Why is this needed?
Understanding the number of Special Guardianship Order (SGO) placements and the nature and level of their need is fundamental to service development, resource planning and co-ordination.
“Reg 4.10 Effective policies will be informed by up-to-date information. Local authorities and partner agencies will have access to certain relevant information, such as the number of family and friends foster carers, and of those to whom they are providing special guardianship or adoption support services. In monitoring implementation of the local family and friends care policy, the responsible manager may find it helpful to gather further specific data.” (Department for Education 2011 p22)
There is no single source of national statistics on the number of children made subject to SGOs. However, the most recent review of research in this area (Nuffield Foundation 2019a) concludes, “there are now more than 21,000 children for whom care proceedings concluded with the making of an SGO. It has become a significant permanence option for children who have been neglected or abused. There has also been a rise in the use of SGOs for very young children (Harwin et al., 2019). The rise in numbers and the percentage of SGOs as a proportion of all family orders and the decline in placement orders and adoption is one of the most significant trends since 2010.”
Wade’s study (Wade et al 2014 p73), which is now outdated, found that, “since 2008-9 at least a third of all SGOs have been made for non-looked after children”. Current data collection methods make this figure difficult to obtain at a national level, although it should be relatively easy to calculate for individual local authorities.
A review of the most recent studies of placement stability for SGOs (Nuffield Foundation 2019b) concludes, “that for every 100 children placed on an SGO, five of those placements are at risk of returning to local authority care or of having further care proceedings within five years. These figures are based on reported disruptions only so they may underestimate the actual degree of placement instability that does not come to the attention of local authorities”.
Factors influencing the breakdown of SGO placements – The Nuffield Foundation has produced a summary of the three existing research studies. “All three studies found that older age of the child was associated with disruption. Older age at placement in both Wade and Selwyn was associated with return to local authority care, peaking in the Wade study at ages nine and ten, and ranging from four to eleven in Selwyn’s study. Harwin found that children aged five to nine were at maximum risk of returning to court, followed by children aged ten and above. Disruption is least likely among infants and children under the age of four.
“Other predictors (in Selwyn) related to the reasons for entry into care, the number of moves made by the child prior to the SGO and to the type of special guardian. Selwyn found that:
- Children placed on SGOs who came into care due to acute stress or family dysfunction were nearly twice as likely to face disruption as those who entered care because of abuse and neglect.
- Children placed with unrelated carers on an SGO were nearly three times more likely to have their placement disrupt than those placed with kin.
- The number of moves before placement with the special guardian predicted disruption. Each move the child had experienced in care increased the risk of disruption by nearly 1.5 times.
- The in-depth case file audit in Wade also found that the number of placements moves prior to the SGO predicted disruption. Additional predictors from the survey (n=230) were as follows:
- The child’s last placement prior to the SGO was not with a relative.
- The child’s SGO was made to a carer with whom the child had not previously been living.
- The bond was assessed by social workers as being weak at the time of the placement.
- The children had emotional and behavioural difficulties.
“Each of these factors independently predicted disruption but there is also an important interaction between these factors. As envisaged in the original design of the SGO, a strong bond, based on a settled, pre-existing and established relationship prior to applying for an SGO acts as a strong indicator of placement stability. Where bonds were weak, it was harder for the special guardians to manage emotional and behavioural difficulties which were widespread.” (Nuffield Foundation 2019a p4)
“The children felt that:
- They were often seen as children that were different from other families, whereas they still felt they were in a normal family set up
- Often, they were seen as LAC children or children that were adopted. They did not see themselves as either (unless they were adopted – two of the children were).
- They felt that services, especially schools, often helped and knew about the needs of LAC and adopted children. However, they were often not offered the same help.
- They were aware of the impact of not having enough help from services – practical, financial and in terms of housing. This limited their options (e.g. going to clubs and family holidays).” (Shuttleworth -in preparation)
McGrath (in preparation), whose work specifically focused on the experience of grandparents, has identified five key interconnected issues affecting SGs:
- “The grandparents’ experience of state processes, which were often experienced as adversarial, impacting on their future relationships with children’s services and their grandchildren’s parents.
- The grandparents’ relationships with their adult children, which were complex because the grandparents often wanted to continue to be a parent to them, whilst also wanting to keep their grandchildren safe.
- Parenting grandchildren as special guardians, which was challenging because they had to parent often traumatised grandchildren and manage ongoing family relationships, whilst managing their own increasing vulnerabilities.
- Developing a special guardianships identity, which included having to create a new family identity and present their family to professionals and the wider community.
- The grandparents’ experiences of engaging in support, where the grandparents felt they had to overcome internal and structural barriers to access the support they wanted.”
These will be explored in more detail in subsequent sections but indicate that agencies need to be aware of the nature of the specific challenges which carers face as much as the numbers of carers/children/placements in their area.
Examples of approaches currently being taken
Data currently being collected by some local authorities in this study includes:
- Number of SGOs/kinship carers
- Number of assessments for SGOs
- Number of withdrawals from the assessment process
- Type of order/legal status – including if an SGO has been made with a Supervision Order
- Number of previous foster carers
- Relationship to child of SG
- Age of child
- SGO support requests
- Number of SGs receiving financial support and total amount of financial support
Brighton and Hove collate most of the above data and produce a Family & Friends Team Annual Report which is a comprehensive review of the service. Comparative data is also available to show year on year changes.
Simple changes to existing processes can provide a large amount of valuable information. E.g. Kinship Carers (Liverpool) has worked with Liverpool CC to include a kinship question on the Early Help Assessment Form to produce a summary breakdown of all kinship carers (including SGs) known to Liverpool.
- Has undertaken a survey of Special Guardians in their area. A summary of the findings was produced, and an action plan developed (see appendix one). A conference was held across the consortium to present the findings and workshops took place on key areas for practice development.
- The consortium produces an annual report covering adoption, fostering and special guardianship services.
Almost all the services in this survey identified financial support and support with contact arrangements as the most frequent support requests from SGs.