Five questions with Shelagh Beckett - Childcare Consultant
1. Hello! Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you work and your role?
I've worked in Children's Services in one capacity or another for a long time but I'm still learning! Initially I was a social worker then held management posts before I began working independently. I now provide expert witness assessments alongside training and consultancy. In large measure the work I do now allows me to combine the best of both worlds: my role as an expert witness helps me to continue to develop skills working with children and encourages me to keep abreast of research but at the same time I also enjoy working at a more strategic level. I've also been fortunate to provide consultancy on documentaries such as Protecting our Children for the BBC, and other programmes featuring vulnerable children.
2. The forthcoming conference 'Beyond together or apart' looks specifically at sibling bonds and looked after children. What are the main challenges (for families and the children in care) when it comes to sibling adoption?
There are lots of challenges - there's a shortage of foster carers able to look after groups of brothers and sisters so siblings may be separated for resource reasons rather than because it’s the right or best thing to happen. Children be distressed and confused, not knowing whether siblings are safe or when they will see them next. Neglect, abuse and differential treatment can and do have an impact on how children get on with each other. Foster carers and adopters tell us that they need more support to manage difficult or damaged sibling relationships.
There's much more we can do, and I hope the new Good Practice Guide will help.
3. What are the key issues from a professional perspective? Are there particular areas of training that are useful – further resources, support or information that can help with specific challenges?
Recruiting and supporting foster carers and adoptive parents for siblings to stay together whenever this is best, but if children have to be separated, then we need to promote visits and links unless there really are sound reasons that prevent this. Assessing the needs of sibling groups is a huge responsibility as is providing the right support to children and their families - these issues are at the heart of the new guide. It includes lots of resources, information, and some tips and ideas from experienced foster carers and adoptive parents.
4. This conference coincides with the launch of the Good Practice Guide 'Beyond together or apart'. What's changed since the original guide 'Together or apart?' was published, and what new areas does the book look at?
The timescales for completing assessments and for care proceedings are much tighter - so the demands on busy practitioners are even greater. There is a focus on early planning to address sibling needs and how best to do this. Our knowledge base has grown and become more sophisticated: we now understand much more about the impact of adverse childhood experiences. We are beginning to understand more about how domestic violence and an unpredictable, chaotic family life can affect children not only individually but also may distort their relationships with siblings. We also know more about the links between troubled sibling relationships and for example, peer bullying.
5. What are the benefits for both speakers and delegates from attending a conference like this?
There is a great range of presentations that will not only share up to date research but also make links to practice for all those working with siblings. I'm really looking forward to hearing other speakers as our shared focus on siblings is much needed and very timely. Within the court process there is greater scrutiny of care plans for sibling groups - and rightly so I think. Practitioners attending the conference will be able to access the latest thinking and research but also new materials and ideas they can use in practice. We need to have a strong focus on working together, sharing ideas and trying to develop services for brothers and sisters.