SUFS marks second anniversary

SUFS marks second anniversary

It’s hard to believe it is two years since Stand Up For Siblings was launched in March 2018. We had just recovered from ‘Beast from the East’ when partners from across public, private and the third sector came together for our launch at the University of Strathclyde.

Stand Up For Siblings is a unique and diverse partnership, but we all have one common goal – to improve contact and support for siblings in the care system in Scotland.

It has been an incredible 24 months. Our first anniversary was marked with a very welcome announcement by the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd MSP. She announced plans to make improvements to the law for brothers and sisters who are in the care system. The law is to be strengthened in relation to keeping brothers and sisters together when they are placed in local authority care when it is in their interest to do so, and, where they are separated, ensuring their relationships are supported and they can keep in touch.

This was an amazing way to celebrate our first anniversary as this was one of our top asks!

Then in November 2019, we received an early Christmas present as Stand Up For Siblings won the prestigious Herald Society Partnership Award. It was a great boost for the partnership and for everyone who has contributed to our work so far. We are thrilled that membership of and support for the SUFS coalition keeps growing, allowing us to widen our reach and – we hope – spur conversations and changes to support siblings in care across Scotland and beyond.

Our focus continues to develop, and in January 2020, we launched our reworked Seven Steps to Sibling Relationships’. The Seven Steps aim to provide a road map to everyone working to stop sibling estrangement when children become involved with the care system. We have had some really positive feedback from partners about these and thank you to everyone who has committed to play their part in implementing the Seven Steps.

Since then, we have had publication of the Independent Care Review. We were delighted to see that the Review put siblings firmly at the heart of what changes need to be made in the care system. We were honoured to be represented on the Care Review’s Siblings Group which helped shape the recommendations and we look forward to working with the Review’s implementation team.

Going forward, we will continue to make sure that sibling relationships are top of the policy agenda in Scotland and that children’s views are heard. We will continue to support duties on maintaining sibling relationships and children being placed together becoming established in practice through the Children (Scotland) Bill and Scottish Government’s Family Justice Modernisation Strategy (we set out our detailed views on the proposed legal changes in November here).

This is an exciting time for real change to support brothers and sisters in care in Scotland.

Court judgments in England on siblings

Court judgments in England on siblings

While in Scotland written court judgments relating to siblings remain rare (the exceptions being the current cases ABC and XY which the Supreme Court will decide appeals on imminently), there are a number of written English judgments which we have been interested to read. Here are two recent decisions relating to separated siblings, adoption orders and post-adoption contact orders:

AB (Contested Adoption) [2019] EWFC B68 – in this case A and B’s birth parents contested their adoption. If the adoption was to go ahead, they sought direct contact for themselves and A and B’s siblings C, D and E.

C was living at home, and D and E (their half-siblings) were living with their birth father nearby and had regular contact with their mother, A, B and C’s father, and C.  

Considering the life-long welfare of A and B, the judge found the adoption to be necessary and proportionate, concluding “the risks of them moving in terms of their own development and vulnerability are greater in my judgement than the risks of remaining where they are, with permanence and stability and the prospect of them fulfilling the potential throughout their lives.  I am not satisfied, even with their changes, that the parents are able to meet the needs of the boys.  The loss they will suffer from growing up in the family and have their siblings is outweighed by being adopted children in a placement that meets their needs.”

He decided that no contact order should be made, because the factors needed for contact to work were not currently present. Nevertheless, he hoped that in time they may be, and that direct contact, either with the birth parents or the siblings could be considered, and the Local Authority should keep it under review.

The judgment is summarised in Family Law Week here.

Re G [2019] EWFC B70 (Middlesbrough County Court) – This case concerns two sisters who were ‘brutally separated’ by the local authority. The younger sister has been adopted and the older sister is in a residential placement. In this blog on sibling relationships in the care system, Barrister Alexandra Wilson examines the case. Read the judgment here.

This article in Family Law Week on Sibling Assessments in Care and Adoption by Judith Pepper, a Barrister at 4 Brick Court in London, discusses this and other cases. Judith Pepper has delivered presentations with Prof Daniel Monk of Birkbeck School of Law to the Judicial College on siblings in care proceedings and adoption.

For all matters siblings and the law in England and Wales, we recommend following @siblingslaw, the twitter account giving updates of Prof Daniel Monk and Dr Jan Macvarish’s project ‘Siblings, contact and the law: an overlooked relationship?’. 

Parliamentary debate on sibling contact

Parliamentary debate on sibling contact

Visitors to the Stand Up For Siblings website might be interested to watch a parliamentary debate in the House of Commons on sibling contact.

The debate on Wednesday 4th March 2020, was led by Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck MP, who is calling for a change to the law in England to specifically support sibling contact for children in care. Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford welcomed the opportunity to discuss the topic and outlined plans for revising regulations and other initiatives in this area later this year.

The debate can be viewed here – scroll to 19:18:35.

Care Review – Stand Up For Siblings responds

Care Review – Stand Up For Siblings responds

The series of reports released today (Wednesday 5 February) clearly sets out the direction of travel required to transform the care system into one which places lived-experience, family and relationships at its heart.

Anyone reading the reports will be under no illusion about the scale of change needed, but also the strong commitment to make change happen.

Stand Up For Siblings is particularly pleased to see the emphasis on the promotion and protection of sibling relationships of children in the care system.

We wholeheartedly sign up to the principal of planning and change through a process of co-production.

Stand Up For Siblings will produce a fuller response to the reports in due course.

The Care Review reports can be accessed here.

Seven Steps to Sibling Relationships

Seven Steps to Sibling Relationships

Stand Up For Siblings has re-worked our Seven Steps to Sibling Relationships’. These more detailed Seven Steps aim to provide a road map to all those of you who share our ambition and determination to stop sibling estrangement when children become involved with the care system.

Stand Up For Siblings co-founder Dr Chris Jones said on the publication of the Seven Steps: “2020 is an important point in the history of the Scottish Care System as we awaiting the recommendations of the Independent Care Review. Momentum for radical change is building and now is not a time for the faint-hearted. The new Seven Steps are bold and achievable in the new policy and practice landscape that is fast approaching.”

Stand Up For Siblings would welcome any comments or feedback on the Seven Steps and would like to hear from people or organisations who are implementing these or other positive actions to promote sibling relationships. Please get in touch here.

Giving evidence at the Scottish Parliament

Giving evidence at the Scottish Parliament

On Tuesday 21 January, SUFS partners Who Cares? Scotland (WC?S) and CELCIS gave evidence the Justice Committee on the Children (Scotland) Bill, speaking to the provisions in the Bill and the Family Justice Modernisation Strategy in relation to sibling relationships. Full comments from SUFS on these provisions can be found in the joint written response to the committee here.

Duncan Dunlop, Chief Executive of WC?S spoke alongside OisÍn King, Care Experienced Member of WC?S. They highlighted the current reality of separation and loss of relationships for many brothers and sisters in care. OisÍn shared powerful testimony about his own life in care and his experience being separated from his youngest sister, including how it felt to be supervised during ‘contact’ sessions with her where “love was crowded out by process”.

Dr. Louise Hill from CELCIS also gave evidence, sharing academic expertise on practice relating to maintaining children’s relationships, as well as highlighting the practice of the STAR project, the Lifelong Links project and the important work of family group decision making where the relationships that matter to children and young people are at the heart and often include brothers and sisters. Dr. Hill pointed to the work of the SUFS partnership and shared that a children’s rights approach must underpin how we understand and maintain these relationships.

Key points were made by both organisations throughout the session about the importance of brother and sister relationships and the importance of keeping them together when being taken into care. During the session, it was highlighted that resources should never be the boundary to supporting brother and sister relationships. And that when looking to discover what relationships are important to a child or young person to always start with them to find out where the already established, secure and loving relationships are.

You can watch the full committee session on parliament TV.

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