Why is this needed?
As with other permanence situations, special guardian (SG) families are likely to benefit greatly from easy access to low level support, particularly from peers, rather than requiring more intensive, less effective and more costly support at a later stage.
“24. Under section 14F of the Act, as amended, the local authority must make arrangements for the provision of special guardianship support services. Local authorities are required to make a range of support services available in their area to meet the needs of people affected by special guardianship. Special guardianship support services are defined as:
- assistance for the purpose of ensuring the continuance of the relationship between the child and his special guardian or prospective special guardian, including training for the special guardian or prospective special guardian to meet any special needs of the child; respite care; and mediation in relation to matters relating to special guardianship orders (regulation 3(1)(e)), and
- counselling, advice and information (section 14F(1)(a) of the Act).”
“A strong theme was the importance of support. Informal support groups hosted by local authorities and NGOs were valued and so was support from the wider family. However, support could be difficult to access for many reasons that include both structural and internal barriers.” (Nuffield 2019a p14)
- “65% (of kinship carers) say they need more emotional support.
- 62% say they need more advice, information and practical support.
- Just 30% said they felt respected as a kinship carer (by professionals).” (Grandparents Plus 2017b p6)
- “84% of kinship carers do not get the emotional support they need now.
- 76% of kinship carers had not been told about peer support groups.” (Grandparents Plus 2019)
- “Almost two thirds (64%) of kinship carers rated the help they’d received from children’s services as poor or very poor. Only 15% rated it as good or excellent.
- More than one in three (37%) kinship carers said they’d received no help of any kind from children’s services.” (FRG 2019)
McGrath (in preparation) reports that:
“Grandparents often felt used during the child protection and court processes to protect their grandchildren or provide them with a safe place to live. Once the Special Guardianship Order (SGO) had been granted most felt they then usually felt abandoned by the local authority. Furthermore, if the grandparents had a negative experience whilst becoming a special guardian, it impacted their willingness to engage with the local authority post order.
“Many of the grandparents lacked confidence in their parenting ability because of the length of time since they last cared for a child, especially babies.
“Parenting traumatised children took a lot of planning. The grandparents found it was different than parenting their own children. They needed to plan day to day activities to take account of their challenging behaviours. They found it hard to be spontaneous.
“The grandchildren often displayed challenging and bizarre behaviours in public which the grandparents found embarrassing and difficult to manage.
“The grandparents had to support their grandchildren to cope with their different family set up. They often found they had to help their grandchildren to explain their family situation to other children and support them to deal with issues such as bullying.”
SGs consulted for this document confirmed the above and added that they had encountered little recognition of or support for:
- The damage done to children by their early-life experiences.
- The need for Life Story work.
- Damage to the child through their experience of ongoing contact and negative relationship with birth parents.
- The risk of future difficulties given the history of the child and their current behaviour.
SGs also highlighted their need of support for themselves as carers. Issues with which they are coping include:
- Their own feelings of isolation and the fact that Grandparents Plus was their only source of support.
- The fact that they are often making the very difficult choice between supporting their own child or their grandchild.
- The rejection and even threats they can receive from other family members.
- The experience of secondary trauma via their child, particularly in relation to negative experiences of contact and subsequent distress.
- Some SGs had not realised the impact that becoming an SG and taking a child into their family would have on other family members. For instance, there were examples of birth children feeling pushed out.
- Some SGs also experienced strain on their own relationship.
“The children enjoyed not having to constantly explain their family setup. However, they also did not want to be singled out as ‘kinship care kids’. Some of the children stated that kinship care groups were more useful for their carers, who would often get advice and support from them. Some time outside the family home in terms of clubs, after school and extracurricular activities was very important to the children in the study.” (Shuttleworth – in preparation).
Examples of approaches currently being taken
North London Adoption and Fostering Consortium offer a group work programme which includes:
- Talking about Difficult Stories – including how to put life story material together
- Managing difficult behaviour (theraplay)
- Various boroughs run regular support groups which are open to all SGs and friends and family foster carers where the plan is for special guardianship. Support groups work best if combined with a theme, orientated by the SGs agenda and with social time/food.
Brighton and Hove
- All Special Guardians receive a minimum of 6 months allocated social work support post-order.
- At 6 months post-order the Special Guardianship Support Plan is reviewed, and a decision made regarding whether continued support is required.
- The Menu of available interventions offers the following:
- Contact Intervention
- Therapeutic Life Story Intervention – involving carer and direct work with the child
- Life Story Intervention – coaching the carer to undertake Life Story work with the child
- Relationship Based Play Intervention
- Secure Base Intervention
- Parenting Intervention – informed by the child’s attachment needs
- Heritage and Race Intervention
- Provide twice monthly support groups
- Facilitate a ‘Well-being for Carers’ workshop
- Any carer can self-refer to the team at any point requesting support and requesting access to funding from the ASF
- Consideration is being given to introducing a program of peer-to-peer support
- All carers receive an annual letter inviting them to request a review of their Support Needs
- A rolling program of workshops is provided throughout the year
- All children, YP and SG’s are eligible for universal therapeutic services offered by the Schools Wellbeing Services and via CAMHS and access to these services is included in the SGO Support Plan.
- Send a letter out to all newly approved SGOs offering a support visit and then an annual review of the support plan
- The Mind Mate (web-based) service is available from CAMHS.
- For some families a Mockingbird peer-to-peer support project is in place
- A list of training groups offered to SGs and other carers is attached at appendix ten.
Kinship Connected (Grandparents Plus) is usually commissioned to work alongside and compliment local authority services. A project worker:
- Provides 1-1 support to special guardians
- Sets up and runs support groups, including some for hard to reach groups of special guardians.
- Liaises with the LA where necessary
- Provides information and signposts carers to other support services
Kinship Carers Liverpool offer:
- One to one support, advice and guidance
- Group activity programmes for carers and children
- Weekly coffee morning drop-ins
- Trips, days out and residential activities
- Monthly pamper sessions
- Regular home visits and telephone calls from allocated worker or duty worker
- Training on attachment/therapeutic parenting, mindfulness, school difficulties and others as required
- Drop-in consultation with Aspire Social Workers and Clinical Psychologists on a monthly basis.
PAC UK & Family Action deliver support services ‘for all affected by adoption and permanency’. They currently deliver:
- Telephone Advice & Support via PAC-UK Advice Line, PAC-UK Education Advice Line and the Family Action Special Guardian Helpline
- Parenting Programmes including:
- Raising Kinship Children – a 10-week parenting programme that can be delivered in the family home or via Skype.
- E.I.S (Early Intervention Sessions) – 3-4 home visits – therapeutic parenting advice and support at the beginning of the placement to offer support and assess what future support may be needed
- Non-Violent Resistance group for Special Guardians.
- Support Groups are currently being delivered in Leeds CC and the Triborough area.
- Other interventions adapted from a range of services to adoptive families including ‘Parenting our Children’ and ‘Parenting our Teens’
- Specialist Therapeutic services and Assessments (many of which can be funded by the ASF).
- Five monthly support groups around the county
- Workshops for Special Guardians include: Life Story Work, Developmental Trauma, Therapeutic Parenting, Baby/Teen Brain
- Two Fun Days per year for SG’s (and F&F carers and Private Foster Carers)
- Duty telephone line and email that SG’s can contact for support.
Wade et al (2014 p243) note that, “currently there is no requirement to notify the receiving local authority when a child moves into that area. This should be reconsidered in guidance and should include non-looked after children who move area.”
International research (Nuffield 2019c) has identified that, “the only intervention aimed at improving access to services is the Kinship Care Navigator in the US. However, evaluation data are limited, and not published in peer-reviewed Journals.” Nevertheless, investigating how this service operates in the USA ought to provide stimulus to developments in this country.
“The only particular intervention subject to large-scale randomised controlled trials (RCT) with evidence of effectiveness is KEEP (Keeping foster and kinship carers supported).” This programme is readily available in this country and it is therefore odd that only one local authority, Dudley, offered this programme. (Nuffield 2019c)
The Nuffield research (2019c) also notes that Peer-based approaches and support groups were found to be the most effective services meeting carers’ emotional needs. Given the cost effectiveness of these there is clearly value in expanding their availability. Work by Grandparents Plus and others demonstrates the benefits of these groups but that they often rely on some external support in order to thrive. This type of service should perhaps be seen as a standard requirement for all local authorities/regional adoption agencies.
SGs consulted for this document suggested:
- Training around attachment and parenting is very helpful.
- Even occasional access to a social worker would be helpful in identifying issues and sources of support
- That the services available were often not culturally appropriate to their children’s needs and did not positively promote their child’s identity.
- Support with education is vital. For some SGs support from school (sometimes through use of Pupil Premium Plus) had been the only support available with some schools treating SG children in the same way as adopted children.
- Others felt that school had not understood the needs of their child and opportunities had been missed.
- Most SGs reported that they were not aware of the role of the Virtual Schools in relation to previously looked after children