Why is this needed?
The welfare of birth parents is very often of significant concern to their children and special guardian (SGs). Support to birth parents who are not living with their children can often make for a stronger placement for the child.
Note from author – There are no references to services for birth parents (that I could find) in the regulations.
Research/Special Guardianship Order (SGO)/Birth parent perspective
There is a lack of reporting in the literature on the need for birth parent support services. However, support to birth parents is one way of improving the quality of contact for children, which is such a key feature in special guardianship placements and a potential source of stress and disruption to children. Birth parents are also in a good position to help children develop a positive self-identity. There is also the issue that birth parents may go on to have further children who, without the right support, may themselves require a permanent placement.
“Loss of contact with birth parents or siblings was often distressing for children. One-fifth had no contact with either birth parent. Some children will need to be helped to construct a coherent life narrative to explain the shape their life has taken. Some guardians were undertaking life story work, but some will need support to do this successfully.
“In contrast, social workers and guardians need to be mindful of the potential for children to experience a conflict of loyalties, especially where contact with their birth mothers is frequent and positive. Where this occurs, it is important to find ways to help the child come to terms with their feelings.” (Wade et al 2014 p246)
“Birth parents can live in close proximity of the special guardian, which creates extra pressure on them to manage the situation. A lack of information for birth parents can contribute to this, as many do not seem to understand the implications of an SGO and therefore think they can visit when they like or can come ‘bring the child home’ at any point.” (ASGLB 2018)
“The children felt that all family members needed help to maintain positive family relationships.” (Shuttleworth – in preparation)
Examples of approaches currently being taken
The North London Adoption and Fostering Consortium has a leaflet for birth parents. (See PDF)
Brighton and Hove
- Routinely refer children’s social workers to the FRG advice sheets on ‘SGO – What it Means for Birth Parents’.
- Birth Parents are invited to Contact Review Meetings post order
- The team responds to communication from birth parents post-order in relation to contact issues and will provide mediation between birth parents and SGs where appropriate to resolve difficulties around contact
- There is a ‘Looking Forward’ project which aims to encourage birth parents to understand the experience of permanent separation and to access the help they need to plan for their futures. It aims also to support birth parents to access the help needed to reduce the chance of losing further children from their care.
ATV has independent birth relative workers but operating in Oxfordshire only.
Birth parents are invited to any relevant meetings, but this does depend on the SG’s wishes and feelings.
Contact workers offer support to birth parents around contact.
PAC UK has leaflets specifically for birth parents outlining the service available. (see PDF)
In common with adoption, the understandable focus on the needs of children and SG carers has obscured the value of engaging birth parents where possible, particularly on the issue of contact and in helping children to deal with feelings of rejection, conflict and blame. SG’s consulted in the preparation of the document suggested:
- There is a need for support to be provided to birth parents immediately after the order to ensure that the effect of the order, the support plan and contact arrangements are jointly understood
- This should include recognition that the relationship between child, SG and birth parents is likely to change over the years and that this requires preparation and support for all parties
- There needs to be recognition that the SG family cannot also support the birth parents
- There is often no support offered to the birth parents to address issues such as repeat pregnancies, alcohol, drug use or domestic violence. Birth parents often need an independent advocate and signposting to support services
- Mental health support to birth parents is often important for the well-being and experience of the child
- Group work for birth parents can be very helpful but local authorities either struggle to provide this or do not try
- Local authorities have a duty of care to the parent to support them as the relationship with the children can be so harmful
SGs reported that they are often confused about Social Worker relationships with birth parents. Some Social Workers are perceived as ‘pandering’ to birth parents rather than supporting SGs, sometimes to the detriment of the child. SGs can then become confused about whose interests the Social Worker is representing.