Special guardianship assessments are one of the most detailed and extensive assessments to complete within Children’s Social Care Services. An SGO serves to grant parental responsibility to one of more special guardians (usually kinship carers or sometimes foster carers) whilst not severing the bond with birth parents. It was introduced in 2005 as a permanency option and once granted is expected to last until the child/ren reach the age of 18 years.
The amount of information needed to formulate the assessment can be daunting and very time consuming. As such, I have put together some vital information and tips to consider during the assessment process.
Legislation and Guidance
- The Special Guardianship Regulations 2005
- The Special Guardianship (Amendment) Regulations 2016
- Children Act 1989
- Adoption and Children Act 1989
- Re B-S judgement
- Special Guardianship Guidance 2017 (updated from 2005)
- DfE Impact of the Family Justice Reforms on Front-line Practice Pase Two: Special Guardianship Orders – research report – August 2015
- DfE The impacts of abuse and neglect on children; and comparison of different placement options – Review – March 2017
Supervision Orders have quite commonly been attached to SGO’s due to remaining doubts about the prospective guardian’s ability to care for the child/ren on a long term basis. However, the government have reported that “it is vitally important for the Local Authority analysis to be robust, supported by strong and independent evaluation” so as to reduce the need for Supervision Order applications.
The report will encompass a detailed assessment and analysis of the child/ren, both birth parents and the applicants. Below is not an exhaustive list, but may help in some aspects to consider:
- When interviewing parent’s and prospective special guardians, ensure all family names, dates of birth, places of birth, any deaths and explanations for deaths are gathered and the dynamics of each relationship. This will enable you to consider the support network and any conflict within the family that should be explored further.
- A short personal history of the parents and special guardians should include occupation, health care difficulties, any risk factor in respect of alcohol use, drug use, criminal activity, mental health or psychological difficulties. In addition, the way in which each special guardian was parented and what have they learned from their own past experiences etc.
- Analysis of their early life and teenage years to include any involvement with the Local Authority, any welfare or child protection concerns. Include any physical abuse, sexual abuse, how their emotional needs were met and any negligent patterns of parenting.
- An analysis of the special guardian’s relationships with each birth parent including any risk factors.
- Consider family conferencing to enable the wider family to provide support for the placement sustainability.
- Undertake a chronology of educational placements for each special guardian. This needs to include any qualifications gained, changes in schools and why, experiences of bullying or being bullied, special educational needs, school attendance, attainment and exclusions, their values regarding education.
- Include any college courses and/or university courses and whether these were completed.
- Previous, current and future career goals and aspirations and how these can be achieved as a special guardian.
- A full chronology of the special guardian’s employment to include explanations for leaving employment (whether sacked and reasons why), periods of time out of work and if they were in the forces (if dishonourably discharged) and possible mental health implications from such employment.
- Undertake an analysis from the special guardian’s own self reporting in respect of their childhood and adulthood to include any serious illnesses, accidents, injuries or operations (including head trauma).
- The impact that any medical or health care problem has had upon their ability to parent or quality of life.
- Medical records should be made available and should be considered. The medical records can also be cross-referenced with other aspects of the assessment. For example, drugs, alcohol misuse and mental health.
- Special guardian’s overall physical health and age should be taken into account, including any illnesses that are degenerative, any patterns of health problems in the family, hereditary illnesses, smoking, diet and exercise.
- Consider whether mental health services were involved when the prospective special guardians – whether as children or as adults.
- The Recent Life Events questionnaire and the Adult Wellbeing Scale are useful tools to use.
- Consider whether the special guardian has attempted to take their own life, self-harmed or had suicidal ideation. Detail here when each event happened and in what context etc.
- Consider any medications taken and the reasons for such medication.
Drug and alcohol history
- Create a chronology in respect of the use of alcohol and drug use to include all substances. For example, cannabis, heroin, cocaine, glue, gas, amphetamines and psycho-active substances. Detail here when any problematic use started and the context etc.
- The Alcohol Use Questionnaire should be undertaken.
- The medical records should be cross-referenced in respect of drug and alcohol use.
- Complete a detailed analysis of the applicant’s forensic history to include all involvement with the police and courts.
- Discuss all relevant convictions with the applicant and set out their response within the body of the assessment report. Cross reference with their respective criminal records.
- Identify any patterns of behaviour and any risks regarding illegal activity upon the child/ren.
History of relationships and children from those relationships
- Complete a detailed account or chronology of each special guardian’s relationship history, the children from the relationships (on-going contact etc.) their involvement with those children and any concerns about those children.
- This section should include any relationship issues, such as domestic violence, reasons for relationship breakdowns, child deaths etc.
- Interview previous partners and their experiences of the prospective special guardians.
- Stability of current relationship, any periods of separation, how disagreements are solved, how each applicant views the others characteristics etc.
The relationship between applicants and child/ren
- Include how long they have known the child/ren, and in what context, how much involvement they have had, their understanding of the needs of the child.
- Their on-going understanding of the longer term needs of the child up until 18 years of age and any difficulties they may face regarding the child/ren’s past experiences.
- Their understanding of any current or future risks posed by birth parents.
- The strength of the previous and current relationship between the child/ren and the applicants.
- Include a ‘day in the life of’ to explore an average day (if children are currently placed with them) in the children’s lives.
How the applicants relate to children and adults
- To include observations between applicants and child/ren.
- Observations of applicants during interview process.
- Discussions with family members and references.
Wider family and networks of support
- This aspect should include an analysis of their practical, emotional, financial and professional support networks, their attitude to help and support and their ability to engage and co-operate.
- Familial and friends references should be obtained.
Housing and home conditions
- A detailed analysis of the home conditions should take place, details of each room should be observed, look out for any aspects that could present a risk to the child/ren. The Home Conditions questionnaire is a useful tool.
- Consider whether the family is vulnerable to eviction, debt, privately owned, rented etc.
- The outside area of the home should be seen, both front and back and any safety aspects discussed.
- The children’s bedrooms and bedding should be seen.
- Any pets and any risks attached – meet the pet.
- Complete a detailed analysis of the applicant’s income and expenditure. This should be supported with bank statements or other documentation and should also set out what disposable income is spent upon. Any loans, CCJ’s, debt should be taken into account.
- The domains of parenting capacity should be considered through the observation of contact, discussion during interview, information obtained from other professionals, references and questionnaires and scales completed.
Basic care / emotional and behavioural development / education
- Analysis should take place on the applicant’s ability to meet the health, education, emotional and behavioural developmental needs of each child, provide emotional, financial and home life stability.
- The applicant’s ability to safeguard the child from parental risks, their understanding of what the risks are and how they will manage these.
- To include other potential risks, e.g internet use, social media, stranger danger and how risks may increase as the child enters adolescence including CSE, drug and alcohol use, mental health etc.
Identity and attachment
- This should include an understanding of the child’s identity within the family, the child’s attachment to the parents, the parents’ attachment to the child, the sibling attachments, religious persuasion and sexual orientation and how these will be managed and supported.
- How the applicants will provide a stimulating environment, extra activities, family time etc.
Guidance, boundaries and routines
- What is the applicants understanding of these aspects of care, what their values are regarding boundaries, routines, (cross reference in ‘day in the life of’), expectations, behaviour management etc.
Social presentation and self-care skills
- This should consider the children’s social presentation and self-care skills but should also include the applicant’s ability to meet these needs. Their own social presentation and self-care skills to include; how they manage their health, household, emotional well-being etc. and how they have presented during the course of the assessment and any deficits within self-care skills should be raised.
Finally, just remember not to become overwhelmed with the amount of information needed. Organise yourself to discuss specific sections in each interview session so as to break the process down.
You can also set ‘homework’ to enable the gathering process to become easier. For example, request family trees to be completed by each applicant before your next meeting, a chronology of employment, education and income. In addition, for the applicants to involve themselves in research regarding the impact of specific abuse and neglect the child/ren may have experienced. Above all, always keep the child’s needs, safety and welfare at the centre of the assessment.
The Author of this blog is an experienced Social Worker, Practice Educator and Independent Social Work Consultant who enjoys sharing experiences and learning new skills and knowledge. Background includes working in Child Protection, Family Court, Fostering, EDT, Adults with Learning Difficulties and the Youth Justice System.