On December 1st, the Dutch Parliament passed a motion regarding the transfer of siblings to a new home. In the motion, the Parliament asked the government to prepare an amendment to the current law in order to legally ensure that siblings can stay together as much as possible during an out of home placement. During the Youth Legislative Consultation on 23 November, the motion was submitted by two political parties as a result of the legal analysis ‘Joint placement of siblings in the event of an out of home placement: a favor or a child’s right?’ by Defence for Children the Netherlands. This report calls for Dutch law to be amended in line with international regulations.
Siblings are not placed together in half of the cases
Together with SOS Children’s Villages the Netherlands, Defence for Children is committed to promoting the placement of siblings together. In 2019, 23,272 young people lived with foster parents for a short or longer period of time (Factsheet Foster Care 2019). A study by the Netherlands Youth Institute (2015) (‘Nederlands Jeugdinstituut’) estimates that in 50% of the cases siblings are not placed together, if they are evicted at the same time. Even though there are currently no exact figures available about the number of siblings who are (not) place together after an out of home placement, it can be deduced that separation affects a large group of children.
On the political agenda
In October, both coalition and opposition parties asked questions about the separation of siblings. The subject has been on the political agenda for some time now. In June 2019, a motion requesting further investigation into the nature and extent of separate placement of brothers and sisters and the desirability of changing the current law was unanimously adopted by Parliament. This research has not yet taken place. In the meantime, Defence for Children the Netherlands has carried out a legal analysis into the importance of legally ensuring placing siblings together in case of an out of home placement.
Placing siblings together, unless
Defence for Children the Netherlands believes that in case of a major event such as an out of home placement, it should become standard practice to evaluate whether it is in the interest of the siblings to be placed together. Children may only be separated from each other if it is in (one of) their interest. Such an evaluation, based on a ‘together, unless’-principle, is currently not included in the law. The legal analysis of Defence for Children the Netherlands highlights that this is a gap in our legislation. Separating siblings in the event of an out of home placement (unless it is in their interest) is contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights. Siblings are also entitled to legal protection against interference in their family life.
The need for adding such an amendment into current law is also addressed in a recently published dissertation by Kartica van der Zon associated with Leiden University. In the dissertation ‘Foster rights for children’ (‘Pleegrechten voor kinderen’), Van der Zon argues among other things for siblings to be placed together in the event of an out of home placement and recommends that this be included in the Civil Code. The plea is thus also supported from the scientific community.
Defence for Children the Netherlands is aware that legal anchoring in itself is not sufficient. After all, there are also practical obstacles that lead to the separation of siblings, such as the shortage of foster families and family homes where siblings can go to together. In order to solve the problem of separating siblings, it is necessary to, on the one hand, establish a right in national law for placing siblings together. The adopted motion is a first step in this direction. In addition, the previously mentioned practical obstacles must be tackled. Herein as well lies an important task for the government, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.