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14.1.10 Adoption Planning for Sibling Groups


This chapter details the assessment of children in sibling groups and factors that may influence placing them for adoption together or separating them. It also deals with contact issues if sibling groups are separated once placed for adoption.


Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 (Regulation 13)

Adoption and Children Act 2002 Guidance (2011), Chapter 4

Adoption National Minimum Standards 2011, Standards 8 and 2


This chapter was updated in January 2016 with regards to the consideration of siblings and whether they should remain together or apart, as well as the permanence options for the children.


  1. Introduction
  2. Definition of Siblings
  3. Legal Position
  4. Policy
  5. Assessing Children in Sibling Groups
  6. Contact Issues if Brothers and Sisters are Placed in Separate Adoptive Families

1. Introduction

A high proportion of children who are looked after have brothers or sisters. Siblings who share a childhood and grow up together have potentially the longest lasting and closest relationships of their lives with each other. Looked after children often have very complex family structures and it is important that these are researched, that the significance of relationships to the child are assessed and that permanence planning takes this into account.

2. Definition of Siblings

The Department accepts the following definition of siblings:

  • Children who share at least one birth parent;

  • Children who live or have lived for a significant period with other children in a family group.

3. Legal Position


The main legal provision on the placement of siblings is contained in the Children Act 1989:

“Where a Local Authority provides accommodation for a child whom they are looking after, they shall... so far as is reasonably practicable and consistent with his welfare, secure that... Where the authority are also providing accommodation for a sibling of his, they are accommodated together” (Section 23(7)(B)).


The Statutory Adoption Guidance (2011) Chapter 4, paragraph 12 states that:

“Where it is not possible for siblings to be placed together for the agency should consider carefully the need for the children to remain in contact with each other and the need for adoption support... Where a placement is sought for a child whose siblings have already been adopted, it will be important to consider whether it is possible to place the child with the parent(s) who have already adopted the sibling(s) It must be recognised, however, that this could be placing too great a burden on the adoptive parent, and risk destabilising the existing adoptive family.”


LAC (99) 29 “Care Plans and care proceedings under the Children Act 1989” states that:

“The Court will wish to scrutinise the care plans for each sibling child. It is important that the Court’s attention is drawn to any important differences between the respective plans reflecting the individual needs of the child”.


The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (2000) recognises that:

“The quality of relationships between siblings may also be of major significance to a child’s welfare”.

4. Policy

Caption: Policy table
4.1 Siblings who are looked after by Nottinghamshire County Council will be placed together in an adoptive home.
4.2 The decision to place brothers and sisters in separate placements will be made when a sibling assessment has been carried out and a Permanence Planning meeting has been held to give consideration of the individual needs of children.
4.3 Adopters will be assessed for financial support to facilitate the placement of sibling groups of three children or more. Sibling groups of three and above will be viewed as eligible children.

5. Assessing Children in Sibling Groups

Caption: Assessing Children in Sibling Groups
5.1 It is important to undertake a full assessment of each individual child in a sibling group, as well as an assessment of their relationships with each other and the dynamics of the group. Even if it seems clear that the siblings should remain together, a full assessment will provide essential information for a new family and will enable the agency to anticipate the extra help and support that may be necessary.
5.2 There are no current frameworks for the assessment of sibling relationships in general use. A Department of Health and Social Care publication (1991) includes checklists as a basic tool for studying the way siblings behave towards each other (see 5.3.6).
5.3 The most recent publication on the subject ‘Assessing Brothers and Sisters for Permanent Placement’ (Lord and Borthwick CoramBAAF 2001) suggests the following should be considered during assessment:

Clarify who the siblings are:

  • Who should be considered for placement together?
  • Are there brothers and sisters in other families?
  • Who does the child view as their brothers and sisters?

Who should be involved?

  • Who can contribute to the assessment? Birth parents, foster carers, Family Centre staff, Education, specialist staff etc.

Are the children placed in separate foster homes?

  • Should efforts be made to reunite the children in the same foster home?
  • If this is not possible or appropriate, it is essential that brothers and sisters be given the opportunity to come together regularly. Arrangements for this should reflect the primary aim of giving the children a chance to build or rebuild a sense of themselves as a family group. It is also important for those assessing their relationships that other children are not present.

Assessing each child’s needs  

  • Each child should have an individual assessment which accurately reflects their needs;
  • This assessment should commence as soon as a child becomes looked after or that this is a likely plan of adoption;
  • Each child should be worked with as an individual and should have his or her own life story book. However, some work can be usefully done with the brothers and sisters together.

Context in which the relationship between the siblings has developed  

  • The children’s position in the family;
  • Their gender;
  • Cultural and family expectations for each child;
  • The emotional age at which each is functioning;
  • The extent to which they have a shared history and family experience;
  • The role each child is perceived to have played in the sibling group leaving home and starting to be looked after.

Assessing a child’s attachment to and relationship with each sibling  

  • Should be based on detailed observation of how the children behave with each other by key people;
  • Sibling relationship checklists are available in ‘Patterns and Outcomes in Child Placement (HMSO 1991)’.

Dynamics of the sibling group  

  • Are there any particular issues that need to be considered? (e.g. is one child excluded or scapegoated by the others, is an older sibling very controlling);
  • If children are currently placed separately this will effect the dynamics of the whole group;
  • May be useful to video the children together so that sibling interaction may be discussed with the Team M
  • .

What work could be done to improve relationships between siblings?  

  • Before a decision to separate siblings is made it is important to consider what work could be undertaken to make it possible to place together.  

Exceptional circumstances, which may indicate that siblings should be placed separately

If children are placed in the same family, it may be impossible (within a reasonable timescale) to help them recover from dysfunctional and destructive patterns of interaction from their birth family. Examples of these may be:  

  • Intensive rivalry and jealousy;
  • Exploitation of siblings - can be based on gender or age;
  • Chronic scapegoating of one child;
  • Maintenance of unhelpful alliances and birth family conflicts;
  • Maintenance of unhelpful hierarchical positions e.g. victim/bully;
  • Highly sexualised behaviour with each other;
  • Acting as triggers to each other’s traumatic experiences and potentially constantly re-traumatising each other.

(Gerrilyn Smith, Clinical Psychologist)

However it must be stressed that efforts must be made to address any issues of difficulty in sibling relationships before the serious decision to place separately is made.


Identifying who should be placed with whom if a sibling group needs to be split

  • Should not be purely based on who is together in foster care. This is likely to have been a resource-led decision;
  • What information has been gathered about levels of need of individual children, what are their wishes and feelings;
  • Permanence Planning Meeting to be held to discuss the children’s individual needs, sibling relationships and whether they should remain together or apart, as well as the permanence options for the children.


It is vital that reasons for decisions about the placement of brothers and sisters are well recorded. Information should also be given to adopters and should be contained in the child’s life storybook and later life letter. When the children become adults, they may or may not agree that the right decision was made, but they should at least be assured that it was made with thought and care.

6. Contact Issues if Brothers and Sisters are Placed in Separate Adoptive Families

6.1 If brothers and sisters are unable to be placed together, it is essential that the Department ensures that robust contact arrangements are in place, which can be sustained throughout childhood.
6.2 There may be circumstances where children have lived together in a foster home and a significant relationship has developed. Consideration should be given to whether on-going contact with these children would be of benefit.

Adoptive parents of separated siblings will require information about how and why decisions have been made so that they can talk to their children in years to come. They also have specific needs in respect of contact, such as:  

  • Opportunities to meet the adoptive parents of the siblings prior to child-to-child contact;
  • Clear contracts, which have been openly negotiated with all parties. Who will initiate arrangements, who will travel, how often, how to handle changes to contact? It will be essential to acknowledge any differences in family income to ensure that potential venues are within all adopters’ means;
  • An understanding of any risks and how to minimise these;
  • An understanding of the current and potential benefits of maintaining sibling relationships;
  • The range of ways that links can be maintained, e.g. video, e-mail etc.;
  • Access to support (which may include financial support) and a means of reviewing contact. This is of particular importance as contact arrangements can easily go wrong with the result that brothers and sisters lose touch with each other.
6.4 Adoptive parents managing sibling contact may also have to cope with issues in the other families impacting on their children, e.g. placement disruption or an older child’s reunion with members of their birth family. The capacity to tolerate periods of change and uncertainty need to be recognised and discussed during preparation and assessment and when discussing placements.


Rushton A, Dance C, Quinton D and Mayes D (2001) Siblings in Late Permanent Placement. CoramBAAF publication

Department of Health (1991) Patterns and Outcomes in Child Placement, HMSO

Lord J and Borthwick S (2001) Assessing Brothers and Sisters for Permanent Placement, CoramBAAF Publication

Beckett, Shelagh (2001) Sibling Relationships: Planning for Permanent Placement - paper given to Seminar - Notts Dec 2001