The Public Law Working Group has this week published its final recommendations for the future of Special Guardianship Orders (SGO).
The review comes after concerns were raised over the effectiveness of SGOs, which often left vulnerable children with adults unfit to provide the necessary care required.
SGOs – first introduced with the Adoption and Children Act 2002 – were designed for children who cannot live with their birth parents but would benefit from a legally secure placement. This makes it different from an adoption order in that it does not end the legal relationship between the child and his/her birth parent.
According to the latest data available, the use of SGOs increased to more than 21,000 between 2010/11 and 2016/17.
However, recent research found that local authorities and courts face “major challenges” in providing special guardians with adequate preparation and support for the long-term consequences of legal guardianship, leading to “avoidable and significant stress that is potentially damaging to children’s futures”.
The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO), who highlighted the concerns, said relatives are often the first to be considered when finding a stable home for children, but are not given sufficient support to do so.
“This evidence review points to some serious gaps in assessment, preparation and support which need to be addressed,” it said.
A full review carried out by the Public Law Working Group followed, the findings of which are now available. It includes four recommendations for immediate change, such as “better preparation and training for special guardians”; and four recommendations for long-term change, including “a review of public funding for proposed special guardians”.
Welcoming the recommendations, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, said: “For a considerable time those working in Family Justice have called for consistent and clear practice guidance on SGO’s.
“Now, through the work of the Public Law Working Group, the Family Justice Council and others, comprehensive and authoritative guidance has been produced. I am immensely appreciative of the work that I know has been done by many over the past year to produce this guidance and I have no hesitation in publishing it now with my complete endorsement.”
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