Support to special guardians (SGs) and kinship carers is unquestionably an undeveloped area in terms of the understanding of need, service provision and practice. Developing a tool such as this based on best existing practice is therefore a challenging task and has, in some areas, been more about spotlighting the gaps and inadequacies in services as much as highlighting strengths. The difference in approach between various local authorities provoked one final question. Why have some services become much more well developed than others? Two managers were briefly interviewed, representing two of the more advanced services, to examine this question.
Whilst both managers felt that significant progress had been made, both were also very aware that they had further to go and more work to do.
Neither service would say that change and progress had been driven by senior management, or by an identified strategic need to support SG and kinship carers. However, both had been successful in securing the approval of senior management to develop this area of work and saw this as vital to progress.
For one service, the recognition that children deserve to be treated and supported equally, regardless of legal status, had underpinned developments. A combination of staff commitment, carer engagement, supportive leadership, the occasional complaint, individual case examples and political engagement, had come together and generated energy and progress. The advent of the regional adoption agency (RAA) then stimulated a group of local authorities to work on these issues together, with the aim of creating greater consistency, even though kinship care and SG support do not currently sit with the RAA. The strategic direction for this local authority is in fact to move SG services closer to Early Help provision and away from fostering, in order to provide appropriate support sooner and at a community level, linking particularly with schools. The provision of therapeutic services is seen to be a major challenge for the future.
The other service (in a smaller local authority) had evolved as workers recognized the needs of SG carers stemming from the assessment work which they had undertaken and their recognition of their continuing needs post-order. This started with the development of a life-story workshop and has resulted over time in the development of a comprehensive workshop program, development of a link to local therapy services and then to the Virtual School. Eventually influence spread as far as the local judiciary. The service seeks to raise the profile of SG and kinship care within the local authority care planning and decision-making system but is increasingly recognized as playing a key role and providing an important perspective. In engaging with other services such as schools, youth and employability, CAHMS etc. they continually ask the question, has this child been looked after or lived in a different family? This is beginning to influence practice in other areas e.g. an attachment aware policy and behavior strategy has been developed for schools. Their commitment to the provision of support for SG’s means that every SG can receive some form of support if they need it.
It is hoped that this document has provided a useful summary of the needs of SG and kinship carers and the children they care for; provided a framework for service analysis and development, and highlighted enough good current practice to inspire others to improve the quality and consistency of services to a neglected and vulnerable group of families.