A professional with lived experience of the care system and sibling imprisonment explains the impact on young people and what can be done to help:

Sibling bonds are often the longest lasting and most enduring relationships we have over a lifetime, offering a foundation of support, companionship and familiarity.

For care-experienced people, however, their journey is often marked by separation, isolation and the absence of a stable support system throughout their time spent in care and beyond. These sibling - and wider familial and community - ties are often severed when a young person enters the care system, causing emotional wounds and having an overall detrimental impact on life outcomes.

There are well-documented effects on emotional, intellectual, and psychological development leading to poor mental health outcomes that stretch decades into adulthood. The Staying Connected project delves into the issues of sibling separation within the care and criminal justice system, shedding light on the profound influence it has on the lives of those affected.  

The findings from the Staying Connected report highlight the profound emotional impact experienced by siblings separated by the care system and imprisonment, emphasising the urgent need for stronger support structures to address this heart-wrenching experience for young people – young people who described separation as 'devastating' and 'soul-destroying.' 

Read more: Care-experienced children with siblings in prison need support

For many of us who have grown up in care, we have been deprived of the opportunity to build these bonds due to separation at the point of entering or being in the care system, and a lack of support in maintaining and rebuilding these relationships before one of our siblings have ended up going to prison or secure care. It can be difficult for young people to rebuild these bonds, especially as we grow older, and live far away.

Many of us experience feelings of grief surrounding a lack of familial relationships due to the complex dynamics and lack of support to build and support them whilst growing up in care. For many care-experienced children and young people, it can be particularly difficult around this time of year, running up to Christmas and other notable celebrations with the experience of estrangement and isolation from our family members and siblings.  

With this said, maintaining sibling contact must be a priority due to the positive impact it has on care-experienced people in their journey through the care system.

The Promise, which embodies cherishing and protecting relationships between siblings, and recent legislation which places a duty on local authorities to maintain these relationships, aims to solidify this commitment to ‘Keep The Promise’.

To do this, we must take a step back and recognise the bigger picture of the lifelong impact of separation and isolation after being in care, and how this impacts a young person’s development. As we look at the findings from the Staying Connected project, it becomes evident that the importance of family and connection cannot be understated or treated as an afterthought.

There is still work to do for professionals working with children and young people, with inconsistency of practice in particular being highlighted in the report.

We aren’t asking you to move mountains, and don’t expect everyone to get it right first time, but it’s important to start having these conversations and learning from each other.

By being open to other voices and opinions we can start to create real, meaningful change. Through collaboration, prioritisation and strengthening bonds and support networks, we can ensure all children and young people have the opportunity to build strong foundations of connection, community and family that will support them and experiencing the love and belonging and resilience that comes along with that.  

The Staying Connected Report is a vital step in raising awareness and understanding of an issue that hasn’t been given much attention in research, despite its significance for those who are affected. It highlights the need for ongoing dialogue and further resources.

The report serves not only as an examination of the challenges faced by children and young people affected, but also as a call for action. It highlights the necessity for all professionals who work with young people in care to work together to support sibling relationships and ensure children and young people’s voices are heard and their opinions around their sibling relationships are meaningfully considered.