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Government report into Special Guardianship Orders

Published: 17.12.15

Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK, responds to the government’s review into Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs).
Government report into Special Guardianship Orders

Mr Thornbery said: “As I suspected, today’s publication of the government’s review into Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) only reinforces our fear that these orders are increasingly being made inappropriately.

The testimony from respondents in the review is 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 are now 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.

Almost three-quarters (71%) of members of the public who responded to a Call for Evidence, said the SGO assessment could be improved while two-thirds felt that practitioners were not ‘clear or consistent’. Some local authorities even conceded that assessments were undertaken by a social worker who ‘may not be well equipped to undertake this task...’ There was also ‘substantial agreement’ from respondents surveyed, for special guardians to receive clear advice and information about SGOs so they’re absolutely clear what they’re taking on.

It’s depressing to note that some respondents 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. By 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.

If we see SGOs breaking down in increasing numbers we will see children returning to care with all the damage we know comes with further separation and loss. 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.”