Influencing the Children (Scotland) Bill

Since March 2018, Who Cares? Scotland has worked alongside a variety of organisations to campaign for the rights of siblings in care to be protected in the law.

The Stand Up For Siblings (SUFS) coalition raised the profile of an issue that Care Experienced people have told us about for decades: they want their relationships with their brothers and sisters to be protected.

In March 2019, we welcomed an announcement by the Minister for Children and Young People, which confirmed that a new Children (Scotland) Bill would include new set of provisions which will protect sibling relationships in the law when passed.

We then worked with SUFS to strengthen the sibling provisions in the Children (Scotland) Bill by lobbying for change to section 10 of the Bill.  Previously, it stated that a local authority will have a duty to “…take such steps to promote, on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contact between the child and [their sibling where] both practicable and appropriate.” Alongside SUFS, Who Cares? Scotland had asked for the term ‘practicable’ to be removed from this duty.

Shaped by members’s voices

In January 2020, Who Cares? Scotland member Oisín King and our CEO Duncan Dunlop shared powerful evidence at an oral evidence session with the Justice Committee who were reviewing the Bill. Oisín shared his experience of being separated from his sister, which made a significant impact on MSPs.  Duncan spoke of concerns about how the resource-led decision-making our advocacy workers see first-hand leads to many sibling relationships being disrupted. He argued, alongside CELCIS, that ‘practicable’ should be removed from the Section 10 duty, as it allowed for resource-based decision making about sibling contact to remain unchallenged.

We also sent another important contribution directly to MSPs ahead of the oral evidence session – a special edition of the BBC ‘File on 4’ programme on sibling separation. This programme featured Who Cares? Scotland member Theighan McGirr and her sister Sophia speaking about their experiences of being separated. It further demonstrated to MSPs on the Justice Committee just how vital it is that the new sibling provisions in the Children (Scotland) Bill create real change for Care Experienced people.

During the Stage 1 debate of the Children (Scotland) Bill, MSPs from all parties cited Oisín’s evidence as proof of what can happen when the care system does not protect sibling relationships. This led to MSPs Neil Findlay and Liam Kerr to raise the issue of the word ‘practicable’ during the debate, as the Scottish Government had decided to keep the wording in at Stage 1 of the Bill.

Working with Stand Up for Siblings

Ahead of Stage 2 of the Children (Scotland) Bill, we worked alongside SUFS to prepare a joint briefing that MSPs utilised to lobby the Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham. This briefing clearly outlined our joint position on the need to remove ‘practicable’ from the duty and presented a variety of evidence showing the need for Section 10 to be strengthened by further demonstrating the current fragility of sibling relationships within the care system.

This lobbying effort resulted in the Minister lodging an amendment in Stage 2 on behalf of the Scottish Government to remove the word ‘practicable’ from this new duty on local authorities to promote sibling contact. This was passed unanimously by the Justice Committee.

This success means the new duty on local authorities to promote sibling relationships is much stronger. This progress is thanks to the incredible Care Experienced people that have shared their experiences of sibling separation with us, both publicly and through our advocacy relationships, for over 40 years. We now eagerly await the passing of the Bill into law. We will continue to campaign for the rights of brothers and sisters in care to not only keep in touch, but also to live together and not be separated in the care system.

Find out more

Who Cares? Scotland’s written responses:

Members of Who Cares? Scotland sharing their experiences about being separated from their brothers and sisters:

With thanks to Scottish Local Authorities, funding partners and donors who make our work possible.