End presumption that siblings in care should be kept together, Narey says

By Lauren Higgs

| 20 July 2012

Brothers and sisters in care should not be kept together if doing so could damage their prospects of building a new life, the government's adoption adviser has claimed.

Martin Narey believes that the current system can further traumatise already vulnerable children.

In an exclusive interview with CYP Now, Martin Narey argued that social workers need more support to strike a balance between the advantages of placing children for adoption with siblings, and the disadvantages of delaying finding them a stable family. 

His warning comes as the government launches two discussion papers calling for views from the sector – one on the issue of placing siblings in care, the other on the subject of contact between looked-after children and their birth families.

The paper on siblings suggests that rather than presuming that brothers and sisters should be kept together, there should be more flexibility in separating them, if it is in the best interests of the children involved.

This is partly because sibling groups have to wait on average a year longer to be adopted than individual children, due to a shortage of adopters willing and able to adopt groups of children.

“We need to be much more circumspect than we have been about separating siblings,” Narey said.

“One of the instances where separation of siblings is probably wise, is where a particular child has started to parent a younger child, where they have compensated for the neglect and abuse they have received by a parent, essentially becoming a parent for the younger child.

“That older child is bound to say that he or she wants to stay together with their brother or sister, but the evidence shows that it's bad for that brother or sister and it's bad for the older child who needs to be allowed to be a child themselves and learn that adults can be depended upon and can love them and give them stability.”

On the issue of contact between children in care and their birth families, Narey said that current legislation should be reviewed, since some poorly planned contact arrangements are causing distress, confusion and trauma to already vulnerable children.

“We’ve got to look carefully at the presumption in the 1989 Children’s Act, which says that local authorities must endeavour to promote contact between a child in care and their birth family,” he said.

“Sometimes, practitioners have told me frequently, we make decisions on contact which aren’t in the interests of the child. Sometimes that’s about the amount of contact. I have met so many practitioners who are, the word I would use carefully, is ‘horrified’. They are horrified at the amount of contact that infants have to undergo.

“Sometimes having contact every day of the week, two or more hours, preceded and followed by a long journey across town, it’s traumatic.”

Both discussion papers call for views from professionals, foster carers, children in care, adopted children and adoptive parents. The government also wants views on how it can attract more adoptive parents willing to adopt groups of siblings.

To respond to the papers, email adoption.reform@education.gsi.gov.uk by Friday 31 August.

Listen to CYP Now's interview with Narey here.

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