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On the UN Agenda: Brothers and Sisters Belong Together

Every year, 23.000 children in the Netherlands are placed out of home to live with foster parents. Defence for Children the Netherlands and Belgium and SOS Children’s Villages the Netherlands and Belgium are alarmed by this practice and call upon the Dutch governments to create legal protections regarding children’s rights to stay with their siblings during cases of replacement. Defence for Children, together with SOS Children’s Villages seeks the UN-Committee’s attention with a submission regarding the separation of siblings during foster care placements. On the 16th and 17th of September, the UN Committee on Children’s Rights holds the UN Day of General Discussion were they will discuss this submission. The purpose of this biannual event is to develop a more in-depth understanding on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, usually on a specific issue or article, this year on alternative care.

Joint placement

During an out-of-home placement, children are separated from their parents. That is an impactful and often traumatic event. If they are also separated from their siblings, their contact to parents and other family members is extremely limited or even non-existent. Professionals for long have pointed at the damage such practices do to the development of a child, which is confirmed by international research. Therefore, all efforts should be made to ensure that siblings who are placed out of home, can remain living together. Their right to family ties should be respected, unless it is clearly not in the interest of the child. The story of Gloria (16), who was placed out of home when she was 6 months old, confirms this. “You should always try to keep siblings together, or ask if they want to remain in contact. My sister and I have been separated for a long time. That is time we will never get back”.

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Gloria: "Siblings should grow up together"

Gloria (16) and her brother Chony grew up in a fosterfamily. Her sister Chioma was placed in another family. They have missed each other for a long time and were not able to bond from an early age.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Separating siblings can have severe consequences for a child’s perception of security and stability, their mental health and their ability to create healthy social relationships. It causes feelings of sadness, guilt, abandonment and in some cases trauma. That is not only harmful for a child, but also violates international law. The right to healthy family ties is covered in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the European Treaty on Human Rights, The UN Guidelines for alternative care for children and the European Q4C standards. An amendment of Dutch law would ensure alignment with these international treaties, and allow siblings to grow up together. It is the goal of the joint submission to the UN to issue this on the agenda of the UN DGD.

Dutch parliament has expressed its concerns regarding the separation of children during out-of-home placements from 2019 onwards and requested the Research and Documentation Centre to research how often children are being separated, and whether it is necessary to adapt the law. In the meantime, many siblings are growing up separated from one another. An amendment to a law has been passed in Belgium already. Defence for Children and SOS Children’s villages therefore recommend the following to the Dutch government:

• Amend the (Youth)law to guarantee that siblings remain together during out-of-home placements into foster care, unless it is clearly not in their interest.
• Invest in facilities for children to remain together in one family, such as the Simba Family Homes.
• Increase the capacity and organization of youth care to the extent that the right to family-ties for siblings can be respected.
• Ensure frequent and structural contact between siblings who are separated, unless it is clearly not in their interest.
• Document and register how often and why children are living together or separated during out-of-home placements.
• Focus on the restoration of family ties.
• Ensure that children’s opinions are taken duly into account during the decision-making concerning out-of-home placements.
• Protect and provide (free) legal aid in child protection procedures and family procedures.

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