Sibling relationships are the longest lasting in most people’s lives. Allowing these to wither for children often already deprived of parental support is a real injustice to looked-after children and is likely to result in huge costs to society from the impact on life outcomes.
There were about 65 thousand children in care in England in 2010, an increase of 7% on the year before. The best available data on looked-after children’s contacts with friends and family is a 2010 survey of over 300 looked after children carried out by the Children’s Rights Director for England, “Keeping in Touch”. Some key points from this survey were that:
81% of looked-after children with brothers or sisters in care had been separated from them.
86% of children surveyed thought it very or quite important to keep brothers and sisters in care together. Only 3% thought it didn’t matter if brothers and sisters in care lost contact with each other.
The longer a child is looked after, the more likely to be out of touch with brothers and sisters.
Children surveyed favoured visiting brothers and sisters as the best way to stay in touch and felt it important to have activities to do and to be in a welcoming environment when meeting up.
The 2011 Ofsted Children’s Care Monitor report reiterates the high level of children in care who are seperated by their siblings and notes that 92% of siblings who have remained together in care contend that this was the right decision for them.
On the basis of these survey results, over 40 thousand children in care will be living apart from a brother or sister. This separation will often be in addition to the breakdown of relationships with parents that frequently occurs for children in care. Separation from siblings arises for a range of reasons: children in care have more siblings than the national average (around 3.4 siblings compared to around 1.4 overall) and foster carers and children’s homes may be unwilling or unable to accommodate all the siblings together. Brothers and sisters may be taken into care at different times and so get placed differently and shortages of local placements may lead to geographical separation.
Our experience is that little priority is given by social services to help resolve relationship difficulties between siblings and therefore an initial decision to separate siblings gets “frozen” and is often not actively reviewed or challenged.
Whilst there is national guidance to local authorities encouraging them to seek to maintain sibling relationships, this is not a statutory mandatory requirement. Over-stretched social work departments are tending to prioritise statutory mandatory child protection work.
Work to support positive sibling contact is greatly needed to secure the emotional and mental health and wellbeing of disadvantaged young people by preventing separated siblings from becoming estranged, preserving their identity and safeguarding a family support network. This is essential when they leave care as they are vulnerable and most at risk.
Click here to download Keeping in Touch, a report by the Children’s Rights Director for England on sibling separation and contact.
Click here to download the Ofsted 2011 Children’s Care Monitor Report
Click here to listen to Roger Morgan, the Children’s Rights Director for England, discuss the Children’s Care Monitor report and sibling separation on Radio Four’s Today programme.