Why is this needed?
Good quality preparation enables special guardians (SGs) to understand their role and responsibilities and to prepare for the challenges and the support which is available.
Government/Statutory requirements. Regulations
“18. Children who were looked after by a local authority immediately before the making of a special guardianship order may qualify for advice and assistance under the Children Act 1989, as amended by the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002. In the context of special guardianship, to qualify for advice and assistance, section 24(1A) of the Children Act 1989 provides that the child must:
- have reached the age of 16, but not the age of 21
- if less than eighteen years old, have a special guardianship order in force
- if eighteen years old or above, have had a special guardianship order in force when they reached that age, and
- have been looked after by a local authority immediately before the making of the special guardianship order.
“19. The relevant local authority should make arrangements for children who meet these criteria to receive advice and assistance in the same way as for any other child who qualifies for advice and assistance under the Act, as amended. Regulation 22 provides that the relevant local authority is the one that last looked after the child.”
“Around one-half of guardians, reflecting back on their preparation, felt they had not been fully prepared for their role as special guardians and a similar proportion felt the same in relation to their children’s understandings of what joining a Special Guardianship family would mean. Of greatest concern, however, was the finding that fewer than six-in-ten felt that they had been able to choose this order (rather than another) free from local authority pressure and that, within this group, one-fifth had felt that pressure strongly.
“Although evidence from this study is not conclusive, better preparation was associated with children being reported to be more highly integrated within the family at follow-up and with guardians experiencing less strain, usually in the context of managing children’s emotional and behavioural problems.” (Wade 2016 p231)
McGrath (in preparation) highlights the following feedback from carers:
“The grandparents felt they generally lacked information which meant they questioned everything about the process, or they make up their own narratives to explain why things happened, it is only with hindsight they understand the processes better. The lack of information led the grandparents to feel worried about the whole process.
“The grandparents felt most professionals, including social workers, appeared to not know about Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) and the processes that underpinned them.
“Not being involved in the child protection or court processes and not being party to care proceedings, meant the grandparents often felt they did not have access to information about possible risks to the children which prevented them from being able to protect them properly.
“The grandparents spoke of having to manage dangerous situations whilst they were trying to protect their grandchildren.
“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.”
“Children’s Services were involved with most (84%) of the families at the time the move was made but in spite of this, 60% of the carers said that they had not been well supported at the outset. Far more (two thirds) of the carers who were taking children who were looked after said that Children’s Services had been helpful, as compared to those with children without looked after status (21%). Those who had not found Children’s Services helpful spoke of long delays before help was forthcoming and being pressured to take out a private law order.” (Grandparents Plus 2017a p13)
Other surveys provide additional detail about the experience of kinship carers just prior to placement and the lack of support and guidance which was made available (See Grandparents Plus 2019b and Family Rights Group 2019).
Examples of approaches currently being taken
The North London Adoption and Fostering Consortium supplies prospective SGs with:
- A dedicated website
- A welcome pack
- A Support booklet for SGs
- One borough provides a voucher for legal consultation
- Enfield delivers preplacement training to SGs and these training materials are available at appendix seven. These work best when set up as a mandatory part of the assessment process and are co-facilitated with an SG
- Information is also provided about the Kinship Connected information, advice line and support service from Grandparents Plus
- Family Group Conferencing may be offered to the family to look at support needs and options
- Home visits are offered to potential SGs to discuss the role, often jointly with the child’s social worker
- Adults are prepared through the SGO assessment process
- Funding is available for legal advice
- Benefits advice & assessment is available through the Welfare Rights team
- Foster carer training is available to all SGs
- Preparation for foster carers who are seeking an SGO is also offered
- Other services are signposted, such as the Grandparent Plus Support Group.
Brighton and Hove
- Carers are fully briefed and prepared during the 12-week assessment timescale which is insisted upon from the local Courts
- One-off legal advice sessions are funded
- Carers are signposted to Family Rights Group and Grand Parents Plus and copies of the FRG advice sheets are given to potential carers
- A rolling program of workshops runs throughout the year
- Members of the team work closely with Children’s Social Workers who undertake the direct work with children and young people and attend Children in Care Reviews to participate in the discussion and support potential SGs.
Hertfordshire delivers Under One Roof: An introductory workshop for SGs and an introductory pack including information on SGO, Family & Friends Care, where to find legal advice etc.
- Has a dedicated Connected Persons assessment team which undertakes all viability assessments, SGO assessments and full connected fostering assessments.
- Legal advice is funded up to £1500.
- All SGO carers have full access to Kirklees fostering training.
- Joint visits are undertaken with the assessment team to introduce the support team
- A leaflet detailing support services is available to all SGs (See PDF)
- Children are consulted as part of the SGO assessment and can attend the children’s group before the order is made.
Grandparents Plus deliver Kinship Ready, a preparatory workshop series for special guardians, ideally before they are granted the order. The workshop content has been developed specifically for special guardians in collaboration with social workers, academic researchers in the field and special guardians themselves. It is tailored to the specific needs of the participants on each course and the aim is to raise awareness of what is involved when taking on the role of a special guardian, rather than a training course.
By the end of the workshop special guardians will have gained:
- Increased knowledge of what a Special Guardianship Order is, as well other relevant legal orders.
- Increased awareness of what taking on child will entail.
- Information about where they can get help.
- Increased confidence about accessing that help.
- Reduced feelings of isolation having met others in a similar situation.
PAC UK delivers preparation training for SGs covering: legal position, rights and responsibilities, the assessment process, contact issues, the difficulties that LAC children may have, services that are available to SGs, therapeutic and other services, educational needs and services.
SGs consulted in the preparation of this document highlighted
- That almost none of them had had any preparation for the role
- The value of Kinship Ready and other similar courses
- The value of meeting with other SGs as part of their preparation
- The difference between their role and that of foster carers, making joint training problematic.
A ‘curriculum’ to help prepare SGs for their role (in a similar way to preparation training for adopters and foster carers) would help to set standards. It would be helpful to know how much SGs feel they have benefitted from attending foster carers’ training. Some respondents reported low attendance and that the needs of foster carers and SGs were too distinct to make joint training worthwhile. This is supported by the Nuffield review of international research (Nuffield 2019c).
A missing element from agency accounts of assessment and preparation processes in the survey was the option of Family Group Conferencing, which is heavily advocated by Family Rights Group in particular and in the report by the Public Law Working Group (2020).