering to email the questionnaire to them, complete a ZOOM interview or a telephone interview. Two volunteers completed the questionnaires and returned them to me by email whilst another volunteer preferred to answer the questions posed via telephone interview. 

The interview conducted by telephone gathered the most in-depth response as I was able to ask each question and allow the volunteer to answer from their own experiences. 

The responses by email produced less information on each question as the answer was given to the heading of the section of questions and not necessarily answering each individual question. One response answered some questions by referring to previous answers without elaborating any further, such as answering as above or all of the above. 

Although the telephone or ZOOM method of questioning is more time consuming as the responses have to be transcribed, this method is able to supply Karen with much more detailed information. The email responses would be beneficial for more specific areas that Karen may be looking to gather information for.

Responses to the questionnaire highlighted how well Karen knows her volunteers and who would be suitable for each sibling group. Sibling groups are introduced gently to what STAR has to offer them so they do not feel overwhelmed. On their first visit they are introduced to the volunteers who will support them during their time at STAR as it is important that consistency with the volunteers is maintained. The children and young people are allowed to decide what activities they want to participate in to ensure that their time with the service is as enjoyable for them as possible. 

The responses highlighted how important that the service is not set in the formal setting that the children may be used to in dealing with social work, children’s hearings and looked after children reviews. The volunteers all said how important this was for the children.                                                                                            The benefit of allowing the children to choose their activities means the children feel they have an area of their life that they are in control of as they are used to decisions being made for them.

The service is unique with no other such facilities in Scotland or the UK. The unique farmland setting offers a wide variety of activities including walks, outdoor kitchen, tepee during the summer months, animals where the children can learn the impact of their actions on another living creature by being able to feed the chickens and the trust that is required to be built for the chickens to trust in them to approach them to be fed. 

When sibling groups are formed from larger numbers and a variety of ages the children learn negotiating skills from choosing activities that they can all participate in and enjoy. 

The children learn quickly that their time at STAR provides a consistent contact with their siblings and that they will attend for two hours every month without interruption or input from the more formal processes that they are involved with. The meetings become easier over time with the goodbyes at the end of each session becoming easier as they know they will see each other again at their scheduled time.

Margaret’s Placement

I took a great benefit from my placement with SCRA. I have gained new skills which I have already took action on and applied for a role with the children’s panel. To see the difference that SCRA and STAR makes to children’s lives and the passion that the staff and volunteers have in their roles within both SCRA and STAR has been inspiring. I enjoyed the meetings with the staff members of SCRA and gaining a better understanding of the varied roles they had and how they all worked towards making a difference in a child or young person’s life. It was good to see the theory that I have learned over the course of my degree working in practice and the difference that policy and legislation can make in achieving the Scottish Government’s vision of Scotland being the best place for a child to grow up in.

I have a much better understanding of sibling separation and how important maintaining sibling contact is to children and young people. To see the work carried out by Karen and her volunteers at STAR alongside the work that SCRA does in making a difference in the lives of care experienced children and young people has been inspirational. I am hoping I can take what I have learned during my placement and continue with my educational journey to learn more. 

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