26 July 2021

New National Practice Guidance to support the rights of care experienced children and their brothers and sisters in Scotland

The Scottish Government has published new National Practice Guidance, ‘Staying Together and Connected: Getting it Right for Sisters and Brothers’ to support new legislative changes coming into effect today, 26 July.

The guidance is designed to contribute to the effective implementation of new legislative changes introduced under the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 to uphold the rights and meet the needs of children with care experience and their families.

The relevant regulations and legal changes further protect the rights and promote the wellbeing of children and young people where these relationships with siblings could become disrupted. There is now a legal duty on local authorities to take steps to promote contact between ‘looked after’ infants, children and young people and their brothers and sisters, and a duty to establish the views of the child’s brothers and sisters before making any decisions about their care, and to ensure that where it is safe for them to do so, brothers and/or sisters are able to live together or as near to each other as possible.

The guidance takes the user through what to consider and what to do, and provides practical advice based on research, evidence and listening to experience about what all children need to grow and thrive through sustained, positive relationships with their siblings. It provides key information including on:

  • how to listen and talk to children about these relationships;
  • who children’s brothers and sisters are including ‘sibling-like’ relationships; and
  • what to consider in planning and decision making concerning children’s contact and connections with their brothers and sisters.

The guidance was developed in collaboration with people representing all those who will be affected by these developments and involved the voices and view of infants, children and young people with experience of care, their parents and families, adoptive parents, kinship and foster carers, and the multi-agency practitioners responsible for the care, protection and wellbeing of our children and young people. It was informed and drafted by a national process led and facilitated by CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection.

Children’s Minister Clare Haughey said:

“All children need the same things to thrive ­ a stable home, strong support and steady, loving relationships. We know through speaking to children and young people that the relationships with their brothers and sisters is vital to their sense of belonging and to their wellbeing. Thankfully, most siblings who experience care away from home are now placed together, but where that is not possible, it is important that those precious bonds are protected and nurtured through spending time with each other.

“The changes that come into force today are a significant step in our commitment to keeping The Promise to drive the changes needed in how we care for our children, young people and families.”

Aileen Nicol, Head of Improving Protection and Permanence at CELCIS, said:

“For far too long, the relationships between children who have sisters and brothers with experience of care have been irreparably changed or prevented. This has undermined an approach founded on the principle of what is in the best interests of a child. This guidance is one important practical step in the culmination of many years of work to provide challenge and share and amplify the necessary and vital voices that led to the change in law. Together we can ensure better experiences our children across Scotland.”

Saffron Rohan, member of the National Practice Guidance Consultants Working Group, said:

“It was fantastic to input into this guidance and have the opportunity to attend the writing sessions, supporting its development with our thoughts and experience. We worked well together as consultants, not to mention it was great to work with by the policy team at CELCIS, who were very supportive throughout the process. It is my hope is that this guidance will give practitioners the knowledge and direction to ensure children’s rights are continuously upheld and these crucial and meaningful relationships are supported to flourish.”