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Adoption UK responds to use of SGOs after woman convicted of murdering toddler Keegan Downer

Published: 10.05.16

Hugh Thornbery CBE, chief executive of Adoption UK, said special guardianship has successfully provided “permanence” for many children when used in the right circumstance and where the right support is provided to the carers.
Adoption UK responds to use of SGOs after woman convicted of murdering toddler Keegan Downer

But the government’s review into Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs), published in December 2015, only reinforced Adoption UK’s fear that these orders are increasingly being made inappropriately.

Mr Thornbery said: “The review provided further evidence that potentially risky placements are being made and in a ‘significant minority’ of cases, prospective special guardians are undergoing poor quality assessments.

“SGOs have been an ‘excellent addition’ to the options for permanence for children unable, or unwilling, to live with their birth parents. But what we’ve been seeing, in some cases, is very vulnerable children being moved from their birth families because of maltreatment and then placed with people who are distant relatives and sometimes even strangers.”

Mr Thornbery continued: “It’s depressing to note that some members of the public who responded to a Call for Evidence, felt under pressure by their local authority to become a special guardian as in their view, the local authority saw it as a ‘cheap option’.

“Some may say SGOs are a quicker and less costly alternative to adoption at a time when councils’ budgets are cut to the bone but we believe this flies in the face of good practice and common sense. Taking a child from birth parents and placing them with someone who is only ‘just good enough’ totally fails to understand the quality of parenting that these children will need.

“I’m pleased the government now intends to strengthen the assessment process and consider whether further changes are required around the legal framework of SGO decision-making. Making SGOs against social work recommendations, making SGOs with strangers, only allowing three weeks for assessment, having a threshold for those taking on special guardianships of ‘only just good enough parenting’ all builds up problems for those children whose placements fail.”

Mr Thornbery warns that if SGOs break down in increasing numbers we will see children returning to care with all of the damage which comes with further separation and loss.

He added: “All the evidence that we have about adoption demonstrates that delay, age at time of placement and the number of placement moves before adoption, are all risk factors for difficulties and disruption in the teenage years.”