A Special Guardianship Order is an order which places a child in the long-term care of someone other than their parent. Special Guardianship orders were introduced by the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (“ACA 2002”) as a way of ensuring permanency for a child who is no longer able to remain in the care of their birth parents, for whatever reason. It was aimed at providing children with more permanence and security than a regular long-term fostering arrangement.
Under the ACA 2002, there are provisions made for the support and other services available to Special Guardians. However, a recent report by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman (“LGSCO”) highlights some of the problems faced by Special Guardians. The report, which was concluded in May 2018, identified that 70% of complaints received by the LGSCO were in relation to the way that local authorities provide support to special guardians. The report indicated that in some borough councils, there has been a lack of adequate advice being given by Local Authorities to prospective Special Guardians, in particular relating to the financial and other support services available to them.
The report points to the fact that local authorities have an obligation to provide prospective Special Guardians with sufficient support and guidance. As a rule of thumb, if the relevant child is a ‘looked after’ child i.e. a child under the care of a local authority, then the Local Authority must carry out an assessment for support services to be provided to a prospective Special Guardian of that child. If the child is not a looked after child, the prospective special guardian can still nevertheless request to have an assessment of them undertaken.
There are a number of different types of support and services available to a Special Guardian. Some of these include the following:
1. Counselling, advice and information
2. Respite care
3. Therapy service
4. Training to meet the child’s needs
5. Financial assistance – including assistance in cash and/or a means-tested Special Guardianship Allowance
If you are a prospective Special Guardian or the parent of a child who is the subject of Special Guardianship proceedings, you should ensure to seek legal advice before the making of any final orders. It is very important that decisions are made based on being provided with the right advice about the long-term implications of Special Guardianship as well as the support and services available to assist with managing the placement.