The relationship between brothers and sisters is the most enduring they will have in their lifetimes. The ties that bind are even more important for foster children who have already experienced a great deal of loss.

While the need to keep siblings together where appropriate is recognised by social care policy and enshrined in law, all too often brothers and sisters are separated when they are fostered.

Research by the Scottish Government shows that being able to keep children and young people in care together with their siblings can have a positive impact on the stability and permanency of that fostering placement, but a nationwide shortage of foster carers means there’s an urgent need for people to take siblings into their homes.

The Herald: Research shows that being able to keep children and young people in care together with their siblings can have a positive impactResearch shows that being able to keep children and young people in care together with their siblings can have a positive impact (Image: David Johnstone)

The Government is working with local authorities and the third sector to attract more people into foster care, and better support foster carers. The need for more foster carers who can look after sets of siblings is being highlighted by Care Visions Fostering Scotland during Foster Care Fortnight (May 13-26).

“The will and the policy are there to keep brothers and sisters together but often children are separated because of the lack of resources and constraints on the care system,” said Lorraine Kubski, Senior Manager, Planning & Development at the fostering agency.

In a 2023 report by the Scottish Government’s Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise, Natalie Don said: “Contact with the care system has led to separation between brothers and sisters for too many children in Scotland.

“Despite an existing pre-2021 legal presumption that children will stay together with their brothers and sisters in care wherever appropriate, research evidence, and the powerful testimony of care experienced people, underscore that separation and estrangement continues, with profound lifelong consequences for many sibling relationships. The Scottish Government is committed to supporting children’s relationships with their siblings.”

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Legislative changes in 2020 and 2021 were enacted to strengthen the law and protect children's rights to maintain their sibling relationships, but the reality is that all local authorities are struggling with a lack of foster carers and find it especially hard to place siblings together.

“When children need an urgent placement to keep them safe, a lack of resources means it’s often not possible to foster them with their siblings at short notice. The children develop bonds with their new families, or they go into foster care at different stages so it can become the default decision to continue to foster them separately,” added Kubski.

“We would like to bring in foster carers who can look after children and keep them together – sometimes we get placement requests for four or five children. At present, if for example there’s a local authority referral for an emergency placement for four children ages three, seven, ten and 12, a decision could be made to keep the girls together, or the two youngest, which is all very arbitrary.

“These children have more often than not experienced loss and trauma. The relationships we have with our brothers and sisters can outlast the ones we have with our partners, friends, parents and sometimes our own children. We share an identity and history with our siblings and the significance is even greater for fostered children who have already lost their birth parents and families. Siblings need each other and staying together is important for their sense of security and feeling of family.”

The Herald: Pictured: Foster carers Vicki and Bernard McQuePictured: Foster carers Vicki and Bernard McQue (Image: David Johnstone)

Vicki and Bernard McQue are fostering a 17-year-old boy, Tyler, as well as two biological sisters, now aged 15 and 12, who they started looking after eight years ago. Over the 16 years they have been foster carers, they have given a home to 11 children, most of whom were in sibling groups.

“When the girls came to us, they were seven and four, and the older sister was used to being a mother to the younger and was fiercely defensive. It took her a long time to trust us to look after them and let her be a child rather than a parent,” said Vicki, from Stirlingshire. “The girls need each other, and it would have been traumatic to split them up. The first few years were challenging because they had been through so much, but you have to show them you are there for them and fight their corner, and that it’s not going to change, no matter what.”

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The McQues became foster carers when they couldn’t have children of their own despite going through IVF and went through six months of training with Care Visions Fostering Scotland.

“A couple of days after we’d completed training, we were asked to foster three siblings aged six, two and one,” said Vicki. “Their mother was only 15 when she had the first child and couldn’t cope, but with help from social work she was able to take them back and care for them. We still see the children and they come and stay with us at weekends and during the holidays.

“Fostering can be hard, and you have to be patient and understand that the children are often behaving the way they do because they have been traumatised. When they are lashing out and being hurtful, you learn not to take it personally and realise they feel safe enough with you to behave like that.”

The Herald: Vicki and Bernard McQue with foster son Tyler, 17Vicki and Bernard McQue with foster son Tyler, 17 (Image: David Johnstone)

While Vicki acknowledges the challenges involved, she urges others to volunteer for fostering siblings, not only for the sake of the children being looked after, but because it is a rewarding vocation.

“We have stayed in touch with children we have fostered over the years. Some have gone on to have children of their own and see us as grandparents as we babysit and support them. The children we have now look on us as their mum and dad.

“Fostering is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t change it for the world when you see them laughing and having fun despite what they’ve been through. It’s fantastic to see their wee faces light up. We love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.”

For more information about fostering visit

Becoming a foster carer with Care Visions Fostering Scotland

•There are more than 12,500 children in care in Scotland with around 4,000 living with foster carers. At least 500 more foster families are needed.

•Anyone over the age of 25 with a spare room is eligible. All ethnic backgrounds, LGBT couples or single people are welcome.

•Foster carers receive combined fees and allowances of around £23,500 a year or £450 a week. Short break carers’ allowances are a percentage of that amount for the length of time a young person is with them.

•You can own your home or rent (you may need permission from the owner).

•All foster carers are given comprehensive training.