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Making Research Count Practice Development Seminar June 10 th 2011 Special Guardianship: Messages from Research and Emerging Issues Jo Dixon SPRU, University.

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Presentation on theme: "Making Research Count Practice Development Seminar June 10 th 2011 Special Guardianship: Messages from Research and Emerging Issues Jo Dixon SPRU, University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Making Research Count Practice Development Seminar June 10 th 2011 Special Guardianship: Messages from Research and Emerging Issues Jo Dixon SPRU, University of York & Pippa Bow Fosterline, The Fostering Network 1

2 Messages from Research ~Jo Dixon Presentation of findings from one of the first substantial pieces of research on Special Guardianship, carried out by researchers at York University Opportunity for comments and questions 2. Emerging Trends and Issues ~ Pippa Bow Presentation of current trends in the use of Special Guardianship and emerging issues arising from enquires to Fosterline Opportunity for comments and questions 3. Coffee break 4. Sharing comments, experience and practice Group discussions Final comments and questions

3 3 3 Messages from Research Jo Dixon

4 4 4 What is Special Guardianship & how did it come about? The York Research study Who is taking up SG? Views and experiences of SG from carers & practitioners Implications and concluding comments

5 5 5 Relatively new legal status and permanence option for children unable to live with their birth parents. Aims to provide greater legal security for children and their carers – a sense of belonging. Private law order – although used in both private and in public law proceedings. Introduced in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (adding sections 14 a-g to The Children Act 1989). Came into effect December Government issued Regulations (2005) and Guidance to LAs to clarify: who can apply, the circumstances in which a SGO can be made, the nature and effect of SGOs, support available.

6 6 6 Relatively powerful legal order: A Special Guardian (SG) is invested with a high degree of day-to- day parental control and decision making. SGO does not legally sever the childs relationship with birth parents, however, their exercise of parental responsibility is heavily restricted. A SGO lasts until the child reaches 18 years of age. A looked after child ceases to be in care. Requires leave of the court to challenge the order.

7 7 7 Requires carers to give 3+ months notice of intention to apply (unless given leave of court to make an application in course of existing family proceedings). Courts can grant a SGO in absence of application (e.g. during the course of other proceedings such as adoption, RO or care order). LAs must carry out an assessment and prepare a court report for potential SG within 12 weeks (irrespective of whether they have been caring for the child or are already known to social services). Regulation 21 sets out what should be covered in the report (background and suitability of applicant & circumstances and views of child and parents, current and future support needs).

8 8 8 Where children were in care immediately prior to SGO, the responsible LA must, if requested, carry out assessment of the need for financial and other support for child, birth parent & SG Other applicants have no automatic entitlement to an assessment for support. The guidance and regulations place a duty on LAs to develop a framework for delivering SG support services (similar to post- adoption support), however, SGs have no legal entitlement to receive specific support services. Also, it is anticipated that the childs needs and long term welfare will be the guiding principle in making decisions. Statutory guidance indicates that financial issues should not be the sole reason for a special guardianship arrangement failing to survive.

9 9 9 Official data suggest upward trend in use of SGOs Judicial & Court Statistics of private & public law applications = rise from 474 in 2006 to 826 in 2007 (Ministry of Justice, 2007) Statistics year ending 31 March 2009 = 1,120 children ceased to be looked after through SGO - increase from 760 in 2007 & 70 in 2006 (DCSF website) - 2/3 reported to be former Foster Carers (kinship carers & unrelated). Variation across local authorities. Is it being used for those children and young people for whom it was intended? Is it operating as intended? What were the early experiences of those implementing SG and those seeking and being awarded a SGO? Use York study to look at some of these issues further.

10 10 Focused on first two years of implementation 2006 – 2008 Research completed Jan 2009 (things will have moved on). Aims: Describe local authority approaches to implementing SG. Explore how SG was being used and who was applying. Look at the experiences of those carers & children seeking/ being awarded SG. What support and services were being provided? Research design and methods Exploratory study of eight English local authorities (LAs). Policy interviews with LA managers (38) & national stakeholders (10). Postal Survey to all identified SG applicants between Jan 06 and Sept guardians (of 120 children) + their social workers responded. Response rates:46% of guardians, 52% workers In depth Interviews with 15 special guardians and 3 children.

11 Implementing SG in LAs Different LA approaches. Variations in speed of implementation (some gave SG strategic priority, others not). Variation in number of SG applications across LAs. Corporate leadership and lead officers to champion change: Early development of policies and procedures Time to scope service demands and required resources Develop training and information resources Develop expertise and activities to stimulate demand Where leadership lacking, progress slower, less embedded in local practice. Reciprocal relationship between demand and service development (if demand low, pressure to develop infrastructure also low).

12 Service Organisation Each LA had different arrangements for responding to applications (no prescription in guidance). Only in one LA did a single team handle all referrals through to final hearing. In others, a patchwork of teams handled different aspects of the process. In 4 LAs (higher demand) specialist teams provided post-order services. Where dedicated team involved: Information and pathways for carers appeared clearer Expertise more readily accumulated Services more coherent/comprehensive A case for specialisation where numbers warrant it?

13 Who was SG intended for? Children who may benefit from greater legal security: Children for whom adoption is less likely Older young people in settled foster care Children living in established kinship settings Some groups of minority ethnic children (adoption not an option) Unaccompanied asylum-seeking or refugee children. Implications of this? Assessment and approval procedures less stringent as assumed: Children very settled Established pattern of relationships Relatively low support needs (in most cases). However, LAs anxious that these patterns not being realised Profile of children broader Higher level needs.

14 Take up – who is applying? Information on 81 carers applying for or awarded SGO Ethnicity of the group similar to child group - over half BME 1 in 5 were in lone carer households Age Range 22 – 70 yrs of age, average - 49 yrs Skewed to higher range - half were aged between yrs Majority were kinship carers (86%) Grandparents 53% Aunt/uncle21% Older Sibling 5% Other relative 7% Low take up from unrelated foster carers (13%) Reasons - link with custodianship (Bullard, 1991) Financial issues Potential loss of social work support (for carer and child) both now and in future (i.e. at leaving care stage), Management of birth family relationships, the fostering role. Local authority response – some areas offering guaranteed financial support package for duration of SGO

15 Information on 120 children (59 single children & 20 sibling groups/61 siblings). 63% in special guardianship households – 37% awaiting decision. 52% female, 48% Male. Ethnicity 57% White, 19% Black/Black British, 4% Asian. Some areas had higher number of BME cases – e.g. 80% of those described as Asian were from one LA. Limited take up from UASC - only three children identified. Age Younger than anticipated: At court decision - average age 5yrs, 20% aged 1 yr or under At data collection - average age 6yrs, 74% were 8 yrs or under Less than a third (27%) aged 10 to 16 years. 15

16 Where were they prior to SG Unrelated FC (non sg*) (25%) Unrelated FC (sg*) (13%) Kin (formal**) (sg) (48%)Kin (informal**) (sg) (12%) Birth parents (non sg) ( 2%) Care status immediately prior to SG application/order: LAC Unrelated FC (37%)Kinship FC 33%) Non LAC Kin – RO (16%)Kin – no order (14%) Troubled family backgrounds 70% LAC prior to SG Child : risk to safety (67%) failure to thrive (41%) Parents: mental health problems (28%), substance misuse (33%), domestic violence Health and disability – some age related Mental health problems 2% Physical disability 3% Chronic physical health problem 4% Learning disability 13% 16

17 17 SG being used with broader range of children than originally envisaged, mainly in family settings e.g. younger children Most cases have occurred in public law arena as exit strategy from care or as an alternative to care order and, for youngest children, adoption. Implications of profile of carers and children: Resource implications of committing to longer-term services Personal Implications for older carers as SGs of babies/young children. Profile of carers v children - durability of placements (as both age) Involve complex and troubled families - resource implications of services to meet enduring needs. Reduced opportunities for permanence if placements break down at a later point. Mostly from friends and family carers – support for kinship carers. Implications for services of take-up from children and families outside of care system (private applications) – is there a reluctance or a lack of encouragement?

18 18 1. Information, guidance and advice Carers highlighted a need for clear information and guidance. Some were critical of lack of knowledge/info from social work professionals – partly result of newness of the SGO and procedures. Reliance on solicitors and childrens guardians (CAFCASS). 2. Timescales Policy study revealed concern about short timescales for assessment and preparation of court report (12 wks) – insufficient time for depth focus, reflection and coverage – particularly compared to those for FC and adoption. Survey found mixed views – some carers felt assessment too intrusive and lengthy. Concerns about short time span for settling in particularly where child had not previously lived with SG – suggestions include need for pre-order trial period / interim order.

19 19 3. Quality of assessment Permanent nature of the SGO & profile of children and prospective SG = need for sufficient safeguards to quality assure the assessment and decision. Comprehensive and detailed coverage needed. Carers generally felt assessments were thorough, however, some felt over intrusive, duplicated existing information and off putting. Need to build on not duplicate earlier assessments. Challenge therefore for LAs to get right balance – robust yet flexible. Variable quality assurance Limited use of permanence panels (2) v 5 areas signed off by senior managers. Unclear procedures for private applications. SGO being granted with other orders: York = 26% with contact order, 11% with supervision order study of court reports = : 30% with contact orders, 24% supervision orders, 2 cases with care orders (Hall. A. Child & Family Quarterly 20-3) Gives access to LA resources (e.g. supervise birth family contact) & support and allows ongoing monitoring in early stages.

20 20 63% of carers in study had reached court decision to grant SGO (timescale for decision 1 – 15 months) Carers response overwhelmingly positive – only one carers preference remained adoption though many others had initially considered it. Within a year or so most carers (76%) and sw (83%) reported SG arrangements going very well Carers mostly felt that SG was meeting their expectations – sufficient parental control and legal security and enabling on-going family contact: With SG you have to treat her like its your child, whatever decisions, make it with her in mind, whats best for her, it gives you control over everything. It gives you greater responsibilities, it finally dawns on you that you are the one responsible for this child....its still better knowing the LA is not involved. (Adult cousin)

21 Impact of SG on carers Impact of SG role on carers lives – similar to issues reported in studies of kinship care: Its wearing me down, it has had a big impact on me, when do I get a life? Im going to be 62 by the time shes 18. (Grandmother) High degree of commitment from carers especially as many had not expected to take on the role of carer, which led to adjustment of life plans (giving up job, plans for retirement etc). Where child had been resident with kin longer term – family life continued with minimal change. Enduing issues around childrens emotional and behavioural wellbeing, attachment and education – impact of past experiences: He isnt an easy little boy to care for, he's got such a lot of problems. There have been times when Ive sat down and cried but a lot of the time hes worth it. You think now I know why I love him. (Grandmother) We are close. Hes my shadow, because of the things that have happened to him he gets very upset. I cant be anywhere without him – now that we are a family. (unrelated ex foster carer)

22 22 Given profile of children and carers, it is likely that many SGs will need some continuing/future professional support. Assessment of needs was often carried out at application stage – ensures carers aware of practical/financial support available. Not all potential SGs are eligible for assessment of support needs & LAs are not obliged to provide support - whether needs assessed or not. 80% of carers reported having a needs assessment – though not all had received support once SGO made – some went to court to secure support. Some LAs reported high demand for support services and impact/strain this could have on post order services and resources. Structures for dealing with support needs varied – most through post- adoption support teams other LAs considering realignment of more resources to SG.

23 23 Most SW ceased working with SG families (61%) - feelings about reduced contact varied: many SGs welcomed being free of restrictions and surveillance and opportunity for normal family life but some felt support ended too abruptly. Access to /awareness of information & advice was valued. Support to manage contact and family relationships: 61% received help with mediation/support to help negotiate family relationships can be huge draw upon sw time and resources. Therapeutic services – understand & address childs challenging behaviour (34% - mainly CAMHS). Training needs of carers and need for support groups - lack of specific groups and training for SG, some attended adoption, foster carer or Grandparent support groups or sessions. Respite rarely used (6%). Issue of willingness to access support or return to social services should difficulties arise – fear of being perceived as unable to cope. Likelihood of long-term need – unknown demand.

24 Financial Support Need for consistent policies in this area. Payments varied - despite case law and guidance: Some LAs offered standardised package – others offered tailored package (e.g. duration of SGO). Many offered prior FC ongoing fostering allowance (timescales varied). Less clear/consistent policies for those not previously FC – some received same standard allowance, however, few cases where no payments made. Evidence that some LAs tried to negotiate payments downwards and that many carers incurred considerable costs in taking on SG. Despite concerns voiced in policy interviews - survey of carers suggested little evidence of SGs pressing LAs for additional resources. Most carers in receipt of regular financial payments from LAs (90%), half received help with initial legal fees. One off payments to settle child in or enable SG to take on care of child (e.g. fund child care, new car, home alterations). The prospect of financial and other support had been an important factor in around half of the cases in our survey – financial security for the child.

25 25 Overall, encouraging findings - carers and practitioners felt generally positive Special guardianship represents an important addition to the range of permanence options for children who cannot remain with their birth parent(s) Early and current statistics suggest that the number of are SGOs is continuing to rise year on year – not yet clear what impact this will have on other orders or options. Our research suggested that SG was being used for broader range of children than anticipated and that it is more likely to be taken up by kinship carers. Our research showed considerable variation across LAs and identified a need for clear practice guidance to ensure consistency and robustness in assessment and support services – see BAAF Need for clear LA structures to process and support SG applications and deliver support to meet current and future needs. How can if be effectively resourced – issue for current climate Research carried out early and too soon to see long term impact and success of SG arrangements - how durable and secure are SGOs?

26 26 Issues emerging from experience and practice. Issues for consideration: Types of children and carers making use of SG. Public and Private applications. How unrelated foster carers, caring for older settled children, can be brought to SG in greater numbers. What is the potential and what are the barriers? Assessment, quality assurance and safeguarding of children. If upward curve in applications continues, how might SG impact on other permanence options for children? The potential long-term nature of services that might be needed.

27 27 Jo Dixon - Social Policy Research Unit A book based on the research findings is available from BAAF

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