NSPCC. Cruelty to children must stop. FULL STOP

NSPCC inform.

Navigation menu list for sections above the current page
Home
Research, statistics and information
Research reports
Statistics
Briefings and factsheets
NSPCC's information service
NSPCC's helpline
NSPCC's Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC)

Siblings in care: law and practice

NSPCC factsheet

More briefings and factsheets

Child protection news

March 2010


This factsheet is about the placement of siblings who are the subject of care proceedings. It outlines the legal requirements in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the factors that must be considered as part of the placement process, and current practice across the United Kingdom.

What are the legal requirements of placing siblings into care?
Is it better to keep siblings together or in contact when placed into care?
Following a care order, under what circumstances should siblings be placed separately?
What is the current practice in the United Kingdom?



What are the legal requirements of placing siblings into care?


When more than one child from a family is made the subject of care proceedings, legal requirements exist with regard to their welfare and placement.

The relevant law in England and Wales is the Children Act (1989), which states:

“Where a local authority provides accommodation for a child whom they are looking after, they shall, subject to the provisions of this Part and so far as is reasonably practicable and consistent with his welfare, secure that—
 (b) where the authority are also providing accommodation for a sibling of his, they are accommodated together” (section 23, part 7).

In Scotland the law is defined in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and the supporting regulations.2 This guidance states that siblings in care should be placed together:

“except where this would not be in one or more of the children’s best interests” (p. 5, para 19).

In Northern Ireland the legislation in respect of siblings is contained in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995:3

“Where a Trust provides accommodation for a child they are looking after, they shall, so far as is reasonably practical and consistent with his welfare, secure that –
(a) the accommodation is near his home; and
(b) where the authority is also providing accommodation for a sibling of his, they are accommodated together” (Article 27[8]).

It should be noted that the term ‘sibling’ is not legally defined. It can include step-siblings, half-siblings, or unrelated children who have been brought up together.

References

1. HM Government (1989) Children Act 1989 (chapter 41)

2. The Scottish Office (1997) Scotland's children: The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 regulations and guidance. Volume 2: children looked after by local authorities.  Edinburgh: The Stationery Office.

3. HM Government (1995) Children (Northern Ireland) Order, Part 4.

back to top



Is it better to keep siblings together or in contact when placed into care?


Legislation across the United Kingdom, as outlined in the previous section, requires siblings in care to be placed together, when in the interest of the children.4,5,6 The collective placement of siblings has been identified as a protective factor against placement breakdown.7

Sustained contact with siblings can promote emotional stability and wellbeing for children in care. Siblings share an identity, which can promote their self-esteem and provide emotional support while going through care proceedings.7

References

4. HM Government (1989)  Children Act 1989 (chapter 41) .

5. The Scottish Office (1997)Scotland's children: The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 regulations and guidance. Volume 2: children looked after by local authorities.  Edinburgh: The Stationery Office.

6. HM Government (1995) Children (Northern Ireland) Order, Part 4 .

7. Schwenke, H., Hudd, S. and Vicary, D. (2006) Sibling relationships in the care system: attachment, separation and contact issues. Children Australia, 31(1): 5-11.

back to top



Following a care order, under what circumstances should siblings be placed separately?


Statutory services in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are legally required to place siblings together where it is in their best interests.8,9,10 However, under certain circumstances, children may be permanently placed separately from their brothers or sisters.

The decision to place children separately can apply in circumstances where one sibling has been targeted for abuse from the previous carers, or continues to be targeted as a scapegoat by their siblings. Siblings are also placed separately if the children display sexually harmful behaviour towards each other.11

References

8. HM Government (1989) Children Act 1989 (chapter 41).

9. The Scottish Office (1997)  Scotland's children: The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 regulations and guidance. Volume 2: children looked after by local authorities.  Edinburgh: The Stationery Office.

10. HM Government (1995) Children (Northern Ireland) Order, Part 4 .    

11. Lord, J. (2001) Together or apart? Assessing brothers and sisters for permanent placement. Childright, 177 (June): 6-8.

back to top



What is the current practice in the United Kingdom?


The 1989 Children Act (England and Wales)12, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 guidance13 and The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 199514 require that siblings in care are placed together.

However, siblings are often placed separately for logistical reasons: many children enter the care system at different times to their brothers and sisters, and are placed individually once their care proceedings begin.15 Older children can be resistant to permanent placements or adoption, whereas younger children are more likely to find, and want, a long term placement.15

References

12. HM Government (1989) Children Act 1989 (chapter 41).

13. The Scottish Office (1997)Scotland's children: The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 regulations and guidance. Volume 2: children looked after by local authorities.  Edinburgh: The Stationery Office.

14. HM Government (1995) Children (Northern Ireland) Order, Part 4.

15. Lord, J. (2001) Together or apart? Assessing brothers and sisters for permanent placement. Childright, 177 (June): 6-8.

Further reading

Lord, J. and Borthwick, S. (2001) Together or apart? Assessing brothers and sisters for permanent placement. London: British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).

back to top



Please note that this content is of a general nature, and may not represent a comprehensive review of the literature. Search the NSPCC Library Online for more publications.

Contact the NSPCC Information Service for further information on this or another topic