Why is this needed?
Supporting Special Guardianship Placements is often a complex task demanding a high level of legal understanding and significant experience in supporting families who face multiple physical, social, emotional and relationship challenges. The quality and experience of the workforce to deliver these services is therefore crucial.
“Make sure frontline staff dealing with young people who could be special guardians (SGs) have the right advice. Where older siblings, who may themselves be vulnerable, may become special guardians, councils should think about how to help them make a properly informed and supported choice. Consider whether frontline social worker staff for this type of vulnerable young person have the right advice and support to give appropriate guidance.” (LG&SCO 2018 p7)
“Develop advice for social workers involved in supporting potential and actual special guardians. This could include:
- a flow chart showing responsibilities at key stages such as suitability assessment, financial assessment, permanence panel and court
- a checklist of things to cover at first assessment visit (for example explaining the process and financial situation)
- a summary of the Special Guardianship Order assessment process including child information (for example attachment issues and any early neglect or trauma), carers information (for example current relationship and stability).” (LG&SCO 2018 p16)
Education, health, social care and family justice professionals need to be more aware of the needs and experiences of young people in kinship care. Young people’s needs will only be better met if key professionals in a range of agencies, including in the voluntary sector, work together to provide an integrated response to the challenges they face. (Grandparents Plus 2017 p16)
“The experience of social work practice could feel either positive or negative depending on the outcome of the intervention. If the grandparents’ position to become special guardians was supported by the local authority they had a more positive view of the intervention than those who were assessed as not being able to care for their grandchildren.
“The grandparents often had many changes of social workers which meant they compared their experiences of different practice styles.
“Good relationships between the grandparents and the social workers depended on the social workers displaying professionalism, openness, honesty, positive boundaries, good relationship building skills, the ability to explain everything simply, and evidence of hard work.” (McGrath – in preparation)
“There was clear frustration within the groups about the disparity across local authorities and between the quality of social workers. There is an underlying sense of distrust of social workers amongst the special guardians, with some expressing concern about letting social workers know they are struggling in case they lose their child. Social workers were described as having a lack of understanding and empathy for special guardians. Some social workers may know the theory, but not the reality.” (ASGLB 2018)
Examples of approaches currently being taken
North London Adoption and Fostering Consortium
Each borough has a range of in-house training, in addition the consortium has set up:
- Special Guardian Leads (a rep from each team) meet once every 6 weeks with the consortium manager to progress identified work, share practice, skills and information etc. Training undertaken includes:
- Assessment training based on “Undertaking assessments on Prospective Special Guardians” (John Simmonds CoramBaaf)
- Assessing emotional capacity in prospective permanent carers” (Fiona Start, PAC-UK)
- Strengthening Special Guardian Assessments (Nicky Probert)
- In-house workshops are available for social workers who undertake SG assessments, children’s social workers, and other social workers needing to learn about SGs.
Brighton and Hove
A Fostering, Placements and Permanence Workforce Development Plan has been developed as part of the Families, Children and Learning Pathway. Core areas include – attachment, trauma, contact, identifying therapeutic need, equalities and diversity, and life story work. Specialist training included DDP, Theraplay, Therapeutic Life Story Work, VIG, Systemic Family Therapy, and Adult Attachment Across the Life Span.
- An external trainer who delivers training about working with SGs. This is delivered to PAC-UK and external professionals
- Staff training takes place on assessing SGs, contact and life story work
- A trainer is available to deliver training on Welfare Benefits
- A staff development programme for Family Action helpline staff is under development
Only one agency had a workforce development plan in place at the time of the survey which covered work with SGs in any detail. Developing even a short training module on the needs of Special Guardians could reap large dividends, particularly if delivered across a number of agencies.
SGs consulted in the development of this document suggested that Social Workers need to:
- Understand the complexity of the practical, everyday lived experience which SGs have to manage
- Refrain from using ‘emotional blackmail’ to persuade the SG to take the child
- Explain all the available options for looking after the child, including long term fostering
- Avoid a blame led, accusatory approach in the assessment which leads to a negative ongoing relationship between the SG and the local authority, or at least acknowledge this as an issue
- Consider the possible negative reaction of the wider family towards the SG
- Provide more emotional support when this is not available from the wider family
- Undertake assessments which take account of the circumstances of the SG
- Provide accurate reports
- Give SGs the full story and background of the child
- Be aware of and acknowledge the possibility of pre-birth exposure to alcohol and drugs
- Show compassion
- Support the SG in the transition process
“The local authority does not acknowledge that we took these children on out of love. I really appreciate the support I have had from Grandparents Plus, but the local authority does not realise this.”SG