Article in The Guardian 11/06/2014
Siblings in care should be kept together
Almost two-thirds of looked-after children with siblings also in the care system are separated from them. Those in children’s homes are even more likely to be split up than those in foster homes. Why? Not in the main for welfare reasons, but because our child welfare and care system isn’t sufficiently focused on prioritising and respecting the sibling bond. Instead, we impose on children who have already suffered loss, and in many cases abuse, further trauma by separating them from their brothers and sisters.
Instead of rectifying this appalling state of affairs, the government is proposing to make it worse by amending statutory adoption guidance so it is clear that, “there is no presumption about whether … to place siblings together”.
Do you have children? Have you made a will? If so, have you specified or indeed, did you take it as a given, that your children would be kept together? So how can it possibly be acceptable that the same presumption isn’t being made for children in care, who may be adopted? How can we tolerate the idea that we take a neutral stance to siblings being adopted separately, even when this so often means no further direct contact between the children or, one child being adopted and the other left in care?
Of course, if their welfare dictates, then siblings should be split, but that shouldn’t be the assumed starting point for children being adopted any more than it is for the rest of our children. On this subject, as with so many, we could start by listening to those directly affected: 86% of children in care thought it important to keep siblings together.
If you have a sibling with you, it is better because you have a bit of your birth family all the time – young person in care.
I’ve heard from adults who were separated from their siblings in childhood through care or adoption, and still feel grief, loss and injustice.
Our relationships with our siblings are usually the longest of our lives. Throughout my childhood, everything my older brother Anthony did, I wanted to do – you can get a sense of how irritating I must have been! Yet we were different in many ways, I was a feisty feminist even as a young child while he won a trip to Scotland Yard aged 10, for his essay on why he wanted to be a police officer, a dream he fulfilled.
Despite our continual fights, we were also always very proud and protective of each other, as we were of our little brother, David, a quiet, very funny, intellectual soul who undergoes a personality transformation whenever watching Spurs play a match.
There have been many times during my life when Anthony came to the rescue. I still remember thje time some scary kids at primary school were about to pick on me until they saw my brother’s name label on my jumper and him standing behind me. He continued to step in when I needed him most throughout adulthood. Unfortunately, Anthony died eight years ago but his importance in my life remains undiminished. This is why I find it unfathomable that we should treat the sibling relationship of any child with disrespect.
Nor am I alone in not allowing time to lessen such a bond. Alan Johnson MP, in explaining the motivation behind writing his award winning book This Boy, said he wanted to honour “the heroism of her (my mother) and my sister; these two amazing women”.Alan’s mother died when he was 13, but his 16-year-old sister successfully persuaded the social worker that she should take on his care.
Johnson’s strong relationship with and early dependency upon his sibling isn’t unusual. Almost 55,000 children in England are being raised by their siblings, according to analysis of the 2001 census. But research by the Family Rights Group has shown that these sibling carers are often unsupported by agencies. They are invisible to our social care system and absent from policy discussions about permanence for children at risk.
Last year, eight charities, including adoption and fostering organisations, came together to hold the Care Inquiry. The inquiry’s report, Making not breaking: building relationships for our most vulnerable children, concluded that “permanence for children means security, love, and a strong sense of identity and belonging”. It concluded that continuity of relationships is essential in helping children to construct their identity and to develop a strong sense of belonging, both of which are crucial to their wellbeing.
What has been missing from our child welfare system “is the determination to view relationships – as the cornerstone of planning and practice”. This is so true when we consider how we treat siblings.