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Jennie Brownbill, a retiring social worker, writes about her plans for a charity-run campsite in Northern Spain for siblings in care. 

"The facts are startling. Over half of the children in local authority care are removed from their homes due to experiencing neglect or abuse. Up to 80% (50,000) of these children have been separated from their siblings, often causing feelings of isolation, exclusion, problems with identity and, ultimately, difficulties in later life.

Separation from siblings arises for a range of reasons. Children in care have more siblings than the national average (around 3.4 siblings compared to around 1.4 overall) and foster carers and children’s homes struggle to accommodate them all together. Brothers and sisters can also be taken into care at different times resulting in separate placements, and shortages of local foster carers may even lead to geographical separation.

I qualified as a social worker in 1982, working in child protection for the first ten years, but it was my time as an independent reviewing officer (IRO) that enabled me to identify a need where I thought something must be done – and I believe we are uniquely placed to do this as social workers. Particularly as an for siblings in care agency worker, I was able to explore different parts of the country, gain lots of experience and see a huge variation in practice, which helped to inform so much of my work.

Part of my role as an IRO was to challenge local authorities when the care wasn’t good enough, but the reality was that already overstretched services simply did not have the time or resources to prioritise the separation of siblings as an issue. Consequently, there were risks of breaking down the family structure, which would only prove more detrimental, and therefore costly, later down the line. If a child leaving care hasn’t retained family contact, they are more likely to go off the rails.

Children do so much better when they have siblings to support each other; it affects their emotional health and prepares them for independence. The one big thing children in care miss is a sense of belonging. I wanted to do something about this.

Eco Camping for Children in Care

Eco Camping for Children in Care is being set up as a charity to give brothers and sisters who are separated in care the opportunity to meet and spend extended time together. I want to encourage the positive relationships that most children have in life outside of the care system.

Based in Northern Spain, our residential camps will provide an opportunity for siblings in care to go on low cost or free holidays together and bond whilst engaging in a range of active and creative activities, including climbing, abseiling, adventure trails, surfing, sea kayaking and kite surfing. The camps are designed for children aged 7-18 years and can hold a maximum of 20 young people per camp, which includes an organic garden and accommodation in the form of solar powered geodesic domes. 

We will have a staff ratio of one adult per child made up of trained volunteers, from qualified social workers, teachers and youth workers to play and art therapists, musicians, poets, artists and performers.

I am looking to start with about eight to ten domes and will initially focus on larger sibling groups of three or more in severely deprived areas who have never had a holiday with their brothers or sisters. Eventually, I would like to support the ‘Strengthening Families’ approach with the idea of providing holidays that engage the whole family. Over a third of children in care do return to their families but there are many further breakdowns currently costing an estimated £300 million across all local authorities. Facilitating whole families to visit during the process, or at times of great stress and potential family breakdown, will help save money and enhance the quality of many children’s lives.

One thing I am keen to do from the start is ensure that a rigorous post-camp evaluation is facilitated and we produce a plan for continuing contact either by a return visit or linking with partner organisations in the UK.

This will also help local authorities identify what they need to work on to strengthen contact and the family’s relationship. The therapeutic value of providing an environment for siblings to bond must be continued once they return to care. I am hoping to set up a base in England too as a place for them to keep visiting to maintain contact. 

Donate your 50ps or volunteer

Eco Camping for Children in Care needs your help! Visit to donate. 

To become a volunteer at the camp, which involves undertaking child protection training (if you have not previously done so), please email

Eco Camping for Children in Care will be piloted this summer with plans to officially launch in October 2016."

This article was featured in the January to March issue of Sanctuary Social Work News magazine

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