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What happens if my children are separated in foster care?

View profile for Jasmine Lees
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A BBC article dated 26th January 2022 shone a light on the separation of siblings upon children entering the foster care system. The article highlights that around 45% of sibling groups are split up into different placements when the Local Authority become involved and the children are removed from their parent’s care.[1]

Another shocking revelation arising from the article is that some children are not told that they have any siblings at all when life story work is completed with them by the Local Authority. Life story work is completed by social workers with children who may have been removed from their parents or to a new placement to explain to the children the reasons for this and their background. Life story work should be child focused and it is to help the children to understand their identity and to process the changes in their life. Birth parents and family should contribute to this life story work and are usually offered to provide information and photographs to be shared with the child. Where a child is placed for adoption, it is less likely that information will be shared with the child prior to their move to an adoptive placement but should be available to them as they get older.

Research suggests that sibling relationships are one of the most enduring relationships in a person’s life and this usually begins in childhood. Some children may be separated at the outset of any care proceedings into different interim foster placements. Under s22(8)(c) Children Act 1989, the Local Authority are under a duty to accommodate ‘looked after’ siblings together in the same placement.[2] However in practice, the children being placed in the same placement is dependent on the resources and available foster carers at a given time. The greater the sibling size, the less likely that all of the children will be placed together in the same placement. The BBC article details that more than 12,000 children in foster care are separated from at least one of their siblings.[3]

When a Local Authority are deciding on permanency plans for any child, it is important that the sibling relationship is considered when considering placement and contact arrangements.

A sibling assessment may be commissioned by the Local Authority to assess the sibling relationship and to determine if the children should be placed “together or apart”. Any such sibling assessment should consider the consequence of separation for each child[4] and should be completed at the earliest opportunity.[5] Sibling assessments can conclude that the relationship between the children is harmful to one another and could impact on each child’s development. On the other hand, a sibling assessment may conclude that the children could be emotionally harmed by any separation.

Where the Local Authority may be recommending differing care plans for the children such as long term foster care and adoption, consideration should be given to continuing direct contact between the siblings. [6] However, adoptive parents cannot be forced / compelled to accept any post adoption contact arrangements if they are not in agreement[7].

The Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza DBE completed a survey of 6,000 children in care in 2021 asking children about their experiences in the foster care system including their hopes for the future. Amongst other recommendations, it has been suggested that their should be legal protections for sibling relationships to be maintained ratified into the law so that children should be placed together wherever possible. [8] It is hoped that the ongoing independent review into the English Care system will offer further findings and recommendations in relation to children in care when it is released later in 2022.

How Johnson Astills can help

We understand that the Local Authority being involved with your children can be very stressful and that is why we are here to help and provide advice. We have experience in assisting parents at all stages of Local Authority involvement. Please contact  Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please email us on careteam@johnsonastills.com  and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.