New policy – keeping brothers and sisters together

New policy – keeping brothers and sisters together

Renfrewshire Council has produced a ground breaking new policy aimed at keeping brothers and sisters together.

The local authority worked with Renfrewshire Champion’s Board to consult with young people and co-produce the policy ‘Keeping Brothers and Sisters Together’.

The work stemmed from The Independent Care Review’s Stop-Go campaign which highlighted the issue of brothers and sisters being separated and put into different places.

The policy is the first of its kind in Scotland.

John Trainer, Renfrewshire Council’s Head of Child Care and Criminal Justice/Chief Social Work Officer explained how it came about: “We knew this was a big issue for children and young people and we wanted to do something about it. We knew if we were going to get it right and if it was going to make a real difference, we had to work closely with care experienced children and young people.”

Renfrewshire Champions Board carried out a survey with local care experienced young people and then published a report with the findings. The highest priority identified was ensuring that if brothers and sisters require to be accommodated by the local authority that they should be able to stay together.

Out of the young people who responded, 61 per cent had three or more siblings and 30 per cent had five or more brothers and sisters. While 82 per cent said they had experienced separation from their siblings and 82 per cent also said they didn’t get to see their brothers and sisters as often as they would like.

John said: “We listened to the young people and we now have a robust, rights-based policy that has been genuinely co-produced from the start. The policy also starts with a pledge – When children come into care, Renfrewshire will place brothers and sisters together.

“This means Renfrewshire Council has committed to stop separating brothers and sisters unless there are clear safeguarding reasons to do so. It is a significant step forward.”

So how will the policy work? John explained: “There is governance measures wrapped around this policy to ensure it is fully implemented. Our default position is that brothers and sisters being placed in care, will remain together.

“Brothers and sisters will not be separated without being agreed and authorised by me. In addition, before agreeing that brothers and sisters can’t be placed together, I must be made aware of the clear safety reasons as to why keeping them together isn’t possible. Then a report will be provided outlining what actions have been taken to keep the children together. This is to ensure we are being as thorough and transparent as possible.”

If children can’t be placed together, the local authority will produce a Family Time plan which will reflect how the siblings will be supported to maintain their relationships with each other. This will be based on the wishes and views of the individual children.

John added: “Plus where brothers and sisters can’t be kept together, we will make sure we minimise the physical distance between where the children are staying, unless there are clear safeguarding reasons not to.”

The new policy was recently approved by Renfrewshire Council and the support has been overwhelmingly positive.

John added: “All our staff are delighted with this. It is bold and it is ambitious, and yes there will be some challenges around it, but it is the right thing to do and it will make a tremendous difference to brothers and sisters in Renfrewshire.

“I would like to thank everyone who was involved in developing the policy and particular thanks to all the young people who contributed. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Stand Up For Siblings would also like to say a massive thank you to Renfrewshire Council and all the young people for producing a truly life changing policy.

Coming soon – webinars series

Coming soon – webinars series

Stand Up For Siblings is arranging a series of webinars later this year.

Plans are being finalised, but they will take place during the week of Monday 4 October.

Topics will include: rights and participation, research, practice and policy.

One of the webinars will be aimed at young people, with the others aimed at practitioners.

They will be held either via Teams or Zoom.

More information will be available shortly. Watch this space for more information about dates, times, topics and how to book!

Farewell to SUFS Founder Chris

Farewell to SUFS Founder Chris

It’s a sad time for Stand Up For Siblings (SUFS) as we say farewell to our founder and inspiration – Dr Christine Jones.

It is fitting that Chris’s last week with SUFS is the one in which the new laws to respect brothers and sisters’ rights to family life come into force in Scotland. Without Chris, there would be no SUFS and it is very unlikely that rights of brothers and sisters in care would now be explicitly protected and promoted in law.

This story starts in August 2014 when Chris made a successful application for a research grant. The research began in early 2015, and centred around the estrangement from brothers and sisters in the care journeys of 50 children. There were also interviews with young people and families who had experience of permanence and adoption.

This was the first research on brothers and sisters in care in Scotland to be undertaken since Marjut Kosonen’s important PhD research in 2001, and what it found was significant[1] 

  • high levels of separation from brothers and sisters experienced by children in care
  • decreasing contact with brothers and sisters as children moved through their care and permanence journeys
  • poor recording of children’s sibling relationships in official documents
  • children’s views on being with their brothers and sisters rarely being considered in care planning and by Children’s Hearings
  • the huge sense of loss felt by young people who had been separated from their brothers and sisters.

Chris was determined that this research evidence would lead to change. In 2016 and 2017, she worked tirelessly across the public, third and legal sectors to promote the research findings and their implications for children in care in Scotland. And in September 2017, Chris brought together a range of like-minded organisations[2] that became the partnership that is SUFS. 

Stand Up For Siblings was officially launched on 9th March 2018 with an event and its own website.  Not only had Chris secured the support of the Children & Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland and the Chair of the Independent Care Review, Scotland’s First Minister also stated her support for SUFS and what we wanted to achieve. Only two months later, the Scottish Government started a consultation on changes to the law on children in care.

Then on first anniversary of its launch, SUFS secured a commitment from the Scottish Government for the law to be strengthened:  ‘to keep children together where it is in their best interests to do so, and … to promote a child’s contact and personal relations with their brothers and sisters…’

Chris devised the seven steps to achieve the changes needed to support the sibling relationships of children in care, these are:

  1. Be led by care experienced children and young people.
  2. Strengthen the law relating to siblings.
  3. Plan public spending with sibling relationships in mind.
  4. Protect and promote sibling relationships through management        systems.
  5. Build expertise amongst those working directly with siblings.
  6. Recruit and retain carers who understand and value relational permanence.
  7. Promote transparent and sensitive recording practices

These seven steps form the foundation of all SUFS work. They provided inspiration for the Independent Care Review and are reflected in The Promise.

Chris’s achievement is immense.  She brought together the disparate group of organisations that is SUFS and, with no funding, successfully influenced practice and the law so that the sibling relationships of children in care will be fully considered in decision making and are supported.  These changes mean we should soon see far fewer brothers and sisters separated and these relationships given far greater priority and consideration in all decision making for children in care.  What this means for thousands of Scotland’s children is immeasurable. 

SUFS is determined to continue Chris’s work and there is still much to do.  Our attention will be on making sure the legal changes happen soon in practice, and that The Promise is realised in full.  We will continue to push for change to achieve Chris’s vision for all brothers and sisters in care.

What Chris means to SUFS partners:

For me, working alongside Chris as part of SUFS has been just a joy, and has taught me a great deal about partnership. Chris’ warmth and down to earth character, together with her passion, wisdom, research skills and knowledge are just the perfect recipe for progressing positive change for brothers and sisters with experience of care. Chris is so inclusive, welcoming and values everyone’s contributions, and always ensures the important messages are held and heard by those who need to hear them. I will greatly miss working with her.   

Lizzie Thomson, CELCIS

I would really like to comment on how alone we felt at STAR before Chris approached us about her plan for SUFS, mountains are so much easier to climb when you do it together 😊

 

Chris is a remarkable lady in every way and I will personally miss her very much. I want to wish Chris all the best in her retirement. 

Karen Morrison, STAR

It has been an honour for me to work with Chris, and I will very much miss her.  It is very rare that research makes such an impact, and this is all down to Chris.  She is a force for good. I wish her and her family every happiness.

Gillian Henderson, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration

It’s been a privilege to work with Chris and appreciate very much her quiet leadership, dedication and powers of persuasion. The reach we have been able to have as Stand Up for Siblings has in no small way been thanks to Chris bringing together many different organisations and people who all want to achieve the same goal and Chris easing the path for getting on board.

Janet Cormack, Clan Childlaw

Chris has been a huge inspiration to me over the past years and I feel privileged to have been a part of the journey she has steered us on. I will always be in awe of her commitment, enthusiasm and passion for driving forward conversations to ensure we remember and prioritise the importance of the relationships between brothers and sisters, and her knowledge and wisdom will be very much missed.  Wishing Chris every happiness for the future.

Sarah McEnhill, The Fostering Network

I feel very privileged to have known Chris and be welcomed in to the SUFS fold. Chris has been an inspiration to me and my fellow SUFS members, she has been the driving force behind the movement, the ‘glue’ which has kept us together and focussed on the shared aim of achieving recognition in society and in legislation for the rights of children and young people. I wish Chris well in her future endeavours and I am certain that SUFS will continue to honour her in their continued work to bring about positive outcomes for children, young people and their families in Scotland.

Kate Richardson, Scotland’s Adoption Register

‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’. I can think of no one whose personal example, leadership and contribution to improving the lives of children in need of  care and protection better epitomises those wise words than Chris Jones. It is not only the stunning achievement from start up to legislative change in four years, but the person and their leadership style which must be recognised. No budget, no ‘official’ locus, and yet key children’s organisations across Scotland joined on voluntarily offering human and practical resource to support and help. Always kind, compassionate and authentic, unwavering  determination and a wonderful impatience for improvement – even at our very last SUFS meeting with Chris at the helm  – ‘what can we do NOW?’ Procrastinators catch up when you can!

 

Chris, you leave us with a vibrant, determined and pragmatic movement for good to keep building on, with the needs and voices of children and the relationships that are important to them growing the change and now enshrined in law. Thank you.

Aileen Nicol, CELCIS

Chris, pictured left, at the official launch of Stand Up For Siblings in March 2018 with Fiona Duncan and Beth Anne Logan.

 

 

[1] https://www.standupforsiblings.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/SWSPresearchbriefing.pdf

[2] AFA, Adoption UK, CELCIS, Clan Childlaw, Fostering Network, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, Social Work Scotland, STAR (Siblings Reunited), University of Strathclyde, and Who Cares?Scotland were the original SUFS partners.  SUFS has since grown and continues to attract new partner organisations – Our members | Stand Up For Siblings 

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