Siblings Webinar Event marking Adoption Week

Siblings Webinar Event marking Adoption Week

A Siblings Webinar Event on Tuesday 17 November was one of the highlights of Adoption Week Scotland 2020 as it promoted one of the three main themes – Siblings. You can find out more here. 

The focus of the event was to talk about the importance of keeping siblings together when brought into the care of the Local Authority and for the long term regardless whether permanence is with birth family, kinship or away from home. Stressing the importance of keeping sibling relationships central to all children’s plans. Where children could not be placed with their brothers and sisters, the emphasis was placed on promoting and maintaining their relationships.

It was hoped that the event would be attended by those people working to secure permanence for children, those caring for children away from home and to those thinking about becoming permanent carers, whether this be through fostering or adoption. 76 people attended the online event, a substantial number of whom were current or prospective carers.

The event was chaired by Kate Richardson, manager/practitioner of Scotland’s Adoption Register and long-time member of SUFS. Kate was joined by colleagues in SUFS; Dr Christine Jones Strathclyde University – who talked about the research and the resulting outcomes, Anne Begbie City of Edinburgh Council who talked about Lifelong Links and shared the lived experiences of young people, Karen Morrison from STAR Siblings Reunited, who talked about STAR’s focus on bringing brothers and sisters together for family time and Alison Parkinson from Adoption UK Scotland, who joined Chris and Karen in drawing on their experiences of caring for their children, all of whom were adopted as sibling groups.

There was great engagement from those in attendance who contributed to a Q&A for the second half of the evening. It was good to hear from prospective and current adopters from across Scotland raising issues/challenges and seeking guidance about sibling relationships.

 

 

More care and less system

More care and less system

Janine Fraser, Independent Reviewing Officer at Glasgow HSCP writes for the Stand Up For Siblings website about the new team and their role…

A new Independent Care and Review Team in Glasgow HSCP was launched this September and I am privileged to be one of the 4 new Independent Reviewing Officers who have been appointed as part of this.

Our team was created after the publication of the Independent Care Review earlier this year and will be a new model of care planning within the city for our Looked After and Accommodated Children and we hope will demonstrate Glasgow’s commitment to upholding ‘The Promise’.

The Care Review published a promise to children and families in and on the edges of the care system which reflects the voices and experiences of thousands of young people who are care experienced and the professionals who work alongside them. It made many powerful and important recommendations.

Some of the key themes from this pledge are that we must promote relationship based practice in every way as practitioners working with children and young people and we must protect and promote relationships between brothers and sisters and other important people in their lives. Significantly, we must also actually listen better to children about what they are telling us about their lives.

Overall, the message is we need to work together to create more care and less system.

Our new Independent Care and Review team consists of four newly appointed Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs), myself, Mairead Fagan, Louise Lowrie and Anne Ramsay, and we are led by the clear vision of our service manager Alison Cowper, and Head of Service Susan Orr. Collectively we have a range of personal and professional experiences which have brought us to these posts, and we also hope to have brought a significant range of social work practice experiences from within Glasgow; including a wide range of children and families social work knowledge from within area teams, permanence and adoption work, Family Group Decision Making, continuing care and work with unaccompanied children and young people.

As IROs we have been tasked both with taking forward and implementing the key areas of change from within ‘The Promise’, as part of our new ‘LAAC’ review process, whilst working closely with CELCIS to undertake a full rewrite of the existing Looked after Procedures in Glasgow which date back to 2004. We also have particular work streams which we are looking at, including brothers and sisters, children’s rights, continuing and leaving care, permanence and new admissions processes to name but a few.

We are committed to ensuring that the voices of children and their families are listened to and at the heart of our care planning processes, and that they are helped to be much more meaningfully involved in decisions about their care. Those involved in providing care to children and young people are asked to listen by the Promise more carefully in particular to those quieter voices of babies, and children with additional support needs and that is also what we are aiming to do.

Our new team of IROs will be now responsible in Glasgow for chairing ‘My Meetings’, which were formerly called Looked After and Accommodated Child reviews.

There is a phased approach to the role out of our service, but to begin with care plan reviews for all young people in our 19 children’s houses in Glasgow will now be chaired by us, and we are each allocated to a group of houses to have this additional whole house overview. When allocated as IRO to a young person in one of our houses we will also now become the IRO for their brothers and sisters if they are also looked after and accommodated, many of whom are in foster care placements. This is to ensure that children are connected to their brothers and sisters and these relationships are the foundations for care planning decisions.

In addition to this group of children and young people we are also now allocated to all new children and young people who enter our care system in Glasgow, and their brothers and sisters. This now means social work team leaders will hold the initial planning meeting and inform the young person, their family and helping team that an IRO will be taking over this role from their first review meeting. It is here that we are significantly now able to focus on brother and sister relationships and the importance of keeping them together or connected. Our goal is to be the IRO for family groups throughout their care journey.

Once as IROs we are allocated to our children and young people they are supported to become involved in more significant planning and preparation for their meetings which involves getting to know the children and young people where possible and the significant adults in their lives. The meetings themselves are also strengths based, focused on the child or young person’s views, discussions take place about what is working well for children and young people and what we are worried about for them and then there are clear actions for everyone involved with clear timescales about what needs to happen in their plan.

Meetings are paperless, and with less adults around the table. We hope that they now focus on the child’s care plan, and their birth parents needs sit in their own parenting plan, and will be managed in a separate meeting. We are also hoping to try where possible to have them away from social work offices as we know children and young people don’t like this, and also not have them during school time. Children and young people are now asked when they would like their meeting and who they would like to take part.

The team also hope that there will be a particular focus on use of clearer and non-institutional language, such as avoiding words young people have told us they don’t like – siblings, respite and contact – as well as many others.

Our care plan discussions will have a much stronger emphasis on family time and family support to keep families together where possible, and to keep children and young people connected to their birth families with the help of their current carers. There is also an attempt at more creative and varied types of care plans agreed which will include promotion of relationships and time for children and young people with those who are important to them especially their brothers and sisters. If children and young people are unable to live with their families then a key focus of care planning by the team will be that brothers and sisters must stay together where safe to do so, or have regular good quality time and relationships with each other. We are already seeing the benefits of this for young people who are taking part more in their meetings and from feedback from their families and carers, that they are much more positive experiences.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly presented challenges in terms of how we have had to do things differently than we would have liked in terms of direct practice. For example asking children and young people to adapt to online platforms for our meetings and communications with them; however we have been pleasantly surprised about how much this has been embraced by young people and how actually in many cases this encourages their participation. This is therefore also learning we are taking forward in terms of our new model.

We are aware that the need for this changed practice in care planning will also be reflected in the new Children’s Act which will become law next year in Scotland and will place certain duties on local authorities, in particular in relation to brother and sisters who we care for so we are hoping in Glasgow we will be already leading the way with this by this point. I have also made links with SUFS within my new role in the team and our work stream of promoting brother and sister relationships as someone who personally and professionally values the importance of this work.

It is hoped that this overall will now mean the child or young person should have a clear plan following their meeting which they can personalise if they wish, along with a letter from their IRO directly to them about their meeting. We will also have a role in tracking the progress of care plans between reviews.

The overarching goal of the new IRO team is that there is greater partnership work across children’s services to create good quality and more inclusive care planning for children and young people, their brothers and sisters and their families while upholding the recommendations from the Care Review. We will also have an audit role in terms of looking at how our current systems in children and families in Glasgow are functioning.

We are so excited about this new team, and I know I speak for my other 3 IRO colleagues when I say we feel very privileged to have the opportunity to be part of this important work and to work with partners such as CELCIS and the Promise team, and many others, to hopefully make a lasting difference to Glasgow’s looked after and accommodated children, young people and their families by listening to those voices in the Care Review who have told us we can and must do better.

You can contact Janine Fraser via Janine.fraser@glasgow.gov.uk

Siblings separated through adoption

Siblings separated through adoption

Sue Austin writes for the Stand Up For Siblings website about her PhD research at the University of Bristol. Her research will explore the experiences of siblings who become separated through adoption from local authority care in the UK. This study explores the childhood experiences of adults who were adopted, to hear what it was like for them to grow up in a different family to their birth siblings, and what steps were taken to help them keep in touch.

What’s the issue?

Approximately 46,000 children have been adopted from care in the UK over the past ten years. Statistics regarding how many of these children are separated from their siblings are not recorded. But research suggests the majority of children who are adopted from care become separated from at least one birth sibling. Practice guidance acknowledges the significance of sibling relationship and the importance of helping sisters and brothers to keep in touch when they cannot live together. What isn’t known, is what this experience is like for those who live through this reality.

Why is it important?

In 1999 Audrey Mullender published her book: ‘We are family. Sibling relationships in placement and beyond’. This edited book provides several papers indicating the significance of sibling relationships. The opening paragraph, about John Lennon’s search for his sister, gives an emotive example of why this topic is important. For those who don’t know the story …

John Lennon was four years old when his baby sister was relinquished for adoption. John was 24 before he knew she existed. In 1964 he advertised in newspapers to try and find her, but she didn’t know she was adopted and didn’t know her original name. When she did find out about her birth family, she didn’t contact them while her adoptive mother was alive because she didn’t want to hurt her feelings. But then John died first, and he and his sister never met.

It is difficult not to be moved by the number of losses in this story. But it is encouraging to know that adoption law and practice in the UK has changed since this time.

Contemporary adoption practice and sibling contact

UK legislation emphasises the importance of keeping siblings in contact if they become separated in local authority care. Now, when children are adopted they have a Life Story Book, providing an account of their early life, and adoptive parents are encouraged to ensure a child knows their story.

A more contemporary account of siblings separated through adoption is given in the following anecdote*.

Working in a children’s adoption team, I visited a delightful young person called Poppy. I said “I like your t-shirt”, Poppy replied “I got it at the shop with Robbie”, there was a pause … Poppy asked, “When will I see Robbie again?”

Poppy was three years old and placed for adoption. Robbie was her 14-year-old brother, who was in long-term foster care. I thought about Poppy’s question. I don’t remember what I said at the time, but the honest answer was something like, ‘You probably won’t see Robbie until you’re 18. By that time Robbie will be 29 and it might take a while to find him.’

Poppy’s question stayed with me. I wondered how Poppy felt about not being with her brother anymore. I wondered how she would feel about growing up without him.

Why do we need this study?

There is evidence illustrating that sibling relationships are important for children who come into local authority care and particularly for children who are adopted. What isn’t known, is how post-adoption contact between siblings is experienced by those who live through the process, both in childhood and on into adult life. Safeguarding is always the priority in children’s social work practice, but it is rarely a child’s siblings who pose a significant risk.

Once an adoption order is granted, a child’s connection to their birth siblings is fundamentally changed. The local authority steps away and all parental responsibility transfers to a child’s adoptive parents. There is no formal review process for the adoption and contact plans. But reviewing contact plans may be necessary, as a child’s understanding of what it means to be adopted will change as they grow up. Preliminary research findings suggest some later-placed adopted children would value on-going social work support to review their sibling contact plans. The idea of reviewing contact plans, post-adoption has also been suggested by the judiciary and in a recent publication from the Nuffield Foundation.

Contact between siblings after adoption can be complex, particularly if some siblings remain in contact with their birth parents. However, complex does not mean impossible, but it is likely to mean thoughtful planning and management are required.

My PhD study aims to add to the knowledge base about siblings and adoption. Through the use of interviews with adults who were adopted and separated from their birth siblings, I hope to enable their voices to be heard.

How do I take part?

If you are aged 25 or over, were separated from a sibling through adoption from local authority care in the UK, after the age of three, and placed with your adoptive family after 1 April 1992, please contact sue.austin@bristol.ac.uk for more information.  Participation involves an interview, online or over the phone.  Your voice will help in understanding more about the experiences of children who are adopted, what is done well and/or what could be improved.

About Sue Austin

As well as being a PhD student, I’m also a social worker within an adoption agency. While I have some experience of adoption within my wider family, I am not an adopted person or an adoptive parent. My interest in adoption developed when I trained as a social worker, in my forties, qualifying in 2010. From a personal perspective, I am a mother of two (now adult) siblings. I am also one of a sibling group of three.

*Names have been changed.

 

Meeting siblings’ rights to participate in Children’s Hearings

Meeting siblings’ rights to participate in Children’s Hearings

Janet Cormack, from Clan Childlaw writes about meeting siblings’ rights to participate in Children’s Hearings following the Supreme Court judgment in two Scottish cases…

In November 2019, the UK Supreme Court heard two Scottish cases, ABC v Principal Reporter and In the matter of XY, on the rights of siblings in the children’s hearing system. The two cases were had different circumstances, but the court heard them together because they both hinged on the same question: whether or not the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 and related subordinate legislation, if operated sensibly, give siblings of the child at the centre of the Hearing sufficient opportunity to take part in the decision-making process. When the Court handed down its judgment in June 2020, it ruled that, following adaptations to Children’s Hearing made since the initiation of these legal cases, as long as Hearings are operated in compliance with the guidance given by the Principal Reporter and Children’s Hearings Scotland, they will now fulfil what is required by the legal right to family life under article 8 ECHR in relation to siblings and other family members.

The judgment is the first time the highest UK court has deliberated over the right to family life for siblings. The judgment opens with: “Siblings can be as important as parents in the lives of those who have them. While parents have been likened to the doctors doing their ward rounds to see the bigger picture, siblings have been likened to the nurses: they are there every day”. The Court emphasised that “where a child is being cared for away from the family, what matters is the maintenance and development of the relationship between the siblings, whether through placing them together or through staying in regular contact with one another” (para 29).

The cases have helped increase recognition of the urgent need to better protect the sibling relationships of children in the care system and the right of brothers and sisters to be involved in decision-making. The judges “acknowledge that the initiation of these challenges has served to uncover a gap in the children’s hearings system which has had to be adapted to meet the requirements of article 8 in relation to siblings and other family members. There is now a clear recognition of the interest of both the child and the sibling in maintaining a sibling relationship through contact (or through placement if both are subject to CSOs) in most cases… There needs, in short, to be a bespoke enquiry about the child’s relationship with his or her siblings when the children’s hearing is addressing the possibility of making a CSO” (paragraph 52).

The Court said that to “make effective the rights of the sibling and other family members with a similar interest in maintaining contact with a child, it is necessary both that the relevant public authorities are aware of those interests and that the siblings and family members are informed of the nature of the proceedings concerning the child and of their rights in relation to the proceedings. Each person involved in the process – the Principal Reporter, the Children’s Panel members, the local authority, the social worker preparing a care plan, and the safeguarder – need to be aware of those interests if the system is to operate compatibly with the article 8 rights of siblings and other family members.

The new Children (Scotland) Act 2020, passed by the Scottish Parliament in August, paves the way for a new category of participation rights for siblings and other family members, so that they are able to participate in a children’s hearing when they are not a relevant person (see section 25 of the Act). They will have the right to be notified of the hearing; the right to provide a report or other document to the hearing; the right to be provided with specific documents; authorisation to attend the hearing; the right to be represented at the hearing; and the right of review of a CSO at a further children’s hearing after 3 months. The detail on the rights will be set out in children’s hearings rules, which will be consulted on. The Scottish Government said in Parliament that the changes will “allow the hearing to keep the relationship between the child and their siblings under close review if needed, and it will permit quick adjustments to be made to measures in the child’s legal order”. Furthermore the 2020 Act strengthens section 29A of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 so that when deciding whether to include a direction regulating contact between the child and another person, Children’s Hearings will have an express duty to consider the relationships between the child and relevant persons, siblings and any other person with whom the child has resided and with whom the child has an ongoing relationship with the character of a relationship between siblings (see section 14 of the 2020 Act).

Until this new regime comes into force, the arrangements to be followed by Children’s Hearings are those the Supreme Court sets out in paragraphs 32-40 of the judgment. These are:

  • Notification and attendance at a Hearing

It is now the practice for notice of hearings to be given to the siblings of a child if they are sufficiently mature, for invitations to attend a hearing to be sent to a sibling and for the chairing member of the hearing to exercise her or his discretion to allow the sibling to attend the hearing.

Paragraph 9.2 of SCRA Practice Direction 3, as revised in March 2019, says that when arranging a Hearing, the Reporter should consider whether there is anyone other than the child and relevant persons whose attendance is likely to be necessary. The Reporter should invite anyone who has established family life and an ongoing relationship with the child, and sufficient age and maturity to participate in the Hearing, where the Hearing is likely to consider including a contact direction about them in a CSO for the first time or to vary a contact direction about them in a CSO, or the person has made clear that they want the Hearing to consider their contact with the child.

The chairing panel member can allow the person to attend “if their attendance is necessary for the proper consideration of the matter” (s78(2)(a) of Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011).

Paragraph 9.3 of SCRA Practice Direction 3 states that where it was not foreseen that the panel would be considering a contact measure or that a person was of sufficient age and maturity would be invited, the Reporter is directed to invite the Hearing to satisfy itself that it has their views in relation to contact, or if not, that they have been given an opportunity to give those views. If not, the panel can defer the decision to make sure that they are able to give their views directly or indirectly.

  • Panels must inform everyone at Hearing of substance of relevant papers

Siblings and others who are not relevant persons do not have access to papers, but the chair of the panel is required to inform every person present at the hearing of the substance of any relevant document (ss91, 119 and 138 of 2011 Act and rule 60(2)(a) of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Rules of Procedure in Children’s Hearings) Rules 2013).

  • Decision-makers must have adequate information about family members and the history of their involvement or contact with the child and panels should consider how children’s sibling relationships can be maintained

Paragraph 8.26 of the Children’s Hearings Practice and Procedure Manual, updated in September 2019, states “Panel members should have information about a child’s relationships with their brothers and sisters and give careful consideration to how these relationships can be maintained and protected.” Para 8.27 lists the key considerations for the hearing as: identifying all the child’s brothers and sisters, including those who have had a similar role in the child’s life, such as children brought up in the same placement; the views of the children about their relationships and existing contact provisions; promoting face-to-face contact where possible; the practical and emotional capacity of carers to facilitate contact; how contact can be achieved in as relaxed and natural manner as possible.

  • Local authorities must assess a child in their care’s need for contact with siblings

The Supreme Court referred to local authorities’ duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of any child they are looking after (s17(1) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 Act), and to ascertain the views of any person whose views the local authority consider relevant before making a decision about the child (s17(3)), and the requirement in the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 to, when making assessments, obtain details of a child’s siblings and their contact with the child (regulations 3-4 and Schedule 1, paragraphs 7-8), resulting in a ‘child’s plan’ which must include arrangements for contact between the child and others (regulation 5 and Schedule 2, paragraph 7). 

  • The Principal Reporter can require a local authority to produce a report on the child, including information about his or her siblings

Under section 66(4) of the 2011 Act, the Principal Reporter, when investigating whether the child needs protection, guidance, treatment or control, can require the local authority to produce a report on the child, including information about his or her siblings. The Principal Reporter can then request further information once they have decided that a CSO is necessary. They can request a report from the implementation authority when arranging a hearing to review a CSO.

  • Hearings have a duty to consider including in a CSO a requirement for contact

Under section 29A of the 2011 Act, when making, varying or continuing a CSO in relation to a child, the children’s hearing must consider whether to include in a CSO a contact direction.

  • Relevant persons can share the views of the child’s siblings with the panel

Parents and the referred child can make representations on behalf of the wider family to protect their Article 8 interests (see the Supreme Court judgment in Principal Reporter v K, paragraph 68). Those who meet the test for relevant person status will have the right to be deemed a relevant person under s81(3) of the 2011 Act and the right to call for a review of a contact direction s126 of the 2011 Act and article 2 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Review of Contact Directions and Definition of Relevant Person) Order 2013.

  • Release of documents to assist hearing’s decision on CSO

Once grounds have been accepted, a Children’s Hearing can direct the release of documents under rule 61(1)(g) of the 2013 Rules where this is necessary to allow the hearing to decide whether to make a CSO.

The above information was written by Janet Cormack, Legal Policy Manager at Clan Childlaw, in November 2020 – for further information from Clan Childlaw, call 0808 129 0522 or email info@clanchildlaw.org

Adoption week – siblings webinar – date for your diary

Adoption week – siblings webinar – date for your diary

To mark Adoption Week which will take place from 16 to 20 November, a webinar will be held at 7pm on Tuesday 17 November.

This webinar will focus on maintaining relationships between brothers and sisters either through adopting sibling groups and/or promoting and maintaining contact between siblings in different placements. Chaired by Kate Richardson, Manager of Scotland’s Adoption Register, with contributions from members of SUFS – Dr Chris Jones from the University of Strathclyde, Anne Begbie from LifeLong Links City of Edinburgh Council and Karen Morrison, founder of STAR – Siblings Reunited. This will be followed by an opportunity for Q&As and discussion.

You will be able to book tickets via Event Brite and more information will be available here soon. Watch this space for more information!

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