SUFS welcomes MSPs’ support for changes to law to promote sibling contact

SUFS welcomes MSPs’ support for changes to law to promote sibling contact

The Stand Up for Siblings coalition is delighted that yesterday’s debate in the Scottish Parliament signalled such strong support among MSPs for changing the law to support brothers and sisters in care.

MSPs were debating the Children (Scotland) Bill at Stage 1 of the overall 3 stages the Bill will go through. If passed, the Bill will create a new binding legal duty on Scottish local authorities to take steps to promote, on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contact between a child in their care and their siblings, where those steps are practicable and appropriate.

MSPs from all parties spoke of the tremendous impact evidence heard – above all from Oisin King, a care experienced member of Who Cares? Scotland – had had in illustrating why the law needs to change to support brothers and sisters in the care system.

Far too often, siblings are separated when entering care and lose touch against their will.

The Justice Committee had set out its recommendations on 1 May, which Stand Up for Siblings warmly welcomed here.

In its response to the committee, the Scottish Government indicated that although it agreed with some of the recommendations, it did not agree that the word ‘practicable’ should be removed from the Bill.

However, in the debate yesterday Minister for Community Safety Ash Denham MSP agreed to look at the provision again.

In its evidence and supplementary evidence, Stand Up for Siblings called for the removal of ‘practicable’ because of concerns that it could lead to local authorities failing to promote contact for reasons such as a lack of resources. We are pleased that this will now be considered in meetings between MSPs and the Minister.

We look forward to continuing to contribute to this vital debate as the Bill moves into Stage 2. You can read a transcript of the Scottish Parliament debate here and watch it here.

Members of the Stand Up for Siblings coalition are listed here.

SUFS welcomes appointment of oversight Chair

SUFS welcomes appointment of oversight Chair

Yesterday, in a response to a question in the Scottish Parliament on the progress made implementing the conclusions of the Independent Care Review, Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced that Fiona Duncan has been appointed to Chair the independent oversight group responsible for the next phase of implementation.

He said: “We will work with Fiona Duncan to put in place the necessary arrangements to ensure that the Promise is implemented in the way that the Review, care experienced people and the wider sector envisaged.”

This appointment will be hugely welcomed by the many groups and individuals seeking reform of our care system. Stand Up For Siblings looks forward to making a contribution to the change that is coming.

SUFS welcomes the Children (Scotland) Bill stage 1 report

SUFS welcomes the Children (Scotland) Bill stage 1 report

Stand Up For Siblings welcomes the Children (Scotland) Bill stage 1 report published today by the Scottish Parliament. The report makes four important recommendations in relation to contact with siblings. These are:

“Recommendation: The Scottish Government should before Stage 2 provide further details on how the changes which will result from the Independent Care Review will enable local authorities to fulfil the duty in section 10 of the Bill. This should include information on proposed timescales and specific budgets that will be provided to individual local authorities for the purposes of promoting sibling contact.”

“Recommendation: The Scottish Government should work with COSLA and others, such as Stand Up For Siblings, to assess what measures are required in the short term to implement section 10 of the Bill. This should include an assessment of any additional resources required by local authorities.”

“Recommendation: The Scottish Government should amend the Bill at Stage 2 to remove the “practicable” qualification from section 10.”

“Recommendation: The Scottish Government should amend the Bill at Stage 2 to remove references to “half-blood” and “whole-blood” from section 10.”

Stand Up For Siblings partners look forward to working closely with key groups including children and young people to continue to address this issue. It is important that attention continues to be paid to this issue at a time when disruption to family relationships is a reality for many. The full report of the Committee is available here.

National Siblings Day

National Siblings Day

Recently we were reminded on social media that from time to time everyone, no matter what their status or role, needs the support of their brothers and sisters.  This came as the First Minister’s sister came to her defence in response to online criticisms.

At times of personal or public crisis, more than ever, we need the support of our loved ones to look out for us and protect our mental wellbeing.

Today, Friday 10 April is not only Good Friday, but it is National Siblings Day and children and young people in care across the UK will find themselves living apart from brothers and sisters and uncertain when, or how they will be supported to stay in touch and provide each other with comfort and reassurance.

Here at Stand Up For Siblings we believe that more can be done to protect the rights and promote the wellbeing of siblings. We continue to work together to influence the law, policy and practice across Scotland.

Keep visiting the latest news section of our website to find out more about this important issue and how you can support our movement for change. 

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?’. 

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