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4.3.2 Special Guardianship Support Services Information

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Legal Framework
  3. Support Arrangements


1. Introduction

Although long term foster care is an important means of providing a family for Looked After Children who cannot be reunited with their own family it does not provide legal permanence. The child remains looked after by the local authority and for some children the statutory processes involved can seem intrusive and stigmatising.

Research shows that children in long term foster care lack a true sense of belonging. They fear they may be removed by the local authority or a parent, or the foster carer may ask for them to leave the placement. Foster carers can also feel some ambivalence as they lack the authority to act as parents and must constantly refer to the local authority in making decisions. If circumstances change they may not feel able to maintain their commitment to the child as they would if the child were a birth child, adopted or if they have a Special Guardianship Order.


2. Legal Framework

Special Guardianship

Special Guardianship is a new legal status introduced as part of the implementation of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 on 30th December 2005.

The Prime Minister's Review of Adoption identified the need for an alternative legal status for children that offered greater security than long term fostering but without the absolute legal severance from the birth family that stems from adoption.

Special Guardianship is appropriate for:

  • Older children who do not wish to be legally separated from their birth family but who would benefit from greater legal security and permanence;
  • Children in long term foster care or those who are cared for a permanent basis by members of their wider family;
  • Children and carers who have cultural and religious difficulties with adoption as set out in law.

A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) gives the special guardian Parental Responsibility for the child. Unlike adoption, under a Special Guardianship Order the birth parents remain the child's parents and retain parental responsibility, though their scope to exercise it is extremely limited. The Special Guardian has clear responsibility for day to day decisions about caring for the child and may exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of others in all but a few circumstances for example change of surname or consent to adoption.

Unlike Adoption, a Special Guardianship Order can be varied or discharged by application to the court, although parents must demonstrate a significant change in their circumstances and have leave from the court to apply.

Special Guardianship Orders can be made during any family proceedings using the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration. Orders can be made on private law application when the local authority has to provide a report about the suitability of the applicants.

For Looked After Children the granting of a Special Guardianship Order has the effect of discharging the child from local authority care.

Special Guardianship Support

The Adoption and Children Act requires local authorities to make arrangements for the provision of Special Guardianship support services. The Guidance to the Act anticipates that many support services will be similar to those required to support adoptive placements.

The services to be provided are set out in the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 and include:

  • Financial support;
  • Support groups for all the parties affected;
  • Assistance with contact arrangements;
  • Therapeutic services for the child;
  • Respite care;
  • Counselling, advice and information;
  • Help in accessing mainstream services.

Children who were looked after by the local authority immediately before the making of a Special Guardianship Order may qualify for advice and assistance under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

A support plan must be in place when the order is granted and is then subject to annual review.

If the child has been previously looked after the local authority has a duty to undertake an assessment for Special Guardianship support services when requested by the Special Guardian, the parent or the child.


3. Support Arrangements

Underpinning Principles

  • Decisions about legal permanence should be based on the needs and interests of children;
  • It is not usually in children's interests to remain looked after throughout their childhood. Research shows that positive outcomes for children are more likely to be achieved through stable, legally permanent placements;
  • Care Plans for children should address their permanence needs and plan for their discharge from care;
  • Children are entitled to grow up as part of a loving family which can meet their needs during childhood and beyond. Children's needs are best met if they have a sense of belonging and security in a family who demonstrate a commitment to them;
  • Foster carers should not be financially disadvantaged by securing legal permanence for children they are caring for where this is part of the child's care plan and where it has been assessed that they can meet the child's needs;
  • Young people aged over 14 years made subject to Special Guardianship Orders should not be disadvantaged by loss of entitlement to leaving care services for which they would have been eligible had they remained looked after.

Financial support

An Adoption / Special Guardianship / Child Arrangements Order Allowance can be:

  • A regular weekly payment to meet an ongoing need;
  • A single lump sum for a specific purpose necessary to look after the child. For example this may be a payment to meet the cost of essential equipment when the child is first placed;
  • A series of lump sum payments for specific purposes. For example this may be an annual payment to help with the expenses of contact arrangements.

Weekly Allowance payments

Approved Foster Carers

The Adoption Support Regulations 2003 and the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 allow local authorities the discretion to include payment of remuneration to former foster carers where this was previously paid to them before the order was granted and where the local authority considers it necessary for it to continue to meet the needs of the child.

Foster carers who adopt or obtain Special Guardianship or Child Arrangements Orders may continue to receive the equivalent of Fostering Allowance (minus child benefit) and any skills payment applicable at the time of the order.

Christmas and Birthday allowances will also be paid together with an annual payment to the equivalent of the holiday allowance (school holiday rate) applicable to the child's age.

If the child remains in full time education post 18 years an allowance may continue to be paid until the end of the course. Former foster carers will receive an allowance to the equivalent of the Continuing Care Allowance.

Entitlement to an allowance will not be subject to annual reassessment but carers will be contacted annually to confirm their details and to provide any other necessary information.

Carers will be required to notify the local authority if they change address, if the child ceases to have his/her permanent home with the adoptive family, if the child ceases full time education or if the child dies.

This provision will apply to:

  • Children aged over 3 years at the point the plan is agreed at panel;
  • Children under 3 years who have special needs or exceptionally difficult backgrounds who are deemed hard to place and for whom an alternative adoptive placement is unlikely to be identified within a reasonable timescale;
  • Children under 3 years who are being placed together with siblings aged over 3 years;
  • Approved family and friends foster carers (Fostering Allowance only) who have been assessed as suitable permanent carers and who are caring for children aged over 3 years;
  • Approved general foster carers who have met the required competences/Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC) Standards at their first annual review and have been assessed and approved as suitable adoptive/permanent carers;
  • Foster carers approved by Independent Fostering Agencies who have met the required competences/CWDC Standards at their first annual review and have been assessed and approved as suitable adoptive/permanent carers. Where adoption is the proposed plan the assessment will be conducted by a member of Salford's adoption team unless the agency is registered with OFSTED as an Adoption Agency.

The type of legal permanence being offered by the carer must be appropriate to the child's care plan as agreed through the statutory review and panel processes.

Children under 3 years

Where approved Foster Carers (including Family and Friends foster carers, or Family and Friends Foster Carers caring for children under Regulation 38 (Immediate Placement Regulation)) are applying for Adoption/Special Guardianship/Child Arrangements Orders on children under 3 years no change will be made to payments until the Order is granted.

Allowances will be at the appropriate means tested level from the point the Adoption/Special Guardianship/Child Arrangements Order is granted. The financial assessment will be carried out using the DCSF standardised means test.

The assessment will be based on the income the carers will have after the child is placed taking into account the Child Benefit and any other benefits that may be payable e.g. tax credits etc. The assessment is based on a formula that takes into account familiar and accepted items of family expenditure e.g. housing costs, daily living costs, loans and other financial commitments.

Christmas, Birthday and Holiday Allowances will not be payable.

The entitlement to an allowance will be subject to an annual financial reassessment for which detailed financial information will need to be provided.

Carers will be required to notify the local authority if they change address, if the child ceases to have his/her permanent home with the adoptive family, the child ceases full time education or if the child dies.

In rare cases where a looked after child is placed with a family member as a Special Guardianship arrangement without the placement first being made on a fostering basis any allowance paid will be at the appropriate means tested level from the point the child is placed.

Termination of payments

In all cases the allowance will cease:

  • If the child ceases to have a permanent home with the carer;
  • When the child ceases full-time education or training and commences employment;
  • When the child qualifies for income support or jobseeker's allowance in his own right;
  • When the child reaches the age of 18, unless he continues in full time education or training, when it may continue until the end of the course;
  • When any predetermined period expires;
  • If the child dies;
  • If carers fail to provide address, bank account or financial details requested of them by the local authority.

There is no provision for an allowance to be automatically transferred to another family member.

One off Payments

Where there is a plan for the child to have continued face to face contact with birth family members the local authority will meet the cost of reasonable expenses. The amount payable will be agreed with prospective carers during the planning process and will depend on the individual circumstances of the case.

Adoption and Child Arrangements Order

The financial support package outlined should apply equally to foster carers who adopt or obtain Child Arrangements Orders for children in their care where this reflects the child's care plan and is supported by the local authority.

Leaving Care Support

Children aged under 14 years

For children aged under 14 years on the granting of a Special Guardianship Order the statutory provision set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 will apply.

Children who were looked after by the Local Authority immediately before the making of a special guardianship order may qualify for advice and assistance under the Children Act 1989, as amended by the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

In the context of special guardianship, to qualify for advice and assistance, section 24(1A) of the Children Act 1989 provides that the child must:
  • Have reached the age of 16, but not the age of 21;
  • If less than eighteen years old, have a special guardianship order in force;
  • If eighteen years old or above, have had a special guardianship order in force when they reached that age; and
  • Have been looked after by a local authority immediately before the making of the special guardianship order.

The relevant local authority should make arrangements for children who meet these criteria to receive advice and assistance in the same way as for any other child who qualifies for advice and assistance under the Act, as amended. Regulation 22 provides that for the purposes of providing advice and assistance, the relevant authority shall be the local authority which last looked after the person. Depending on the service required, it may be more appropriate for the young person to seek support locally, where he is now resident (i.e. health care).

Special guardianship support services should not be seen in isolation from mainstream services. It is vital to ensure that children and families involved in special guardianship arrangements are assisted in accessing mainstream services and are aware of their entitlement to social security benefits and tax credits as appropriate.

Children aged 14 years and over

Based on the principles outlined, if a looked after young person, aged 14 or 15, (who is not yet deemed to be an eligible child as defined within the Children Leaving Care Act 2000) is made subject of a Special Guardianship Order, then they shall be entitled to receive the same level of after care services as a young person who would have gone on to become an eligible child, but for the making of the Special Guardianship Order.

This may include:

  • Financial support for young people in further education
    Young people in further education aged 16, 17 or 18 are entitled to claim an educational maintenance allowance (EMA) up to £30 per week depending on attendance. Any additional financial support can be provided by various groups including the Leaving Care Team, Connexions, Salford Foundation Trust and the Princes Trust. This support can also be used for specialist equipment to enable young people to continue studying;
  • Financial support for young people in Higher education
    Young people wishing to access Higher education should be given every encouragement to do so and up to date financial advice regarding living costs, accommodation costs, maintenance grants and student loans and bursaries. Care leavers applying for University are entitled to claim a maintenance grant of £2,835 (figure correct as of 16.09.08) through the student finance direct website. In addition they can apply for a small bursary from the university, which combined with the grant, would meet the full costs of the tuition fees;
  • Accommodation costs
    The accommodation costs for Care Leavers in Higher Education are paid in full by Next Step, including vacation times throughout the year;
  • Living expenses
    Care Leavers in Higher Education are paid a weekly living allowance of £78 per week (figures correct as of 17.09.08);
  • I.T. Equipment
    All Care Leavers in Higher Education are supplied with a laptop and financial support to access broadband internet services;
  • Move on accommodation
    Care Leavers can receive some priority in accessing Public Housing through the Council's housing allocation system. Young people subject to a Special Guardianship Order should be entitled to the same level of support and priority;
  • Careers advice
    All young people aged 13-19 can access careers advice and guidance through the Connexions service;
  • Assistance with interviews
    Additional resources for interviews such as clothing and bus fare can be requested and will be assessed on an individual basis. Assistance with interview techniques, preparing C.V.'s and job hunting can be accessed at the local Connexions office or Next Step.

Other support services

Other support available to Special Guardians includes:

  • Advice from the Family Placement Team;
  • Signposting by the Family Placement Team to universal services available within the community with support and liaison where appropriate;
  • Signposting to appropriate children in need services;
  • Access to the STARLAC and SAFSS services and assistance with referral to mainstream CAMHS services;
  • Discussions have also taken place with Locality Teams to ensure that Special Guardianship arrangements are identified and acknowledged in determining family intervention.

Decision making

Plans for discharge to Special Guardianship are currently considered by the Adoption and Permanence or Fostering Panels. The Support Plan is drawn up with the family's involvement and agreement and presented to the panel for consideration and recommendation of agreement to the support package. Recommendations from panel are subject to the panels' agency decision process

Disputed issues arising during drawing up the plan are considered by the Head of Service, Looked After Children and referred to the Assistant Director, Safeguarding if agreement cannot be reached.

End