Why is this needed?
A clear governance and management structure for kinship and special guardian (SG) support services is needed in order to engage sections of the local authority outside of children’s services, and other agencies, such as health, in strategic planning and coordination.
“Reg 4.11 The responsible manager must ensure that local authority staff understand the policy and that they operate within its framework so that it is applied in a consistent and fair manner across the authority; an alleged failure to do so has been a significant source of complaint from family and friends carers. He or she must ensure that local partners are aware of their responsibilities towards children living in family and friends care and are proactive in meeting those needs.” (Department for Education 2011 p22)
“25. The local authority should take into account the similar services already being delivered in their area, such as adoption support services, and plan the provision of special guardianship support services accordingly.” (Department for Education 2016)
Little attention is paid to the governance arrangements for Special Guardianship Order (SGO) support services in the literature. However, the diversity in management arrangements is noted (e.g. Department for Education 2015).
“Evidence from our seven local authorities points to a service continuum, ranging from what may be described as ‘non-specialist dispersed’ models at one end of the spectrum through to ‘centralised specialist’ models at the other, with these specialist teams located as part of either kinship or post-adoption services.” (Wade et all 2014 p48)
“As it currently operates, special guardianship is also not appropriately aligned with best practice in other forms of child placement such as adoption and foster care – a serious issue when children share similar issues such as abuse and neglect and the birth parents’ lack of capacity to safely and responsibly care for their child.” (Nuffield 2019a p4)
A major complaint from carers in McGrath’s (in preparation) study was the lack of accessibility of support from statutory agencies (see sections 13 & 14). The implication of this is that the more coordinated this support can be (at a strategic as well as practice level), the more effective, efficient and accessible it will be.
Examples of approaches currently being taken
There were no examples of governance structures which included education and health providers or commissioners in this study. Services supporting SGs were located in various parts of children’s services, either within fostering, adoption or, much more rarely, as a specialist kinship care service. There were two examples of services being incorporated into Regional Adoption Agencies. There were very few examples of a strategic and planned approach to supporting SGs, or of SGs and kinship carers being treated as of equal importance to foster carers and adopters.
Whilst the North London Adoption and Fostering Consortium enables co-ordination and cooperation between its six local authorities, different models of delivery operate in different boroughs. Most teams sit with adoption support services. The consortium produces an annual development plan across adoption, fostering and Special Guardianship services.
Brighton and Hove has a Family and Friends team supporting families who are looking after children under a variety of legal arrangements including SGOs. The team is part of the permanence service. There is a comprehensive Family and Friends Service Plan which includes a specific section on support to SGs (see appendix two). The Family and Friends Team is managed by two Managers who report directly to the Head of Service for Fostering, Placements and Permanence.
The relatively small SGO team in Leeds CC sits within Kinship fostering and with close physical proximity to the Regional Adoption Agency (RAA). Reports on the service and associated data are contained within the annual fostering report. The advent of the RAA has been an important catalyst in supporting its six local authities to develop a more consistent approach to SG support, financial assessments, etc. even though these services are not part of the RAA.
ATV (also an RAA) has SGO support workers within the adoption support service. It has a schedule of responsibilities with regard to supporting SGs (see appendix two).
Dudley has a specialist team dedicated to SGO/Connected Persons and Post Order Support
ASPIRE (RAA) incorporates an SG Support Team and has supplied a service structure showing how SG support relates to adoption support and other services (see appendix two).
Kinship Carers Liverpool has 8 volunteers involved with the management committee and the running of the service. The management committee comprises 8 trustees who between them have direct professional and personal experience of kinship care. The charity has worked with the local authority to draft a development plan for services and has undertaken further work with the local authority via a series of developmental workshops (see appendix two).
The governance and management arrangements for an SG support service will influence how effectively the service is in forging a clear identity, engaging with other local authority services, and with a range of other agencies, such as schools and health providers. The lack of strategic partnerships makes this difficult.
Consultation with practitioners and voluntary sector representatives suggests that there is strong support for a dedicated support service to SGs and kinship carers within each local authority. This is based on the clear differences in circumstances, legal status and needs between adopters, foster carers and kinship carers, and the specialist knowledge required to support these different groups. However, there are clearly functions such as the commissioning of specialist services (from the Adoption Support Fund), and back office functions around data, finance, carer assessment and approval, vetting etc. which could be joined up between these services areas. One manager spoke of needing a separate front door for the different types of placements but with joined up back office functions. This model could be extended to other services outlined in the rest of this report, such as parenting groups. To take a practice example, no one in the survey felt that a joint parenting group for adopters and SGs would be appropriate, however, the content of such a group would be similar.
The Family Rights Group have produced a booklet, Special Guardianship – Top Tips for Social Workers, However, this is just as relevant, if not more so, for service managers and can act as checklist for essential local authority policies and procedures.