Syvlia Douglas on the long term impact of brothers and sister being split up.
I was delighted to hear the announcement made by the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd MSP, on the 8th of March that the Scottish Government plans to make improvements to the laws for siblings in Scotland’s care system, supporting local authorities to take steps to promote personal relationships between brothers and sisters, if it’s safe to do so and in the best interest of the child.
I know this progress came because of the tireless campaigning and championing that has come from many individuals and groups over the decades!
I would like to share my personal story around the need for siblings to keep connected when living in care.
This is the first time I have shared my experience so publicly, in light of the announcement made on the 8th march, my role as co-chair on the Edges of Care workgroup and the significance of today, National Siblings Day, being in honour of sibling relationships, I want to honour mine and that of the children and young people living in care.
That’s me as a child!
My name is Sylvia, I am not sure how old I am here, but I know I am wearing a jumper I loved and the three boys I am standing with are my brothers, Joseph, David and john.
This picture of us all is the only one I have, and it was the last time I can remember us all being together.
When we posed for this school picture my family was in need of support.
We had been struggling with addiction, poverty, and mental health challenges and I know today that with some family support the outcomes for us all could have been different.
The impact of brothers and sisters being separated and estranged can be profound and leaves a void that touches the very core of identity.
As the oldest child, I cared for my brothers in times my mother was unable too, creating deeper impermeable links. I loved them very much. They drove me insane and despite us all trying to cope with pain in our own ways, we were very proud and protective of each other.
We were in it together!
When crisis hit, we were separated.
No one talked to me about seeing my brothers or asked me if I missed them.
The kind staff, who were looking after me had been so focused on my section 47 (a local authority assessment where there are concerns that a child is at risk of harm) and keeping me safe, they shut out the very people I needed around me the most, my brothers.
I thought about them a lot, I was anxious and stressed to know if they were safe in their placement and as no one mentioned them at any review, panel or meeting I thought I was not allowed to talk about them, so I missed them in silence.
20 something years have passed, and we are strangers.
The distance between us all grew greater and we became even more estranged. We had fleeting points of contact, but they were lost again once a new placement was established.
We were powerless to maintain connection as children and by the time we were old enough, life had become too complicated.
I read many similar stories to mine on the Stand up for Siblings website and I see from the key findings and research that many years later, there is still a presumption within the laws of the UK that looked after and accommodated children will be placed with siblings whenever practicable and in the best interests of the child.
In practice, however, separation of brothers and sisters is still a too common experience.
The Independent Care Review has heard that positive relationships are really important to children and young people in care and can provide much needed continuity at times of uncertainty.
It’s why one of the Care Review’s 12 Intentions focuses on protecting relationships which are significant to infants, children and young people, recognising the importance of brothers and sisters, parents, extended family and trusted adults.
With this in mind and the commitment to make improvements to the laws for siblings living in care, nothing other than a joined-up approach in ensuring siblings (if safe to do so) are kept connected makes sense.
About the author
Sylvia Douglas is co-chair of the Independent Care Review’s Edges of Care work group.
With a background in mental health and social work, Sylvia is the founding director of MsMissMrs CIC, a social enterprise founded in 2014 and all in existence to serve women and girls who have travelled a difficult journey to become the leaders in their own lives.
Having spent much of her young life living in children’s homes, leaving school with no education and becoming a mum at 15, Sylvia is focused on supporting change for others.
In 2019, Sylvia was named in The Big Issue’s Changemakers Top 100, which celebrates “thinkers, creators and agitators”.