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Siblings Together response to consultation on permanence.
“The Department for Education is consulting on a range of proposals to strengthen the team around the looked-after child, improve the status, security and stability of long-term foster care, and strengthen the requirements for returning children home from care.”
We believe that:
(a) willingness or not to support sibling relationships should be an important consideration in deciding on permanence : our experience is that for many cares this is not a high priority even though it is for the looked after children
(b) separation from siblings is often a key factor putting pressure on placements or leading to their breakdown so needs to be considered
(c) in terms of emotional permanence, good relationships with brothers and sisters are in fact the best chance for many looked after children of building networks of support that will last post care that will help improve long term outcomes.
Here is Siblings Together’s full response:
Siblings Together welcomes the aim set out in the consultation paper of increasing permanence for looked after children. We see the negative effects of frequent changes in looked after children’s lives in our work – for example a 14 year old boy attending one of our programmes had already experienced more than 40 foster placements, and unsurprisingly was experiencing emotional difficulties.. In our experience, frequent placement changes are quite usual for looked after children.
However, we are concerned that the consultation paper does not offer an analysis ofwhy frequent changes in placement are so common. Without this, there must be a danger that the proposed new guidance and legislation will not actually result in significant improvements.
More specifically, we are dismayed that though the consultation paper rightly recognises the need for emotional permanence in placements, there is no mention at all of sibling relationships in the paper as a key source (or potential source) of emotional stability and resilience for many looked after young people.
We know from our work with separated looked after siblings (the majority of looked after children with siblings are not living with all of them) that such separations are often a key driver of instability in placements. We have found sibling separation can contribute to children running away or being upset in their placements to the extent these break down.
We are also aware that there can be a tension between foster carers concern for the individual child placed with them, and a relative lack of interest or concern for encouraging the child to maintain their biological family links particularly with siblings. This may be seen as carers as relatively unrewarding. Yet the consultation does not appear to recognise this issue or to builld in any safeguards to ensure permanence decisions take full account of the importance of ensuring continuing support for sibling and other biological family relationships where these are positive for the looked after young person.
This omission in the consultation paper suggests little consideration is being given by government to strengthening sibling relationships as a source of emotional permanence and stability. Yet sibling relationships can provide a thread of continuity and support for looked after young people even when they end up moving frequently For many looked after children, sibling relationships are in practice their best hope of maintaining long term supportive relationships that will continue through placement changes and after they become adults and leave care.
In addition, the discussion in the paper of the factors to be considered to encourage permanance does not include any discussion of how proposed permanence arrangements may help strengthen or weaken their relationships with brothers and sisters. Children have a right to be able to maintain and develop their relationships with their siblings, and this right appears to be in danger of being overlooked or at least downplayed in the processes envisaged in the consultation paper.
Siblings Together strongly urges that sibling relationships are more fully considered in developing the proposed guidance and legislation: for the good of looked after children, in response their frequently voiced priority for more regular sibling contact, and for the wider good of society in helping to improve the typically very poor outcomes for looked after children. We believe these poor outcomes in part reflect the frequent failure to actively nurture strong relationships between looked after brothers and sisters that would help them build long term networks of support and affection for each other.
Siblings Together would welcome an opportunity to continue engaging with government so we can help ensure the proposed guidance and legislation addresses this key issue of sibling contact, drawing on our unique experience of helping separated looked after siblings to rebuild and sustain their relationships