What is a Special Guardianship Order?
Special Guardianship Orders are formally made by the Family Court, to place a child or young person to live with someone other than their parent(s) on a long-term basis.
What is the purpose of a Special Guardianship Order?
This Order will give the newly appointed special guardian parental responsibility for the child. The Order does not exclude the birth parents from the child’s life, but enables the special guardian to control their involvement. A special guardian will also tend to the child’s needs as well as provide permanence and stability for the child.
What reforms have been suggested?
A review commissioned by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has affirmed that relatives or close family friends are often best placed to provide a home for children who, for a variety of reasons are unable to be cared for by their birth parents. Over 21,000 children have been placed with special guardians since 2010 as a result of care proceedings. Nevertheless, there is a rising concern relating to the adequate preparation and support received by both the prospective guardians and the children.
The review highlights a number of significant changes that need to be made, including:
- An increased focus on working with family relatives or friends who are prospective guardians.
- For there to be a statutory minimum of training and preparation given to prospective guardians.
- To ensure that prospective guardians have sufficient direct experience of caring for the child before the Courts make a Special Guardianship Order. Additionally, this would be evidenced by a thorough assessment of suitability.
- For support services to be locally available to potential guardians and for their entitlements to be in line with those that apply to adopt or foster children. These entitlements would include, though are not limited to, parental leave, benefits and housing priority.
- Children and young people’s views and experiences of being subject to a Special Guardianship Order must be appropriately explored. It is important for a child to maintain familial relationships. Studies suggest it is vital to research the challenges of how to ensure safe and positive contact with the child’s birth parents and/or wider family members.
For a child and prospective guardian who could be subject to a Special Guardianship Order, this can be an incredibly daunting and life-changing option. A number of children who are unable to live with their birth parents can face a number of emotional and behavioural difficulties. Consequently, both the children and the prospective guardians require suitable assessments, preparation and support prior to the Order being made. It is believed that a Special Guardianship Order is an important route away from the care system, however, the practice of making such an Order before the child has lived with the prospective guardian, should stop.
At Ringrose Law, we have a dedicated Child Law Department. If you have any queries relating to Special Guardianship Orders, please contact our experienced team on 01522 561020.