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Government to strengthen Special Guardianship Orders

Assessment process to be amended immediately following review of SGOs

The government has pledged to strengthen Special Guardianship Order assessments in England after a review of their effectiveness found that children are being placed in potentially risky placements.

Following the review which unearthed major problems with the system, the government has pledged to:-

  • Strengthen the assessment process, to ensure that assessments are more robust and more consistent for all children,
  • Ensure that the placement has a strong probability of lasting permanently until the child is 18;
  • Actively consider whether further changes are required to the legal framework that underpins decision making around special guardianship; and
  • Consider what support should be available to children living under special guardianship arrangements.

Special Guardianship Orders are usually either given to foster carers to give them greater parental responsibility for the child in their care or to a family member or friend who is caring for a child when the child is unable to live with their parents.

Once made, SGO’s are expected to last until the child is 18 and the local authority has no parental responsibility for the child once an SGO is granted. However, the government review of SGOs 10 years after their inception in 2005 found serious problems with the process.

The review found evidence of rushed or poor quality assessments of prospective special guardians in circumstances such as a family member coming forward late in care proceedings or to meet court timelines. There was also evidence of inadequate consideration given early on of who might be assessed.

Children were placed in potentially risky placements in half of all cases where an SGO has been awarded with a Supervision Order because there remains some doubt about the special guardian’s ability to care for the child long-term.

“This is particularly concerning where the child is not already living with the guardian, or where there is no or little pre-existing relationship,” said the review which found that 70% of respondents to the Call for Evidence said that the assessment process for determining whether a prospective special guardian is suitable could be improved.

Inadequate support for special guardians was also highlighted in the review, both before placements are finalised, and when needs emerge during the placement. This included receiving little or inadequate support post order to ensure they can support the child’s needs.

The review found that 72% of respondents said that advice and support should be provided to children, special guardians and birth parents before, during and after the award of special guardianship.

While the review highlighted that problems can occur at any point during the care process, a poor assessment at the beginning of the process is a major contributor to problems occurring further down the process.

“It is vitally important for the local authority analysis to be robust, supported by strong and intelligent evaluation,” the consultation response stated.

The government has pledged to amend statutory guidance and regulations immediately to ensure that the local authority report to the court on potential special guardians includes the capacity for the guardian to care for the child now and until the child is 18, the prospective guardian’s understanding of the child’s needs and future needs and their understanding of any risk posed by the birth parents either now or in the future and an assessment of the strength of the previous and current relationship between the child and the prospective guardian.

Further proposals are to be issued shortly following further discussions between government departments.

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