Study reveals few infants taken into care are placed with brothers and sisters

Study reveals few infants taken into care are placed with brothers and sisters

Only one in five infants taken into care in Scotland who had older brothers or sisters were initially placed with them, according to a new study. 

The report – Born Into Care – which was funded by the Scottish Government has been published today, Wednesday 13 April 2022.

The research, led by Dr Linda Cusworth, of Lancaster University, found that although on the whole families were known to services before their birth, and thus their arrival was expected, most infants were not placed with their older brothers and sisters. Two years later, only a third of children were living with a brother or sister.

The research team, from the Universities of Lancaster and Stirling, and from Stand Up For Siblings partner SCRA, analysed data for all 2,849 infants who entered the care system via the Children’s Hearing before they were a year old between 1st April 2013 and 31st March 2020, and looked in depth at the circumstances of 70 of those children and their families.

The study also explored the circumstances of families where infants were removed, uncovering complex needs relating to poverty and housing problems, mental health, substance misuse, domestic abuse and offending histories.

Researchers also found that many of the parents were recorded as having difficult and disrupted childhoods themselves, with significant proportions having experienced abuse or neglect.  Over a third (37%) of mothers and a quarter (24%) of fathers were care experienced.

Around a third of parents did not have any older children. But the study found that this was not the first child who had become looked after away from home for many of the parents.  

Nine out of ten of the mothers known to have older children had at least one child previously removed, with one in five having had three or more children taken into care.  

Although less information was recorded for fathers, over half (56%) of those with older children were known to have had a previous child removed from their care. 

Lead author Dr Linda Cusworth said: “It is clear from our study that these families have multiple and complex needs. This emphasises the need for a range of early, sensitive and flexible support services to support parents, including those who are care experienced, and those who have had a child previously removed from their care.”

Dr Cusworth added: “The decision to remove a child at or soon after birth is probably the most difficult decision that professionals can make to intervene in family life. It is traumatic for mothers, fathers and wider family networks. It is important to understand more about the circumstances in which removal of babies shortly after birth takes place in Scotland, and this study helps to provide some of that information.”

The use of population-level data by this study also enabled important comparisons with similar research on compulsory care proceedings in England and Wales.

This study found that infants under a year old formed 20% of all children who entered care via the Children’s Hearings System in Scotland. This is a lower proportion than other parts of the UK. In Wales, 30% of all children entering care proceedings between 2011 and 2018 were under a year old, while in England, this was 27% (between 2007/08 and 2016/17). 

Between 2013/14 and 2019/20, the proportion of infants in Scotland who became looked after away from home as newborns (less than seven days old) was fairly stable at around a third. By comparison, in England and Wales the proportion of infants who entered care proceedings as newborns was higher, and showed an upward trend across the period – from 43% to 51% in England, and from 40% to 51% in Wales.

Professor Karen Broadhurst, who led the work in England and Wales, said: “The proportion of infants who enter care as newborns in Scotland is lower than in England and Wales, where there is a trend over recent years towards issuing care proceedings closer to birth. 

“Our findings raise questions about differences in policy and practice in the three countries in relation to compulsory removal of infants at or close to birth, and seem to suggest that Scotland may be less pre-emptive.”

Staying Connected: Care-experienced children and young people with a sibling in custody

Staying Connected: Care-experienced children and young people with a sibling in custody

A joint research project between Stand Up for Siblings partner SCRA and Families Outside has been announced. The project ‘Staying Connected: Care-experienced children and young people with a sibling in custody’ has been funded by The Promise Scotland.

Surveys of people in prison show relatively high levels of care experience, suggesting there are likely significant numbers of children and young people who have a sibling in prison who are in care themselves, yet we know nothing about these experiences. Limited research is available which considers the impact of the imprisonment of a brother or sister for children and young people, with little evidence on care-experienced children and young people’s perspectives of having a family member in prison either.

This project aims to address the gap in knowledge around ‘looked after’ children and young people’s experiences of sibling imprisonment. It will initially explore the issues around the identification, restoration, and maintenance of sibling relationships where one sibling is care-experienced* and one is on remand or serving a custodial sentence. It will then look at how these issues can be addressed and the implementation of processes and structures to enable these relationships to be supported.

What we will be doing
The research part of the project will find the evidence to show how often siblings are separated in this way and what it means to brothers and sisters in care and in prison to be separated from each other.

It will be carried out in two phases:

Phase 1 (February 2022– July 2022) – Data collection:  a sample of case files from SCRA’s case management system will be analysed to identify levels of sibling imprisonment for looked after children and what data is held about these cases.

Phase 2 (August 2022 – February 2023) – Interviews: children and young people who are or have been in care with experience of a sibling on remand or serving a sentence in prison or secure accommodation, or who are currently on remand or in custody and have a care-experienced sibling, will be invited to take part in interviews.

A Young Person’s Expert Advisory Group will oversee the project and be involved at key stages in the process to provide their expert guidance and feed into any recommendations and dissemination plans.

Interested in getting involved?
If you are interested in taking part in the research, work with groups who might be interested, or just want to know more, please get in touch with Kirsty Deacon.

Please look out for further information which will be coming soon on how children and young people can take part in this study.

* “Care-experience” here means all looked after children and young people.  This includes children with Compulsory Supervision Orders made by Children’s Hearings and living at home, with kinship or foster carers, in residential units/schools or secure units. It also includes those in the care of a local authority on a voluntary basis, and those with Permanence Orders made by the courts.

Caring for brothers and sisters: the ‘invisible’ kinship families

Caring for brothers and sisters: the ‘invisible’ kinship families

As part of Kinship Care Week 2022 Lorna Stabler, a Researcher and PhD student at Cardiff University, writes about being a sibling carer and the important research she is undertaking into kinship carers who care for their brothers and sisters.

Most people know that families are not always two parents bringing up their children, and that, for lots of reasons, sometimes children are brought up by someone who isn’t their mother or father. What is less commonly known is that in some of these families, it is an older sister or brother who is the main carer for their younger brothers or sisters. In fact, one study found that in Scotland in 2011, 8% children living in kinship care were growing up in a household headed by their sibling. But despite this being the experience for a lot of families, very little is known about what it is like to be a carer for a sibling, or being brought up by your older sister or brother.

Before becoming a researcher, I was a kinship carer for my younger brother.  When I started working in research, I realised there wasn’t really much out there about families like mine. Most of the research about ‘kinship’ families focused on the experiences of grandparents. While that is very important, I felt like the stories of siblings would be different to those of grandparents and their grandchildren. I knew from my own experience that my shared background and childhood, closeness in age, and my life stage were all challenges when caring for my brother, but they were strengths too that gave me a unique insight and abilities. I also knew that I often needed help, and it was not always available.

That is why my PhD research – “What are siblings’ lived experiences of providing kinship care? Identifying pathways to improving support for sibling-headed families” – is focused on the experiences of sibling carers.

The research

As part of my research I am interviewing people over 18 who live in the UK and have experience of being the main carer for their brother or sister. I am also interviewing young people who are being cared for by an older sibling, and care experienced people of any age who spent time being cared for by their sibling. Siblings interested in being interviewed can find out more here.

I am including practitioners of all types in my PhD research through a survey, interviews and focus groups. The survey asks for examples of practice with sibling-headed kinship families, and ideas around what is needed to help these families to thrive. Practitioners don’t need to have explicitly worked with siblings who are kinship carers – experience of working with any kinship carers will be very relevant. The survey can be accessed here.

The story so far

Many of the conversations so far have raised important issues and considerations. Sibling carers and young people raised by their older brother or sister have rarely, if ever, met another person who had a similar experience, or had the chance to tell their story. When I’ve talked to sibling carers, throughout their stories I get sparks of recognition from my own experience.

Sibling carers have come to kinship care through many different routes, but often have faced similar hurdles when looking for help and recognition. Many of the carers talked about not fitting into the right categories for support and being turned away when in need. Often a social worker had been involved at some point in their lives, but this hadn’t always led to them getting support when they needed it. Areas of need have included – financial help, support for getting back into education, bereavement counselling and trauma informed services that work with carers and younger siblings, appropriate advice and legal services – and universally more recognition by social services, schools, medical services, peers and society more broadly of the roles that they are performing. 

Practitioners have highlighted the need to advocate for siblings as potential carers because they are often not considered. Some of the reasons given included concerns that siblings may not be able to separate their own experiences from those of their younger brother or sister, that they may not have had the experience of being a parent or being parenting sufficiently, or that they would struggle to manage boundaries and appropriate contact arrangements with parents. This was echoed by some sibling carers who highlighted the importance of having a practitioner who believed in them and supported them to become a kinship carer. 

Despite some of the challenges faced by sibling kinship carers, all the carers interviewed so far did not regret the role they had taken on. While the need for more appropriate support and recognition was raised consistently, so was the love and care they felt for their siblings.

So far, Scotland is the only part of the UK where there is an organisation such as Stand up for Siblings that has dedicated information specifically for siblings, something carers and young people are asking for.  

The stories and practice examples generated in this research will hopefully help to increase recognition, and influence the way that services are designed to be suitable for sibling-headed families.

Kinship care week will run from the 14th to 18th March 2022. Information can be found on this website – Kinship Care Week 2022 |

If you are a kinship carer and need support please call the Kinship Care Helpline on 0808 800 0006.


Kinship Care Week 2022

Kinship Care Week 2022

Stand Up For Siblings is proud to support Kinship Care Week 2022. The annual week-long event will take place from 14-18 March 2022. The theme for this year is positive relationships. 

A virtual event is being held on Wednesday 16 March from 9.45am-1pm. The Kinship Care Conference – Promoting Positive Relationships in Kinship care is being organised by Kinship Care Advice Service for Scotland. Speakers at the event include Richard Rose and Sally Wassell. You can find out more about the event here.

New research – exploring the impact of virtual Hearings on participation, rights and decision making

New research – exploring the impact of virtual Hearings on participation, rights and decision making

Stand Up For Siblings partner SCRA has embarked on a new piece of research which will explore the impact of virtual Hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic on participation, rights and decision making.

The research includes an online survey aimed at foster carers and kinships carers.

The survey is open for six weeks, closing on Sunday 20 March. The survey will measure foster and kinship carers views about participating in virtual Hearings. It will also ask them about the perceived impacts of virtual Hearings on the children in their care and explore barriers to participation such as digital exclusion. Interviews with foster and kinship carers may also be undertaken.

Dr Catherine Nixon from SCRA who is leading the research explained: “The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 significantly restricted the delivery of Children’s Hearings in Scotland. Although the rapid development and subsequent refinement of virtual Hearings has allowed SCRA to continue to meet the needs of children, little is known about the long-term acceptability of virtual Hearings to children, families and their caregivers.

“The Keeping The Promise 2021-2024 strategy developed by SCRA commits to undertaking research in order to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and to use the knowledge gathered to inform our improvement journey. Understanding how virtual and hybrid Hearings have impacted upon the participation and rights of children and families, as well as the decision making process, is part of that commitment.”

The research, which has been developed in consultation with young people from Our Hearings, Our Voice includes a number of other strands:

  • Interviews and focus groups will be conducted with parents, residential carers and secure care staff about their views of participating in virtual Hearings. These interviews will aim to understand how attending Hearings virtually differs from the experience of face-to-face participation. They will also explore perceptions about the impact of virtual Hearings on decision making, rights and participation.


  • Participatory research will be undertaken with children and young people to explore their views on Virtual Hearings. This research will explore the same issues that will be explored with parents and carers, but will adopt a child-centred and child-led approach to data collection. Our Hearings, Our Voice Board Members will act as co-researchers in this element of the study.


  • Case File Analysis using data routinely being collected by SCRA in relation to Children’s Hearings will be undertaken to explore the inclusion of the child’s voice within Hearings held during the pandemic. Data on the decision making process will also be recorded, including the effect of Hearing type on rates of continuations, deferrals, appeals and requests for early reviews of decisions. Face-to-face Hearings will be compared with virtual Hearings conducted with and without RAVHI.

The intention is to publish the findings from each research element as soon as they become available as the findings will be used to inform future refinements of virtual Hearings. All findings should be available in early 2023 on SCRA’s website.

Translate »

Pin It on Pinterest