I recently came across a "feel good" story about an American couple who adopted five siblings from the same family. After initially fostering the youngest child shortly after his birth, the couple discovered this little boy had four older siblings all waiting to be adopted. Unable to bear the thought of them being separated, the couple applied to reunite the children and later adopted all five.

This got me thinking about the various adoption cases I have worked on over the years - none of which involved the adoption of a sibling group. Indeed, in most cases the adopted child had at least one natural sibling and often they had been separated much earlier in the process, before adoption was even being formally considered. A recent survey suggests that two thirds of children waiting to be adopted are in sibling groups and it takes significantly longer to place siblings together for adoption. Not surprisingly then, with a desire to provide children with the security of a permanent home as soon as possible, siblings can end up being separated if suitable individual places become available. Being one of three siblings myself, I know just how important a sibling relationship can be throughout childhood and beyond. I suspect that the impact of a positive sibling relationship on a child's wellbeing and development has often been overlooked when making decisions about children who find themselves in local authority care.

The importance of the sibling relationship was affirmed by the Supreme Court in two cases earlier this year which looked at the role that siblings can and should play in children's hearings. The court refused to go as far as to conclude that siblings should automatically be considered "relevant persons" – a status normally reserved for parents and those routinely exercising care and control of a child. However, the decisions did acknowledge the significance that a sibling relationship can have on a child's wellbeing. As a result, children's hearings must now consider maintenance and development of the sibling relationship, whether that be by looking to place children together or by considering ongoing sibling contact as part of permanency planning. So, what is the relevance of this development in relation to the adoption of siblings?

Invariably children who are adopted from local authority care have come through the children's hearing system, where compulsory measures have been put in place regulating their residence away from their natural parents. Once it is apparent that a permanent care solution is required for a child the local authority may apply to the court for a permanence order, which may or may not also include authority for the child to be adopted. If the local authority is considering permanence, they must first refer the matter to the children's reporter who will convene a hearing to consider the proposed permanence plan and give a report of their advice on that proposal. In light of the Supreme Court's decisions, children's hearings will have to take account of the sibling relationship when considering permanence. That should provide siblings with a better opportunity to have their voices heard in relation to plans being made for their future, and that of their brothers and sisters.

Ultimately, the decision about whether or not a child should be adopted is a matter for the court. Even where an adoption in uncontested, the court requires to be satisfied that the proposed adoption will safeguard the wellbeing of the child for the remainder of their childhood. It is also open to the court to attach conditions to an adoption order, including to provide for post-adoption contact with siblings and natural parents. One would hope that if sibling relationships are considered more extensively at the children's hearing stage, that should increase likelihood of looked after children remaining in their sibling groups or at least having the opportunity to maintain positive sibling relationships going forward.

Deciding to adopt a child is a huge commitment, and the prospect of adopting more than one child at a time may of course be very daunting. However, there are a number of benefits in adopting sibling groups – for the children and for the parents.

If you are considering adoption, our family law team is able to advise and guide you through the court process. We can also put you in touch with other organisations, such as Adoption UK Scotland, which offer practical support and information for adoptive parents and prospective adopters. You may also find our Direct adoption process Scotland download a useful tool to help you understand more about the legal process.


Zoe Wray