Reform special guardianship to protect and support children and carers, says new review – Family Law…
‘SGOs provide children with a safe, permanent home,’ concludes review
A call for significant changes to Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) includes ensuring family members who might become carers have direct experience of looking after the child before the court order is made.
A new research review shows that SGOs provide children with a safe, permanent home with family members when the court decides they cannot live with their birth parents. Nevertheless, local authorities and the courts face major challenges in providing special guardians with adequate preparation and support for the long-term consequences of this life-changing responsibility, leading to avoidable and significant stress that is potentially damaging to children’s futures.
The review was commissioned by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory in response to the Court of Appeal’s call for authoritative, evidence-based guidance for the use of SGOs. It was led by Dr John Simmonds from CoramBAAF and Professor Judith Harwin from Lancaster University.
The review calls for significant changes including:
- Increasing focus on working with family members who might become the child’s special guardian before care proceedings commence.
- A statutory minimum amount of preparation and training for prospective special guardians.
- Ensuring that prospective special guardians have direct experience of caring for the child before making a Special Guardianship Order, evidenced by a thorough assessment of suitability
- Ensuring that support services are available locally and align with entitlements for adopters and foster carers such as parental leave, housing priority and financial support.
- Addressing the ‘glaring gap’ in research on children and young people’s views and experiences of special guardianship, and undertaking research to address the challenge of how best to ensure safe and positive contact with birth parents and the wider family.
The review examined the research evidence on special guardianship, informed by the views of special guardians themselves, and sought the views of lawyers, social workers and Cafcass Guardians. It found that special guardianship is a stable option for children, the majority of whom fare well in relation to their safety, well-being and developmental progress.
However, according to the review, use of SGOs is not aligned with best practice in other forms of placement such as adoption and foster care, even though children have experienced similar levels of abuse and neglect and the demands placed on special guardians are as great as for other carers.