Children in the Care System: Sibling Contact

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:28 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 7:28 pm, 4th March 2020

I congratulate Mrs Lewell-Buck on securing this important debate. She is always a strong advocate for vulnerable children and young people, and has great experience in this area.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the important topic of sibling contact for children in care. As the new Children and Families Minister, I want to thank foster parents, social workers, children’s services, and all those who dedicate their time, effort and skills to improving the lives of those children. I also thank the children themselves. I am committed to ensuring that all looked-after children benefit from the care and support to which every child is entitled. It is an important responsibility to ensure that vulnerable children are kept safe and are able to flourish.

The Government are implementing a wide range of reforms designed to improve outcomes. We will be taking forward a bold and broad review of the social care system, with the aim of better supporting, protecting and improving the outcomes of children and young people and their families. For the majority of looked-after children, maintaining family links through contact with parents, siblings, relatives and other connected people is extremely important. Contact can be crucial in helping them to develop their sense of identity, promote self-esteem and provide emotional support. Keeping in touch is consistently one of the most important issues that children and young people themselves raise, and I am really grateful to have the opportunity to discuss this today.

Each child’s needs, wishes and welfare must be considered when making decisions about their care. For many children, having contact with family, friends and others is hugely valued, and can help to support a stable and successful placement. That is why plans for promoting and maintaining contact must be included in every child’s care plan. By statute, a care plan must set out arrangements for the promotion and maintenance of contact with brothers and sisters, whether they are also in care or not, as long as this is consistent with the child’s welfare. The type of contact a young person has with their siblings needs careful consideration and planning, and should always be determined by what is best for the children concerned. Contact arrangements must be reviewed regularly, including by gathering and acting on the wishes and feelings of each individual child. However, while contact with siblings can be hugely valuable, it might not be the right decision in every case. Relationships are often complex and involve a range of emotions and potential risks.

The legal framework is clear on allowing contact between siblings and placing them together where it in their best interests. Historically, there have been concerns that some contact arrangements were not made on the assumption that contact should always take place.[This section has been corrected on 16 March 2020, column 6MC — read correction]