Understanding the experiences of special guardians
As part of this work, two films have been produced to allow us to better understand the experiences of Special Guardians themselves and the views of those who work in the sector.
The first film ‘The First Day of Forever’ presents the views and personal experiences of 5 special guardians.
The second film ‘Special Guardianship – an agenda for change’ includes the views of a range of professionals and sector leaders.
This agenda is our joint responsibility to ensure that every child who enters the care system has access to a system that is focused on their safety, needs welfare and development.
In addition to the films, further resources have been produced that outline the legislative, policy and practice framework in England. Reference to research findings is made within these sections as appropriate. Click the links to the following sections to find out more:
Legal framework for special guardianship
Special Guardianship is regulated by the following Acts and regulations:
The Children Act 1989 was amended by the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to establish Special Guardianship.
The following sections of the Children Act 1989 are relevant in setting out the legal definition of parental responsibility which is core to special guardianship.
- Section 1 which sets out the welfare of the child.
- Section 2 which gives the definition of parental responsibility.
- Section 3 gives the meaning of parental responsibility.
The Regulatory Framework for Special Guardianship can be accessed at:
The Department of Education also provides Statutory Guidance on Special Guardianship.
A commissioned summary of relevant case law judgments has been prepared by Sir James Munby, former President of the Family Division (until July 2018) and Lucy Logan Green, Barrister, 4 Paper Buildings Chambers.
Statistics on special guardianship
Trends in special guardianship orders granted
Tracking trends in the use of special guardianship through national and local data is very important. It provides a barometer of practice by children’s services and the courts and can help inform policy. The Department of Education publishes an annual data set on the care system and this is supplemented by updates on specific issues from the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board.
The most recent data from the Department of Education sets out the fall in the number of children leaving care through Adoption Orders and the rise in the number of children leaving care through a Special Guardianship Order.
Cafcass data has been used by researchers at Lancaster University to compare the numbers and proportion of special guardianship orders with other types of legal order made following care proceedings between 2010/11 and 2016/17. This is a one-off national survey. Cafcass does not produce annual data on special guardianship orders made as an outcome of care proceedings.
Cafcass sources used by Lancaster University show that the number and proportion of special guardianship orders rose steadily from 2010/2011 and 2016/17 rose whilst the proportion of placement orders fell has overtaken adoption as the more frequent permanency option for looked after children unable to remain with their birth parents.
The DfE collects annual data on children who cease to be looked after through a special guardianship order. For the year ending 31st March 2020:
- 89% of Special Guardianship Orders were made to relatives or friends (kinship carers)
- 9% were made to the child’s former foster carers.
No government statistics are available to provide a more detailed profile of special guardians including by type of relative, their ethnicity and age. This is a significant gap in our information.
Studies on contact in special guardianship
Special Guardianship – an agenda for change’ has highlighted the importance and challenges of contact between children, their carers and their birth families. It has also flagged up the many difficulties associated with keeping children in touch with their birth families. The film ‘The first day of forever’ captures the experiences of special guardians on this issue.
All the research studies highlight the lack of research on contact in relation to special guardianship when compared to adoption. There is however increasing recognition of the importance of identifying the experiences and significance of contact arrangements in special guardianship.
Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (2020) Contact between children in care or adopted and their families: six key messages from research briefing paper is based on findings from three evidence reviews commissioned by the Nuffield FJO.
Iyer, P., Boddy, J., Hammelsbeck, R., and Lynch-Huggins, S. (2020). Contact following placement in care, adoption or special guardianship: implications for children’s and young people’s wellbeing Evidence Review
Evidence from research on Kinship Care and Special Guardianship
Wellard S., Meakings S., Farmer E., and Hunt J. (2017). Growing up in kinship care: Experiences as adolescents and outcomes in young adulthood. London: Grandparents Plus
Simmonds, J., Harwin, J., Brown., R., and Broadhurst, K. (2019) Special Guardianship: a review of the evidence, summary report, Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.
Harwin, J., Simmonds, J., Broadhurst, K., and Brown., R. (2019) Special guardianship: a review of the English research studies, Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.
Harwin, J, Alrouh, B., Golding, L., McQuarrie, T., Broadhurst, K., and Cusworth L. (2019) The contribution of supervision orders and special guardianship to children’s lives and family justice, final report.
Murray, E, Rebecca Lacey, Maughan, B., Sacker, A. (2020) Non-parental care in childhood and health up to 30 years later: ONS Longitudinal Study 1971–2011 [subscription only], European Journal of Public Health, Volume 30, Issue 6
Cleaver H., Rose., W. (2021) Safeguarding Children living with Foster Carers, Adopters and Special Guardians: Learning from case reviews 2007–2019, CoramBAAF
Cleaver H., Rose., W. (2021) Safeguarding Children living with Foster Carers, Adopters and Special Guardians: A guide to reflective practice, CoramBAAF
Research findings on poverty and deprivation and impacts on child development
Featherstone, Brid et al. (2019) Poverty, inequality, child abuse and neglect: Changing the conversation across the UK in child protection? Children and youth services review, 97, pp.127–133.
Bywaters, Paul & Bunting, Lisa & Davidson, Gavin & Hanratty, Jennifer & Mason, Will & Mccartan, Claire & Steils, Nicole. (2016) The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect: an evidence review.
Marmot, M., (2020) Health equity in England: the Marmot review 10 years on. Bmj, 368.
Anda RF, Felitti VJ, Bremner JD, Walker JD, Whitfield CH, Perry BD, Dube SR, Giles WH. (2006) The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 256(3): 174–186.
Pressure on budgets
Holmes L., (2019) Children’s Social Care Cost Pressures and Variations in Unit Costs Research Report, Rees Centre, Oxford University
Support for special guardians
The Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 sets out the duties and responsibilities of local authorities in the provision of Special Guardianship Support Services.
CoramBAAF have produced a series of slides summarising these regulations.
The Adoption Support Fund
Since 2016 special guardians have been eligible to apply to the Adoption Support Fund through the local authority responsible for providing support services. The film highlights that it is a priority of the ASGLB to increase access and uptake of the Fund by special guardians.
Figures for the year ending December 2019 show that 9.4% of all approved applications to the ASF are awarded to children on special guardianship orders who were previously looked after. The number of approved applications was 3,619 with an average funding of £3033.
Fostering in England, the review of the foster care system including its costs commissioned by the Department of Education and led by M. Narey and M. Owers (2018).
Average costs of foster care
Average cost for a child in local authority foster care £533 per week or £27,716 per annum, based on Department for Education national data. See also:
Curtis, Lesley A. and Burns, Amanda (2017) Unit Costs of Health and Social Care 2017, Section 6.4 Foster care for children, Personal Social Services Research Unit, University of Kent.
Key elements of a special guardianship support service
This is a comprehensive blueprint of best practice created to capture the key elements of some of the most developed special guardianship support services currently available and provide a benchmark against which service leaders can review and adjust resources and systems to make service improvements and achieve whole system change.