Siblings, contact and the law:

Siblings, contact and the law: An overlooked relationship?

Professor Daniel Monk and Dr Jan Macvarish

For this study, CPCS’s Dr Jan Macvarish worked with Professor Daniel Monk of the School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London.


Routine decision making in the Family Courts can have a significant impact on children and young people’s sibling relationships. The impact is most profound in care and adoption proceedings in public law, as they can result in siblings being separated with limited or no effective provision for contact. This exploratory socio-legal research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is the first in England and Wales to foreground siblings. Based on an analysis of statutes, case law and interviews with practitioners, and informed by the views of young people, it highlights the impact on practice of underlying professional assumptions and the shifting legal and procedural framework.

There are no statistics which identify precisely how many children in the care system, including those subsequently adopted, are placed with their siblings. Neither do we know the extent or forms of contact between siblings who are separated. However, it is clear from a number of reports and surveys that a substantial proportion of children in care are separated from their siblings and that there are considerable variations in the provisions made to sustain contact between them. Disquiet about this has been expressed by parliamentarians, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and members of the judiciary. A growing body of social work research has examined the causes and consequences of separation, and the practical challenges encountered in sustaining contact. Until now, there has been little socio-legal research into the matter.

The study’s findings can be downloaded on the project webpage