Why is this needed?
Understanding the role of the special guardian (SG) and the implications of becoming an SG is not straightforward. Easily available and clearly written information on the role makes this much easier. Information is needed on two levels.
- Centrally available information (e.g. on websites) for SGs
- Information at the point of enquiry which is more detailed and relevant to the specific circumstances of carers.
The Local Government Ombudsman has given very clear advice on this area.
“Developing clear, accurate and user-friendly information for potential guardians and frontline staff minimises the risk of misunderstandings and mistakes. People thinking about becoming special guardians need clear and unequivocal advice as soon as possible.” (LGO 2018 p6)
“We have investigated several complaints where councils have not backed up verbal advice with written information about the consequences of becoming a special guardian.” (LG&SCO 2018 p4)
“Give early, clear and unambiguous advice to people who are considering becoming special guardians. Consider how this can:
- explain what special guardianship is and what this means for parental responsibility, legal security and stability
- explain the council’s role and that of the court
- set out who can apply to be a special guardian and what alternatives could be more suitable
- make the process of applying to be a special guardian clear, including the role of the council in writing a report to court
- explain the assessment process before becoming a special guardian
- explain that applicants may need to complete some training
Be as clear as possible about the support that might be available and how the council will assess the applicant’s support needs. Be as unambiguous as possible about the fixed term duration of support and what it is likely to be used for.” (LG&SCO 2018 p15)
“In many areas special guardians are poorly served in terms of good quality information and support. The children and young people involved are often emerging from longstanding and complex family difficulties and special guardians need information and support in order to navigate the challenges that may arise to avert avoidable breakdowns and the instability and trauma that may result for the child.” (Department for Education 2015 p46)
“Local authorities should keep in touch with special guardians through the annual review process, and through other means to keep the channels of communication open should the need for support arise in the future.” (Kinship Carers Liverpool 2018)
Every consultation with SGs and kinship carers referenced in this study highlights the lack of clear and accessible information about the role, responsibilities and support available – see McGrath (in preparation), Schroer and Samuels (2019), ASGLB (unpublished 2018).
Some SGs commented that many Social Workers who undertake SG assessments often themselves lack information about support services and the role of SGs.
Examples of approaches currently being taken
Centralised information for SG carers.
North London Adoption and Fostering Consortium has a dedicated website for special guardians with information for SGs, FAQs and links to other organisations which can offer advice, support and information. Together with a booklet outlining the role of an SG and the support available (See PDF). Similarly, Hertfordshire (visit website)
Brighton and Hove has a dedicated page on their Fostering website with links to:
- The B and H Family and Friends Policy
- The DofE Family and Friends Care Leaflet
- Quarterly newsletters sent by email
- Information regarding support groups/workshops etc.
- An information sheet called Family Care in Sussex
- A Welcome Pack outlining the process of assessment and support services available.
Kinship Carers Liverpool has a dedicated website with a comprehensive set of information leaflets and resources relevant to all types of kinship carer.
Kirklees has an explanatory leaflet for prospective carers (see PDF).
Family Rights Group offer an interactive guide providing advice and information for Family and Friends Carers on their website.
Similarly, Grandparents Plus offer a wide range of information and answers to a range of questions which kinship carers often ask. See also The Kinship Care Guide for England (3rd Edition) Doug Lawson and Jo Raine, published by Grandparents Plus.
Several agencies reported
- Regularly sending out information to all SGs via email
- Distributing a newsletter
- Keeping a Facebook page, often linked to a support group
- Operating a WhatsApp group.
Kinship Connected, a service delivered by Grandparents Plus in partnership with a number of statutory agencies, has found that many SGs do not regularly use electronic communication and continues to post out regular newsletters.
As part of the consultation conducted by the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board, participants suggested setting up a central information portal for potential special guardians, special guardians and professionals working with special guardianship families. In the meantime, much of this information is already available and signposting potential and existing SGs to authoritative sources of information, such as Family Rights Group and Grandparents Plus would be a quick win for many local authorities and Regional Adoption Agenciess. Nevertheless, there is a level of information about local services which can only be provided by individual agencies. Both types of information need to be readily available to SGs.
The consultation with SGs which took place as part of this project highlighted:
- Information needs to be proactively shared with potential SGs at the assessment stage and SGs should not just be left to try and find relevant information for themselves. Much of the time they do not know what questions they should be asking.
- Whilst online information is important, many SGs do not have good access to the internet and should be provided with resources in paper form
- It is more important for many SGs to have a person to talk to early in the process. This is because each situation is different, often complex and SGs are often unaware of what turn out to be important issues.
- That preparation groups (such as Kinship Connected) are a very good way of sharing the full range of information which is likely to be relevant.