Why is this needed?
Ideally, effective support services will flow from the initial Special Guardianship Order (SGO) assessment and support plan. However, special guardians (SGs) often point out that their experience of the SGO assessment process actually serves to alienate them from services, rather than develop an ongoing relationship of mutual trust and respect (McGrath- in preparation; ASGLB 2018 unpublished). Additionally, many carers will be approaching services for support after a gap in contact, or due to a change in circumstances. The ‘front door’ to a support service therefore needs to be easily identifiable, lead to a comprehensive assessment of need, and provide access to a variety of services.
Government/Statutory requirements – Regulations
“31. The local authority where the special guardian lives is responsible for undertaking an assessment of need and provision of any special guardianship support services in response to that assessment. The only exception to this is where a child was looked after before the special guardianship order was made. (Also see paragraphs 32,33 and 34)
“50. Regulation 11 provides that the following people must receive an assessment at their request, in cases involving looked after children or children who were looked after immediately prior to the making of a special guardianship order:
- the child
- the special guardian or prospective special guardian
- a parent
“51. It is important that children who are not (or were not) looked after are not unfairly disadvantaged by this approach. In many cases the only reason that the child is not looked after is that relatives stepped in quickly to take on the responsibility for the child when a parent could no longer do so.
“74. When providing the person with the outcome of the written assessment, the local authority should refer the person to sources of independent advice and advocacy.”
“Make sure support plans;
- are shared, discussed and agreed with special guardians, and this is well documented
- are written so that they are easy to evaluate and keep under review. It should be easy for the council and guardian to decide whether all the support has been provided
- are regularly reviewed and kept up to date. Make sure plans continue to meet the child’s needs as they change
- set out the approach to calculating special guardianship allowance. Explain this at the earliest stage as possible, making clear this will be reviewed and depend on evidence of continuing needs
- keep the best interests of the child at the forefront of decision making.”
Research has tended to focus on the initial assessment of the SG rather than any subsequent assessment of support needs.
“Provision of support and services must be subject to annual reviews. Evidence suggested, however, that these frequently failed to take place.” (Wade et al 2014 p 245).
“The impact of neglect and abuse on children’s development has been clearly identified in both adoption and foster care. Children made subject to an SGO following care proceedings have met the threshold for significant harm and they have the same needs for therapeutic support as children in adoption or foster care. Their special guardians may also need support in managing the consequences of abuse and neglect. Support plans were described as lacking robust evidence and detail. This includes:
- The challenge of making an evidence-informed support plan if the child has not lived with the special guardian before the Order is made.
- The high degree of risk when support plans do not result from a full assessment of the needs of the child and the prospective special guardians.
- The lack of eligibility and support over housing and finance especially when compared to fostering and adoption.
- Ensuring compliance with the Special Guardianship Support Regulations 2005″.
Support needed to be easily accessible. This meant it should be easy to find and use, have no access criteria, and be at a time and place that fit in with busy family life. McGrath (in preparation)
In the consultation process for this document several SGs highlighted the negative impact of their own SG assessment and the fact that this dissuaded them from seeking further support when they needed it. They also highlighted:
- Lack of information about services and how to access them
- Poor or no management of transitions between local authorities, at the end of the initial 3-year support period. This has left some SGs in limbo with no source of support or point of communication from either local authority
- Negative responses to requests for support
- Encounters with staff who lacked knowledge of the issues
- Frequent turnover of staff with little communication and no handover.
Examples of approaches currently being taken
In many local authorities referrals are received by generic duty teams, sometimes with little knowledge or understanding of kinship care issues or services.
Leeds CC has recently produced a comprehensive suite of documents for SG Support Plans together with templates and audit tools which can be used to assess the quality of the local authority’s policy and practice in this area (see PDF).
Aspire – Referrals are received via calls to specialist duty workers, or at support groups. Speedy access is provided to drop-in sessions (specifically for education support), training and support groups and social events for advice. Eligibility criteria are directly in line with statutory guidance in offering services to non-previously LAC children the same as previously LAC (apart from financial support).
Brighton and Hove has made an addition to the online referral form asking a screening question to identify previously Looked After children. Brighton and Hove Family and Friends Team also contribute to the screening of all referrals involving SGO children. The majority of these referrals result in the Family and Friends Team offering a Review of the Carers’ Support Needs.
- Referrals come via the Advice line – either SGs refer themselves or they are referred by their local authority.
- PAC-UK offer a free one-off consultation process involving the Social Worker and parent to think together about what is happening in their family and formulate a plan checking that this meets the needs of the SG parent.
There seems to be a lack of dedicated duty services to respond to referrals from SGs and kinships carers, with the risk that SGs will not find their way quickly to the most appropriate service. Many ‘front door’ duty services do not routinely ask if children have been previously looked after. Children with an SGO who have not previously been looked after are even harder to identify. It has also been difficult to find services which publish their eligibility criteria for SG support services.
SGs suggested some simple measures which they would find helpful:
- A newsletter with updates about the service and the staff
- Facebook and social media groups to keep SGs up to date
- Clear information on who to contact for support.