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Care-experienced children affected by sibling imprisonment are slipping under the radar

This news post is 8 months old

New report warns of scale of issue across Scotland.

An estimated 70% of care-experienced children and young people in Scotland experience separation from their siblings, new research has found. 

Charities have warned this can create enormous barriers to maintaining some of the most important relationships in these children’s lives - made even more significant when one sibling is sent to prison.

New pioneering research, published on December 6, found that a disproportionate number of care-experienced children and young people had a sibling held in prison or secure care. 

For every young person in prison or secure care, an average of more than six siblings were impacted - and this is likely to be an underestimate, as sibling relationships often go unrecognised and unreported.

The report, ‘Staying Connected: Care-experienced children and young people with a sibling in prison or secure care’, is a joint project by Families Outside and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA), funded by The Promise Partnership, which explores the topic of care-experienced siblings separated by imprisonment or secure care.

Care-experienced young people affected by a sibling’s imprisonment experience many of the same barriers to rebuilding and maintaining relationships with a person in prison as many other families face – however, these barriers are often compounded by care experience.

Fi McFarlane, head of public affairs for The Promise Scotland, said: “The Promise Scotland welcomes the launch of this important research from Staying Connected, which highlights that care-experienced children and young people impacted by sibling imprisonment are often overlooked. 

“The Promise Scotland supports the call for more effective data collection and sharing so that sibling relationships are properly supported and protected.”

For care-experienced children and young people, sibling relationships are often some of the most significant relationships in their lives – often due to shared experiences and trauma, and siblings taking on a parental role. 

Professor Nancy Loucks, CEO of Families Outside, said: “Imprisonment fractures families, and this unprecedented research shows that brothers and sisters already separated through care arrangements feel this even more acutely. 

“The Promise underlined siblings as a crucial support network, but custody through prison or secure care can make access to these relationships exceptionally difficult. The Staying Connected project identified barriers but also solutions to this challenging issue.”

All children have a right to their sibling relationships – and services have a duty to support this. 

The emotional impact of sibling separation through imprisonment can be huge. Almost all interviewees had experienced a significant period of separation due to different care placements, even before one sibling went to prison. 

For many siblings, it was often as much about rebuilding their relationships as maintaining them.

Sibling separation through care and custody is often overlooked. While there are estimates of the number of Scottish children impacted by parental imprisonment each year - around 20-27,000 -, there are no estimates of the number of children and young people experiencing the imprisonment of a sibling. 

There is a need for more thorough, effective data collection to ensure sibling relationships are properly supported.

Neil Hunter, principal reporter for Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) said: “What is clear from the findings of this research is that there is an ongoing need for all partners in the care and justice sectors to work effectively to ensure that siblings are identified, that they are informed of their right to maintain their relationships, and that all possible steps are taken to ensure that siblings get to see and keep in touch with each other if they wish to, and it is safe to do so.”