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Adoption UK statement: Family justice review: special guardianship orders

Published: 28.08.15

Adoption UK's statement on the latest Adoption Leadership Board figures and the publication of the Department for Education's review on special guardianship orders.
Adoption UK statement: Family justice review: special guardianship orders

Our chief executive Hugh Thornbery is very concerned about the fall in decisions and placement orders, as detailed in the latest Adoption Leadership Board figures - at a time when there is a continuing rise in admissions to care.

Hugh has limited confidence that we are seeing a turnaround - although he would be happy to be proven wrong. The Department for Education's Research in Practice review The Family Justice Review: special guardianship orders, published on 27 August, sets out a decision-making system that Hugh believes has lost its way with more concern about decisions being overturned than the focus being on the needs of the child. There is some very worrying testimony in the report that begins to give evidence to the fears that Adoption UK has raised for some time.

We now await the Special Guardianship Order consultation and report in due course but at Adoption UK we believe that we are risking children's futures now. Taking a child from birth parents and placing them with someone who is only 'just good enough' signals a total failure to understand the quality of parenting that these children will need.

The key findings of the report found that:

  • There is a concern amongst some regarding SGOs being used for babies and infants and a feeling that this contradicts the original intention of SGOs being used for older children in long-term foster care or with an established relationship with the carer.
  • There is a tension between the view of the court and social workers with regard to the degree to which carers can offer long-term care for the child and what constitutes 'good enough' parenting. This may lead to the court disagreeing with local authorities' recommendations for a placement order when there is a negative assessment of the prospective special guardian.
  • Interviewees expressed their concern about the rigour of assessments and the support provided to special guardians, in particular in comparison to the assessment process and support services for adopters and foster carers, whose children have similar needs.

Here are some of the testimonies detailed in the report:

SGOs have changed from their original purpose, it's all got a bit muddled up - when it first came in it was focused for asylum seeking children, children in long-term foster care, to take them out of the care system - they weren't meant for babies or an alternative for adoption - they are being used for all sorts of variable placements these days - for younger children, with friends, not just family members - some of it contradicts the purpose of SGO - (Cafcass manager).

There was a view amongst some that local courts had changed their approach towards adoption following Re B-S, and that anyone coming forward for an SGO would be preferred over an adopter. This tension was reflected in courts asking LAs to reconsider their recommendation for care and placement orders in favour of SGOs. There is a tendency for courts to ask us to reconsider recommendations where we were asking for care orders and placement orders and to reconsider people with a view to making SGOs. Over time in some cases where we might previously have recommended a placement order, this has now changed so we might recommend SGO on the basis that we haven't got a very good reason for dispensing with that particular person - (Assistant Director).

...we were given the example of an SGO that was made to a woman (no relation to the child) who sat in the same pew at church as the grandfather whose grandchild was the subject of care proceedings, against the advice of the LA (see phase one report for further information). This was not how SGOs were designed to be used; the order was originally intended for use with children who already have settled relationships with their primary caregivers, whether they are looked after in unrelated or kinship foster care or living with relatives or other adults outside the care system

One Manager expressed the view that the court is making reactive decisions because they are worried about cases being taken to the Court of Appeal. The impact of recent judgments was also being felt in terms of the increase in the number of applications to revoke placement orders in two of the local authorities, as discussed in the phase one report.

Everything [has been] turned on its head this week in court by new case law [reference to Re A] - courts are not making placement orders because there have been so many revocations of placement orders, so the court's in an absolute spin this week... [there have been] a couple of cases this week where we had a clear indication of placement order on Monday and by Friday the judge said he needs to read this case law so won't make a decision until next week - (Manager).