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5.6 Special Guardianship Policy and Procedures


Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Legal Framework and Statutory Requirements for Special Guardianship
  2.1 Who can apply for a Special Guardianship Order
  2.2 Effect of Special Guardianship Order
  2.3 Variation and Discharge
3. In what circumstances is Special Guardianship likely to be considered?
4. Guidance and Procedures
  4.1 The Decision
  4.2 The Assessment / Court Report
  4.3 Financial Support
  4.4 Private Law (children who are not looked after)
  4.5 Support Services Assessment and Plan
  4.6 Review of Special Guardianship Support Plans
  4.7 Urgent Cases
  4.8 Post Order (and closure) requests for Special Guardianship Support Services
  4.9 Special Guardianship Orders made in other Jurisdictions on previously Looked After Children of a Local Authority
  Appendix 1: Special Guardianship Support Plan
  Appendix 2: Matters to be Dealt with in a Report to Court (Schedule to SGO Regs 2014)
  Appendix 3: Flowchart SGO Process for Looked After Children
  Appendix 4: Flowchart SGO Process for Non-Looked After Children
  Appendix 5: Financial Assessment for Special Guardianship Allowance


1. Introduction

Special Guardianship is a legal status introduced by the Children & Young Persons (Amendment) Act 2011 supported by the Special Guardianship Regulations 2014.

A Special Guardianship Order fits broadly between a Residence Order and an Adoption Order in terms of the carer taking responsibility for the child. Special Guardianship offers Permanence for the child.

Special Guardianship offers greater security than long-term fostering (where the carer does not have parental responsibility and the child is still looked after) and a Residence Order (which expires at age 16 in the majority of cases) as it lasts until the child reaches 18 (unless discharged by the Courts) and the Special Guardians can exercise their parental responsibility to the exclusion of others with parental responsibility, but it does not require the legal severance from the birth family which is the result of an Adoption Order.

A Special Guardianship Order gives the Special Guardian parental responsibility for the child. The birth parents remain the child’s legal parents and retain parental responsibility though their ability to exercise this is limited. Special Guardians have clear responsibility for all the day to day decisions about caring for the child or young person. A Special Guardian may exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of others with parental responsibility such as the birth parents, without needing to consult them, in all but a few circumstances.

A Special Guardianship Order made in relation to a looked after child will replace the Care Order and the Department will no longer have parental responsibility. A Care Order, however, will not automatically revoke a Special Guardianship Order although the Special Guardian’s exercise of parental responsibility will be restricted as the Department will have primary responsibility for decision-making under the Care Order.


2. The Legal Framework and Statutory Requirements for Special Guardianship

The Children & Young Persons (Amendment) Act 2011 provides the legal framework for Special Guardianship. This Amendment Act inserts new sections 17 A - F into the Children & Young Persons Act 2001. The new sections cover:

  • Who may apply for a Special Guardianship Order;
  • The circumstances in which a Special Guardianship Order may be made;
  • The nature and effect of Special Guardianship Orders;
  • Support services for those affected by Special Guardianship.

2.1 Who can apply for a Special Guardianship Order

A Special Guardianship Order is an order appointing a person or persons to be a child’s Special Guardian. Applications to become Special Guardians may be made by an individual or jointly by two or more people Joint applicants do not need to be married. Special Guardians must be aged 18 or over. The parents of a child may not become that child’s Special Guardian.

A Court may make a Special Guardianship Order in respect of a child on the application of:

  • Any guardian of the child;
  • An official foster carer with whom the child has lived for at least one year immediately preceding the application;
  • Anyone in whose favour a Residence Order is in force with respect to the child;
  • Anyone with whom the child has lived for three out of the last five years;
  • Anyone who has privately fostered the child for a period of at least 1 year immediately preceding the application;
  • A relative with whom the child has lived for a period of at least 1 year immediately preceding the application;
  • Anyone who has the consent of those who hold a Residence Order with respects to the child;
  • Any person, who has the leave of the Court to apply.

The Court may also make a Special Guardianship Order in any family proceedings concerning the welfare of a child if it considers that an order should be made. This applies even where no application has been made and includes adoption proceedings. When considering whether to make a Special Guardianship Order, the welfare of the child is the Court’s paramount consideration and the Welfare Checklist in section 1(4) of the Children & Young Persons Act 2001 applies.

Any person who wishes to apply for a Special Guardianship Order must give three months’ written notice to the Department of their intention to apply.

On receipt of notice of an application, or if the Court makes a request, the Department must investigate and prepare a report to the Court about the suitability of the applicants to be Special Guardians. This requirement applies to both looked after and other children. The information to be included in the report to the Court is set out in regulation 21 of the Special Guardianship Regulation 2014, and the schedule thereto. The Department has, under section 17A(9), the ability to arrange for any person to act on its behalf in connection with preparing a report for Court – this work has been delegated to the Family Placement Service (usually the Adoption Service but exceptionally the Fostering Service also) under our contractual arrangement with them – see Procedures below. The Court may not make a Special Guardianship Order unless it has received the report covering the suitability of the applicants. The Court still needs a report in relation to Special Guardianship when in other proceedings where Special Guardianship is being considered. The Matters to be dealt with in a Report for the Court are detailed in the Schedule to the Special Guardianship Regulations 2014 (reproduced at Appendix 1: Special Guardianship Support Plan for ease of reference).

Before making a Special Guardianship Order, the Court must consider whether to vary or discharge any other existing order made under Section 11 of the Children & Young Persons Act 2001. The Court should also consider whether a Contact Order should be made at the same time as the Special Guardianship Order. A Contact Order may be made, for example, to require continued contact with the child’s birth parents.

At the same time as making a Special Guardianship Order, the Court may also give leave for the child to be known by a new surname and give permission for the child to be removed from the Island by the Special Guardian/s for periods longer than three months (no permission is needed for periods less than this) if the Special Guardian does not have the written consent to do these things from every person with parental responsibility.

2.2 Effect of Special Guardianship Order

The Special Guardian will have parental responsibility for the child. The Special Guardian may exercise Parental Responsibility to the exclusion of all others with parental responsibility, apart from another Special Guardian. An exception applies in circumstances where the law provides that the consent of more than one person with parental responsibility is required (for example, the sterilisation of a child). The intention is that the Special Guardian will have clear responsibility for all the day to day decisions about caring for the child or young person and his upbringing. Unlike adoption the order preserves the child’s basic legal link with its birth parents. They remain legally the child's parents, though their ability to exercise their parental responsibility is limited. They retain the right to consent or not to the child's adoption or placement for adoption. The Special Guardian must also take reasonable steps to inform the parent/s if the child dies.

2.3 Variation and Discharge

Unlike Adoption Orders, Special Guardianship Orders can be varied or discharged on the application of:

  • The Special Guardian;
  • Any parent or guardian of the child concerned;
  • Any individual in whose favour a residence order is in force with respect to the child;
  • The child;
  • The Department;
  • Anyone who immediately before the making of the Special Guardianship Order had parental responsibility for the child.

    The following applicants require the leave of the Court:
    • The child’s parent or guardian;
    • The child (determined by whether they have sufficient understanding to make the proposed application);
    • Anyone who had parental responsibility immediately before the Special Guardianship Order was made but no longer has.

NB: Where the applicant is not the child and the leave of the Court is required, the Court may only grant leave if there has been a significant change in circumstances since the Special Guardianship Order was made.

The Court may, during any family proceedings in which a question arises about the welfare of a child who is subject to a Special Guardianship Order, vary or discharge the order in the absence of an application.


3. In what Circumstances would Special Guardianship be Considered?

The following are some examples of when Special Guardianship would be considered appropriate for a child:

  • A looked after child cared for by a relative/friend requiring permanence where the alternative would be adoption outside of the family;
  • Foster carers wishing to achieve permanence for a child in placement where the Department is in agreement that this plan is in the best interests of the child;
  • A case in which there are cultural or religious objections to adoption;
  • An older child who is wishing to retain legal links with his or her birth parents and does not wish to be adopted but would like security;
  • A child whose parents are not on the Island but wish to retain legal links with them, but for practical purposes it is appropriate that parental responsibility is with a Special Guardian e.g. an unaccompanied child seeking asylum.


4. Procedures and Guidance / Research

Children who are Looked After

4.1 The Decision

Any recommendation to actively pursue Special Guardianship for a looked after child either by a Private Law application by the prospective carers with permission and support of the Department or as the recommended disposal of Care Proceedings must receive a Permanence & Legal Panel decision. Any recommendation to Permanence & Legal Panel that Special Guardianship should be the permanence plan for a looked after child must be discussed fully by the allocated Social Worker with their Team Manager alongside other permanence options and the reasons for the recommendation made clear within the Panel papers.

If Special Guardianship becomes a viable option after a different permanence plan has been agreed, the allocated Social Worker must return to Panel to advise of the change in circumstances and seek a change to the permanence plan agreed.

Guidance:

Decisions regarding the recommendation for Special Guardianship must be viewed in the light of the Welfare Checklist at Section 1 of the Children & Young Persons Act 2001, so when determining any question with respect to the upbringing of a child under the provisions of Special Guardianship, the child's welfare shall be the paramount consideration. It is expected that the option of Special Guardianship will be discussed at Permanence & Legal Panel and statutory child care reviews with the same thoroughness as all permanence options for children.

In determining whether a Special Guardianship Order is in the child’s best interests, the following issues must always be considered:

  • The views and wishes of the child, whether they fully understand the nature of a Special Guardianship Order and why this may be the preferred permanence option for them;
  • The views and wishes of the carers and their suitability, including whether they fully understand what their roles and responsibilities as Special Guardians would entail. As the child will cease to be looked after as a result of the order being made, how they view taking responsibility for making decisions about the child’s upbringing without the involvement of the Department;
  • The suitability of plans for future contact between the child and their birth parents and others who are important to the child. It should be noted that in reporting to the Court the Department is required to recommend appropriate contact arrangements in all cases.

Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of Special Guardianship alongside other permanence options using a ‘balance sheet’ approach to determine the most appropriate outcome for each child is essential. There is lots of research material and case law which can assist in this process.

4.2 The Assessment / Court Report

For looked after children production of the Schedule Report for Court is a joint piece of work between the Family Placement Service (Adoption) Social Worker and the child’s Social Worker and potentially the Family Placement Services (Fostering) Supervising Social Worker where applicable.

When:

  • Notice of application is received; or
  • If the case is in Care Proceedings and in principle permanence decision is obtained that an SGO be pursued as the disposal of the Proceedings (subject to the assessment of the identified Special Guardian/s).

...an SGO Planning Meeting should be held between the two (or three) Social Workers within 5 working days. Matters for the Planning Meeting to decide:

  • Who will complete each section of the assessment (Court Report) and timescales (these must be completed and returned to the Family Placement Services (Adoption) Social Worker compiling the Report by the beginning of week 9 of the 12 week timescale) – generally the child’s Social Worker will complete sections about the child, as a looked after child much of the information required will already be known; some of the information regarding the prospective Special Guardians and parent/s will also be known – if the person/s has been a Family & Friends (or stranger) Foster Carer it may be prudent to invite the Family Placement Services (Fostering) Supervising Social Worker to attend to identify whether there are sections that they can compile;
  • How will the assessment for support be conducted, by whom and in what timescale?
  • What are the arrangements for the completion of the Financial Assessment for SGO Allowance with the prospective Special Guardian/s? (see Financial Assessment for more information);
  • Set a date for a follow-up meeting to ensure the Report is complete and agreed by both social workers and to compile the SGO Support Plan (see Appendix 1: Special Guardianship Support Plan for Template). This date must be no later than end of week 9 of the 12 week timescale. Week 10 is to make any amendments agreed at the follow up meeting to the Report, type up the Support Plan and share both with the prospective Special Guardian/s. The final 2 weeks are for Managers within both the Department and Family Placement Service to read, amend and approve the Report and Support Plan and file with the Courts (which has to be done via the DHSC legal team).

If during the assessment information comes to light or concerns develop regarding whether a recommendation that an SGO be made in favour of the prospective Special Guardian’s is appropriate these should be referred back to Permanence & Legal Panel for discussion and if necessary amendment of the permanence plan made previously. This will have to be done in a timely manner to ensure there is no delay to Proceedings.

Research and Guidance:

Most children subject to an SGO application will be known to Children & Families. In the 8 years since SGO’s have been implemented in the UK, research (on a sample survey) has indicated that almost three-quarters of children made subject to an SGO had been looked after immediately before the SGO was made, most commonly in kinship foster care and 86% had already been living with their future special guardians, the remainder moving from stranger foster care to live with relatives when the SGO was made. Use of SGO for children on the ‘edge of care’ was also indicated (almost 25% of the sample) and this was seen to be on the increase, signifying that SG can be a route to divert children from the care system. Only 3% of applications in the sample were purely ‘private’ applications concerning children not previously known to the Local Authority. SG has primarily been used as a permanence pathway for children living with relatives – four-fifths of applications were from relatives, the majority of who were grandparents (51%) or aunts and uncles (29.5%). Almost one-half were lone female carers. More than half of the children were aged five and under. Of those who left care for SG 17.5% were aged 10 or over, so SG can provide a route to permanence for older children.

This being the case, the assessment of potential Special Guardians will usually draw heavily on information already known about the child, their birth parents and the prospective Special Guardian hence the need for good communication, information sharing and working together between the child’s Social Worker, the Family Placement Services (Adoption) Social Worker who is drawing together the Report for Court and the fostering social worker who may have been supervising the Family & Friends Foster Carer who is now making an SGO application. SGO applicants have reported that the process can be daunting and overly intrusive so professionals should explain the reasons for detailed questioning and if there is a ‘kinship’ ensure that this is properly recognised.

Key Areas from Research that the Assessment Should Consider Carefully

  • The relationship between the child and SGO applicant/s. A strong relationship between the child and the carer prior to the application is a good indicator of success – greater caution should be exercised where the child has not lived with the prospective special guardian at assessment stage. If the relationship is assessed as weak and they have not lived as a family together it should strengthen the argument for relationships to be tested, perhaps under Family & Friends Foster Care arrangements, before an SGO application progresses further;
  • The quality of the special guardian-birth parent relationships. Less than one half of birth parents in the study were reported by special guardians to be supportive of them obtaining an SGO. Tensions and jealousies can disrupt the placement and leave the child with divided loyalties, unable to become highly integrated into the SGO’s family. Any such viewpoints should be taken into account and attempts made to ameliorate tensions to reduce the risk for later conflict;
  • The particular additional needs (especially behavioural needs) of the child and the capacity of the carers to meet them;
  • The age, health (mental or physical) of potential Special Guardians;
  • The preparation and motivation of the prospective Special Guardian/s – have they been prepared for the responsibility they are assuming and challenges that may lie ahead?; do they understand it fully in context of other legal options available and had the time and space to make an informed decision?; what level of co-operation with the assessment process have they displayed?
  • The age of the child. Children who were older at the time the SGO was made are at higher risk of disruption, being a teenager was the most important predictor of disruption in the research undertaken;
  • The number of placement moves a looked after child has experienced prior to the SGO application.

Whilst these factors should be fully assessed and understood, the presence of disruption indicators does not mean that proceeding with the SGO should be ruled out. Overall the UK research indicators a fairly low rate of return to the care of the same Local Authority of children on SGO’s. However they should indicate greater caution and that more in the way of support and services are likely to be needed in the longer-term.

Research and Guidance Regarding Contact with Birth Parent/s

For a child who is subject to a Special Guardianship Order it is likely that there will be more face to face contact with birth parent/s and other relatives than where a child has been adopted. The child’s parents are able to apply to the Court for a Contact Order under Section 11 of the Children & Young Persons Act 2001 and the Court will consider whether a Contact Order should be made when making the Special Guardianship Order.

Under section 5 of the Special Guardianship Regulations 2014 the Department are required to make arrangements for “b) assistance, including mediation services, in relation to arrangements for contact between a relevant child (i.e. one who is subject of an SGO or notice has been given of an intention to apply for an SGO or the Court have requested a report on an SGO that they are considering making) and (i) the child’s parent or relative of the child; or (ii) any other person with whom such a child has a relationship which appears to the Department to be beneficial to the welfare of the child having regard to the factors specified in section 1(4) of the Act (welfare of the child).”

The wishes and feelings regarding such future contact of the child, the birth parents and the prospective Special Guardians all form part of the report to the Court and alongside the Recommendation as to whether a Special Guardianship Order should be made (or alternative proposal) the report must also make a recommendation regarding what arrangements there should be for contact between the child and the child’s relatives (or other person considered relevant).

Research has indicated that contact with birth parents, particularly birth mothers, and other relatives is quite common in Special Guardianship situations and that these can support the stability of the placement where relationships between the Special Guardians and family members are positive and contact is negotiated and arranged informally. The acceptance of the placement by the birth parent/s and willingness to work with it is an important factor in contact being a positive feature which leads to better outcomes for the child.

Contact with birth parents is a complex arena which can cause tensions, particularly where the parents are unable to accept the placement, where their behaviour is unpredictable (often due to mental health or substance misuse problems), or where they try to manipulate the feelings of the child during contact. For children the feelings of loss and rejection can be mitigated by contact but paradoxically it can reduce integration into the Special Guardianship family if the child feels a sense of divided loyalty or where the child frequently speaks about returning to live with their parent/s based on the contact they have. Special Guardians need assistance from professionals to be mindful of the dilemma contact can present to the child/ren and develop strategies to help them resolve it successfully. It is important to strengthen children’s feelings of security and inclusion within their Special Guardianship families. For previously looked after children a referral to the Wraparound Service for a piece of work with either Special Guardians and/or child/ren to assist in sorting out the emotions aroused by the issue of contact and developing strategies to implement may be warranted. A Family Group Conference or piece of mediation can be commissioned from the Community Intervention Service to assist families in coming to agreement on the matter of contact.

Research indicates that around half of Special Guardians have at one time received arrangements for supervised contact but this support is not generally continued in the longer term. If it is the Department’s recommendation that contact with birth parent/s is not going to be positive for the child and will destabilise the Special Guardianship arrangement this should be made clear in the report so it can be taken into account in any ruling about contact. The Special Guardians should be given support to enable them to move towards managing contact themselves, with the support of any wider family networks that exist, and to develop the skills and confidence to make decisions regarding future contact arrangements as the situation may change over time. The parental responsibility they acquire under the Special Guardianship Order gives them the responsibility to make such decisions regarding the child. Where parental contact has ended or is highly unsatisfactory children need their carers to provide them with a coherent life narrative so they can contextualise their current situation, life story work can assist with this and Special Guardians may need support to do this successfully.

Sibling contact must not be forgotten where relevant as loss of sibling contact where they are placed elsewhere can be a source of great distress to children. 

4.3 Financial Support

The Law

Section 7 of the Special Guardianship Regulations 2014 states the following:

  1. Financial Support is payable under this Subdivision to a special guardian or prospective special guardian:
    1. To facilitate arrangements for a person to become the special guardian of a child where the Department considers such arrangements to be beneficial to the child’s welfare; or
    2. To support the continuation of such arrangements after an SGO is made.
  2. Such support is payable only in the following circumstances:
    1. Where the Department considers that it would enable the Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian to look after the child;
    2. Where the Department considers that the child needs special care which requires a greater expenditure of resources than would otherwise be the case because of the child’s illness, disability, emotional or behavioural difficulties or the consequences of the child’s past abuse or neglect;
    3. Where the Department considers that it is appropriate to contribute to any legal costs, including Court fees, of a Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian, as the case may be, associated with:
      1. The making of a Special Guardianship Order or any application to vary or discharge such an order;
      2. An application for an order under section 11 of the Act (parental contact etc);
      3. An order for financial provision to be made to or for the benefit of the child. or
    4. Where the Department considers that it is appropriate to contribute to the expenditure for the purposes of providing a suitable home for the child, including the provision of furniture and domestic equipment, alterations to and adaptations to the home, provision of means of transport, assisting the child’s contact with birth parents or siblings and provision of clothing, toys and other items necessary for the purpose of looking after the child.

Under section 9, such payments can be a one off single payment or by instalments or periodically if it is provided to meet a need which is likely to give rise to recurring expenditure.

Financial Assessment

The Department has devised a Financial Assessment Form with associated guidance notes for applications for SGO Allowance (see Appendix 3: Flowchart SGO Process for Looked After Children). It is the child’s Social Worker’s responsibility to complete this Assessment with SGO applicants who wish to be assessed for an SGO Allowance. Support is available from DHSC Finance Team if required. Once complete and the supporting documentation is available, please pass to the Head of Contracts & Business Operations for the calculation on page 6 to be completed and a decision obtained. Any allowance granted will be on an annual basis with re-assessment undertaken by DHSC Finance Team who will arrange and manage the payments made. If the child is moving from foster care (Family & Friends or stranger) the DHSC Finance Team will need to be advised when the SGO is made – they will then liaise with the Fostering Service to ensure cessation of the payment from the Fostering Service is tailored with our payment commencing so there is no duplication or loss of payment.

The need for financial assessment before the agreement to an ongoing allowance should be discussed as part of the preparation/information given to anyone contemplating applying for an SGO, particularly with respects to those who are Family & Friends or stranger Foster Carers who will currently be in receipt of an allowance.

The Department is prepared to pay up to £2000 as a one-off cost towards the legal expenses of a prospective SGO whose application will prevent or remove a child from becoming looked after. Prospective SGO applicants should be advised, and assisted if necessary, to identify an advocate to advise them and act for them in the Court process.

Reviews

The DHSC Finance Team will undertake annual Financial Reviews for those in receipt of an SGO Allowance as allowed under the Regulations section18.

Guidance

Lack of financial resources should not be an obstacle to an SGO application proceeding and no family should be put into financial hardship due to taking on the care of child under an SGO. However, neither should the need for a Financial Assessment put off potential SGO applicants, particularly those who are under a Family & Friends Foster Care arrangement, from making an application. When Family & Friends Foster Care arrangements have commenced and as it becomes clear that a rehabilitation home is not possible, a discussion should take place regarding what permanence means for looked after children and what processes the Department go through to determine the permanence route for specific children and what that might mean for them as carers and how different legal orders affect the child’s status. Carers can then start to think about their own circumstances and their ability to commit to providing the child with a permanent home. It may be appropriate to ask a Family Placement Service social worker to meet with them to discuss the options and the decision they need to make, this level of independence from the child’s Social Worker may help them voice natural concerns they have more freely and avoid any sense that they feel pressured to take a particular course of action. As part of their considerations they should be made aware of the financial assessment process that is part of the Residence Order, SGO and Adoption Order route. This should be positively presented in the light of the outcome of those Orders on the child’s status (i.e. they will no longer be classed as ‘looked after’ children), permanence and stability. An early Financial Assessment can take place to identify what allowance they could expect.

Specific Provisions for Former Foster Parents

Section 8 provides additional provisions for former foster parents who received an element of remuneration in the payments made by the Department in relation to his or her fostering the child. If the outcome of the Financial Assessment undertaken is that an SGO Allowance (which is the same as the relevant age related child fostering allowance minus any child benefit they become entitled to post SGO) is payable, the Department can, in addition, include an allowance for the former foster parents for a period of 2 years. This is to alleviate any hardship that may be encountered as a result of losing that ‘income’.

4.4 Private Law (children who are not looked after)

Where there is No Current Children & Families Involvement

Even where the child is not known by the Department the same responsibility exists for the Department to report to the Court after carefully assessing the matter. Arrangements are in place for the majority of this work to be undertaken by the Family Placement Services (Adoption). The following procedure covers how such notifications from applicants are to be dealt with.

On receipt of notification of intention to apply for a Special Guardianship Order regarding a child who does not have an allocated social worker, the Initial Response Team will undertake a brief piece of work to ensure there are no previously undetected safeguarding issues, advise the applicants of the Department’s responsibilities with respects to Special Guardianship applications and refer to the Family Placement Service for production of the report – this must be completed within 5 working days so as not to impinge too much on the 3 month period for production of the report set down in the Regulations.

Where the Child has an Allocated Social Worker from Children & Families but is Not Looked After

If the child is not looked after but has an allocated Social Worker, the allocated Social Worker must work closely with the Family Placement Service (Adoption) Social Worker in producing the report. This situation may arise where a family member has obtained a Residence Order to prevent a child from becoming looked after but the child still has an allocated social worker and it is felt that a Special Guardianship Order is preferable in enabling the carer to make appropriate and timely decisions for the child.

The process should be largely the same as for those who are looked after i.e. a Planning Meeting should be held within 5 working days of notification of application to share information already known about the child, birth parents and carers and plan the assessment. The timeframe set out for ‘looked after’ cases is mandated in the Regulations so must similarly be adhered to for non looked after children. The only exception to the ‘looked after’ process would be the need to present to Permanence & Legal Panel, as this purely a private law matter which does not involve a looked after child. There is unlikely to be involvement of the Family Placement Service (Fostering) in such cases.

Financial Assessment

For those applications in private law where the child is not looked after, Financial Assessment would be undertaken if requested by the applicants.

4.5 Support Services Assessment and Plan

The Law

The types of Support Services to be provided specifically listed in the primary and secondary legislation are as follows:

  • Counselling, advice and information;
  • Assistance, including mediation services, in relation to arrangements for contact between a child and parent/s, other relative/s or other significant person;
  • Services in relation to the therapeutic needs of a relevant child;
  • Assistance for the purpose of ensuring the continuance of the relationship between a relevant child and a special guardian or prospective special guardian including (i) training for that person to meet any special needs of that child; medication in relation to matters relating to special guardianship orders;
  • Financial support (see Section 4.3, Financial Support above).

However, it should be remembered that children subject to a Special Guardianship Order could also be children who would meet the definition within the Children & Young Persons Act 2001 as being ‘in need’ and therefore they may have a Child with Complex Needs Plan which specifies services other than those listed above. For example, they may have a disability and are receiving services that support them and their carers. The Special Guardianship assessment and support plan are to identify and manage need that arises specifically out of the fact that they are living under a Special Guardianship arrangement.

The Special Guardianship Regulations 2014 establish Eligibility as follows in section 4:

These regulations apply to a prospective special guardian or a special guardian if the person;

  1. Was born in the Island; or
  2. Has been ordinarily resident in the Island throughout the 5 years immediately preceding his or her application for services or support in respect of special guardianship.

This basic Eligibility must be established before proceeding with support or financial assessments.

Under section 11 of the Regulations, requests for assessment may come from, or in the case of for a child on behalf of, the following person/s:

  • A child with respect to whom a Special Guardianship Order is in force;
  • A child of a Special Guardian;
  • A Special Guardian (or prospective Special Guardian);
  • A parent;
  • Any person whom the Department considers to have a significant and ongoing relationship with a child subject to (or the prospective subject of) a Special Guardianship Order.

If the child in question is (or was previously) a looked after child the Department must make an assessment. If the application has been made to prevent a child from becoming looked after with Departmental support it would be good practice to make an assessment. If the matter is purely a private law matter then the Department can choose not to make an assessment but must record and advise the person requesting the assessment the reasons for refusal and allow that person ‘reasonable opportunity’ to make representation in relation to the decision.

Under section 11(5) if the request is for a specific support service, or it appears that the need could be addressed by reference to a particular support service, the assessment can be limited to assessing the need for that particular service only.

According to section 12 of the Regulations the Assessment should have regard to the following factors:

  • The developmental needs of the child;
  • The parenting capacity of the Special Guardian (or prospective Special Guardian);
  • The family and environmental factors that have shaped the life of the child;
  • What the life of the child might be like with the Special Guardian (or prospective);
  • Any previous assessments undertaken in relation to the child or Special Guardian (or prospective);
  • The needs of the Special Guardian (or prospective) and their family;
  • Where there is a pre-existing relationship between the child and Special Guardian (or prospective) and the parent of the child, the likely impact of the Special Guardianship Order on the relationships between those people.

Where an assessment identifies the need for ongoing services (not required for one off support or simply the provision of information or advice) a Special Guardianship Support Plan must be completed.

Other agencies, such as Education and Health, may need to be consulted about the contents of the Plan if services within their area of responsibility are required.

The Plan should set out:

  1. The services to be provided;
  2. The objectives and criteria for success;
  3. Timescales for provision;
  4. Procedures for review;
  5. A named person to monitor the provision of services in accordance with the Plan.

Following assessment, the provision of Special Guardianship Support will be subject to the approval of the relevant Team Manager and signed off by the Head of Statutory Social Work Services or Chief Social Worker.

Procedure

As part of the SGO Planning Meeting the social workers involved should also discuss and make agreements regarding how the assessment of need for SGO Support Services is going to be accomplished. A template has been devised for recording the SGO Support Services Plan (see Appendix 4: Flowchart SGO Process for Non-Looked After Children) which the Family Placement Services (Adoption) Social Worker and child’s Social Worker will complete as part of the assessment process, this should be complete at the same point as the assessment Court Report (i.e. beginning of week 10) and be signed off by the relevant Managers in each Service prior to being given to the prospective Special Guardians. The prospective Special Guardians must confirm their satisfaction with the draft SGO Support Plan or make representations as provided for in the Regulations regarding its contents.

If a prospective Special Guardian wishes to make representations regarding the proposed Support Plan they should make these in writing to the Head of Statutory Social Work Services within 5 working days of receipt of the draft Plan. If the Plan is provided by the deadline of beginning of week 10, this gives a very limited period for response to the concerns raised if the matter is to be resolved prior to the deadline for filing of the Court Report therefore strict adherence to timescales is important. If the matter is part of Care Proceedings (or exceptionally Adoption Proceedings) rather than a Private Law application the timescales will be set by the Court. It is important that the relevant social workers communicate and work together to ensure that the Schedule Report and the Support Plan are produced in line with Regulations to the appropriate deadline.

Research and Guidance

Given the cohort of children that SGO’s have most often been used for (i.e. previously looked after or on the edge of care) their needs and therefore the support needs of those looking after them are likely to be high. These are the same type of children that are being placed for adoption and the emphasis put on increased support services to adoptive carers should equally apply to SGO carers. In the research referenced earlier very few guardians in the sample were still in touch with social workers at the end of the 3-6 year follow-up period and less than one-fifth had received continuous contact throughout. One third of cases had been closed immediately the SGO was made and three-quarters within one year. Unrelated previous foster carers tended to receive more post Order support than kinship carers, some of whom wanted immediate cessation of involvement of social workers but others (one third) felt they had been given no choice. A negotiated case closure, once it was clear that the services identified as being required (from other agencies) were in place and going well should be arranged. Prior to closure it is important that contingency plans are put in place to allow SG’s to re-establish contact at a later point. More than one-half of closed cases were subsequently reopened, at least for a short period. Some needs, particularly if the child is quite young at the time of the SGO have not emerged at the time the Order is made. Support Services should not be seen in isolation from mainstream services available to all families and it is important to ensure that families are assisted in accessing such services and are aware of their entitlements to social security benefits. See below Section 4.8, Post Order (and closure) requests for Special Guardianship Support Services.

The three main service types accessed were therapeutic (34%); behavioural (25%) or educational (32%). The effectiveness of some of these services was limited perhaps linked to the fact that the threshold for intervention may prove to be ‘too little too late’. This means a balance must be struck between using scarce resources prudently but not waiting until difficulties are entrenched and severe before acting.

Some support services such as advice and guidance, financial assistance and importantly support in relation to birth family contact are directed more at the needs of SG’s. Life story work with children and guardians that provides a positive narrative of the child’s situation have proved useful.

As a known child, and particularly in the case of looked after children, the needs and factors that led to the need for a Special Guardianship Order which have ‘shaped the life’ of the child should be known. These factors need to be put into the context of the parenting capacity of the prospective Special Guardian; the needs of the Special Guardian and their family and the pre-existing relationship between the child, parent and prospective Special Guardian and likely impact of an Order so that support needs of each party in the equation are identified. 
NB: It is important that services to address the needs of children and kinship carers, including the Wraparound Service to assist with therapeutic, emotional wellbeing needs and the Supporting Families Team for practical assistance around such things as behaviour management and life story work are planned for, and delivered, early on in the period the child is looked after so that the placement is settled and therefore the support needs are less intensive by the time an SGO application is being made as part of permanence planning.

4.6 Review of Special Guardianship Support Plans

The Regulations provide that Plans must be reviewed taking into account the following:

  • Any change of circumstances affecting the support;
  • At whichever stage of implementation of the Plan is considered appropriate;
  • In any event, at least annually.

If the Department is offering services either directly (e.g. Family Support Worker) or via commissioned services (e.g. Wraparound Service) the reviews will be conducted via the Complex Needs Plan Review Process to ensure services are provided, are having the desired outcome and are discontinued when appropriate. If there is a substantial change of circumstances e.g. a serious change in the behaviour of the child, a new assessment of need via the NARRATES assessment should be undertaken to understand emerging needs and assist in appropriate planning. Any such assessment would be signed off by a Team Manager as would any alteration to the Support Plan in line with normal practice.

If services are not provided from Children & Families, the Special Guardianship Support Plan would be managed and reviewed by the Family Placement Service (Adoption) until closure. Any significant alteration to the services offered or discontinuation would be advised to the Special Guardian in writing with the opportunity to make representation to the Department within 10 working days of such notice being given. The Family Placement Service (Adoption) can escalate to the Department for a NARRATES and possible Child with Complex Needs Plan if the appropriate threshold has been met and family agreement in place.

4.7 Urgent Cases

The Regulations are clear that where a person has an urgent need for a support service the assessment process should not delay provision and arrangements can be made for support to be provided as a matter of urgency in appropriate cases. The approval to offer services ahead of production of an assessment and plan by the relevant Team Manager/Supervising Social Worker will be required.

4.8 Post Order (and closure) requests for Special Guardianship Support Services

Once the planned closure of the case has occurred from Children’s Social Care and the Order is in place, The Family Placement Service (Adoption) will maintain a point of contact for Special Guardians to be used for informal advice and support. Special Guardians can self-refer to the Family Placement Service (Adoption) for an assessment for SGO support. Arrangements are in place for them to access such services as Wraparound directly (without the need for a Departmental Social Worker to further assess). Arrangements for reviewing Support Plans in line with the Regulations would be made by the Family Placement Service (Adoption). Any representations made by the Special Guardian regarding the assessment, draft Support Services Plan or any request for Financial Assessment will be referred to the Department via the Head of Statutory Social Work Services.

Any issues that arise with respects to safeguarding or a potential breakdown of the Special Guardianship arrangement will be escalated to the Department for a NARRATES assessment to determine the level and type of need and for access to relevant services to take place. The appropriate process would then be followed (e.g. Child with Complex Needs) to manage and review the support offered.

4.9 Special Guardianship Orders made in other Jurisdictions on previously Looked After Children of a Local Authority

If a referral is received for assessment for support by a Special Guardian where the child/ren was previously looked after by a UK local authority prior to the Special Guardianship Order being made, the ‘placing’ Local Authority retains the responsibility for the assessment and provision of Special Guardianship support for a period of three years post Order. It also retains responsibility indefinitely for any regular financial support agreed before the making of the Special Guardianship Order. For any such referrals received an approach to the Local Authority concerned must be made to advise them of the current situation, reminding them of their responsibility and requesting they assess and support as they see fit.

If, when the responsible authority are contacted they request the Department to make an assessment and/or provide services on their behalf, this can be arranged via the Family Placement Service (Adoption) who will charge the Local Authority for the assessment service and for any services provided (e.g. Wraparound). If the matter appears to be more complex e.g. where there is a risk that the relationship is breaking down the Local Authority should be advised that they must make the assessment themselves. If they request the Department to provide services or receive the child/ren into our care this should be escalated to the Head of Statutory Social Work Services or Chief Social Worker via your Team Manager as the appropriateness of this request and the meeting of costs associated with such service provision will have to be determined.

If a Special Guardianship placement made on a previously looked after child by a UK Local Authority within the last 3 years breaks down, that Authority should be advised and an assessment undertaken by them immediately to establish whether the children need to return to their care or if they wish to make suitable alternative arrangements. When seeking permission to provide accommodation for the child in the immediacy of the breakdown from the Head of Statutory Social Work Services or Chief Social Worker with your Team Manager the facts around the Special Guardianship should be made clear and instructions will be given regarding the Department’s position to relay to the relevant Local Authority.

Where the initial three year period post Order has expired, or the child was not previously looked after before the Special Guardianship Order was made, responsibility for assessing and providing support services is with the Local Authority where the Special Guardian resides. The Isle of Man sits outside of those English arrangements therefore any Special Guardian (wherever the child they are looking after has come from) must meet the basic Eligibility criteria under our Regulations (born on the Isle of Man or lived here continuously for a period of 5 years preceding the application for assessment for support services) before they are eligible for assessment for support services. If they meet this criterion and are not the responsibility of a Local Authority in England they are entitled to request an assessment. A decision is then made as to whether to assess for support services (or just to assess for a particular support service that is being requested). If the Department is minded not to make an assessment this is put in writing to the applicant with the reasons for it, giving them the opportunity to make representation. If an assessment is undertaken a decision is then made whether to offer services and if so what the service offer is to be. This decision, including any draft plan for the proposed support services, must be put in writing to the Special Guardian who then has an opportunity to make representation regarding the decision/proposal.

Any representations should be directed to the Head of Statutory Social Work Services who will review the matter and make a determination.


Appendices

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