Stand Up For Siblings successfully lobbies for changes to the Children (Scotland) Bill

Stand Up For Siblings successfully lobbies for changes to the Children (Scotland) Bill

On Tuesday 23rd June, the Justice Committee considered a variety of amendments to the Children (Scotland) Bill as the new law progressed through Stage 2 of legislative scrutiny. MSPs voted through important changes to the wording of the Bill, which will now further strengthen siblings’ rights in the law.

Firstly, the rights of siblings to have contact with each other if separated in care has been strengthened. In Section 10 of the Children (Scotland) Bill, it previously stated that a local authority will have a duty to “…take such steps to promote, on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contact between the child and [their sibling where] both practicable and appropriate.” SUFS has consistently suggested that greater clarity was needed regarding the use of the term ‘practicable’ and wrote to MSPs ahead of both the Stage 1 and Stage 2 debates to ask for this term to be removed from the wording of the Bill.

Ahead of the Stage 2 debate, MSPs were able to lobby the Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham by utilising a briefing from the SUFS coalition. This briefing clearly outlined our joint position on the need to remove ‘practicable’ from the duty and presented a variety of evidence showing the need for Section 10 to be strengthened by further demonstrating the current fragility of sibling relationships within the care system.

This lobbying effort resulted in the Minister lodging an amendment in Stage 2 on behalf of the Scottish Government to remove the word ‘practicable’ from this new duty on local authorities to promote sibling contact, which was passed unanimously by the Justice Committee.

We would like to give our sincere thanks to Neil Findlay MSP and Liam Kerr MSP, who raised this issue during the Stage 1 debate of the Bill and then met with the Minister to further support this important change to the Bill’s wording. Thanks to all the members of the Justice Committee for supporting this amendment.

Secondly, children’s hearings will, if the Bill is passed, now have to consider contact between a child and their siblings when making important decisions about their lives. An amendment was passed unanimously to the Bill, which has added a duty on children’s hearings to consider contact between a child and their siblings, with SUFS being mentioned as a key group who has pushed for this ask continuously:

“On amendment 31, one of the asks in the Stand Up For Siblings pledge for siblings is to introduce a duty on children’s hearings to consider contact between a child and their siblings. Amendment 31 does that…

…Amendment 31 allows children’s hearings to take a bespoke approach to the relationship between siblings. That is in line with the decision of the Supreme Court last week in the cases of ABC and XY. As the committee is aware, those cases considered siblings’ participative rights in children’s hearings. The Supreme Court’s decision recognises that the legislative scheme behind Scotland’s children’s hearings is compatible with children’s article 8 rights.

As we have previously indicated, ministers want Scotland’s care system to move from compliance into excellence. It remains our ambition to bring in procedural and practical improvements that will better support children in care to maintain relations with their brothers and sisters. My intention is to bring any necessary amendments at stage 3 to further address any gaps. That will also enable the Government to honour the independent care review promise on siblings.

Finally, we are grateful that the Minister has committed to further consideration by the Scottish Government on how the definition of a sibling can be improved, in recognition that the use of ‘blood’ and ‘half-blood’ is outdated terminology. This is another issue that the SUFS work has previously focused on and we look forward to seeing the result of these discussions with Rona Mackay MSP at Stage 3.

Read the joint briefing by SUFS to MSPs, ahead of the Stage 2 debate of the Children (Scotland) Bill here.

Read the full transcript of the Stage 2 debate by the Justice Committee here.

Supreme Court judgment

Supreme Court judgment

The Supreme Court today handed down its judgment in two cases involving the rights of brothers and sisters in Children’s Hearings.

The Court ruled that following adaptations to Children’s Hearings, such as direction to Reporters and guidance for Panel Members, the requirements of Article 8 ECHR were met in relation to siblings and other family members.

Stand Up For Siblings will continue to work with all members in our partnership to ensure that siblings rights and relationships are at the heart of Children’s Hearings and the wider care system.

 

Research into virtual Children’s Hearings

Research into virtual Children’s Hearings

Stand Up For Siblings is encouraging as many people as possible to complete a survey on experiences of Children’s Hearings during lockdown. A research team based at the University of Strathclyde is gathering the views and experiences of people participating in Children’s Hearings during the Coronavirus pandemic.

They are conducting a survey from now until 29 June 2020.

The purpose in undertaking the research is to help inform improvements relating to the conduct of virtual Children’s Hearings.

The research team are interested in hearing from young people, parents, other family members, carers, social workers, reporters, advocates, solicitors, safeguarders, panel members, or anybody else who might want to share their views and experience.

You can access the survey here – www.celcis.org/CHsurvey

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.

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