On 29 February new regulations for Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) came into effect. The latest regulations amend the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 and outline additional factors that need to be considered and included in SGO assessments carried out by local authorities. They demand far more detailed assessment of the nature of the prospective special guardians’ current and past relationship with the child and fuller assessment of the prospective special guardianship’s parenting capacity.
This would include:
- Their understanding of and ability to meet the child’s current and likely future needs, particularly in light of any harm the child has suffered.
- Their understanding of any current and future risk of harm posed to the child and their ability to protect the child from this (i.e. from a parent, relative or any other relevant person), particularly in respect of contact.
- Their ability and suitability to raising the child until the age of 18.
These ‘additions’ to the assessment process certainly cement common sense and good practice – they must be welcomed for this reason alone – but will they make any difference?
We must remember that the Government’s report recognised that the problems it highlighted arose in the minority of cases, where assessments were rushed, the prospective special guardian came forward late in proceedings or reassessment was necessary in the tight timeframes. Whilst it is fair to say these new regulations certainly work to address the problems associated with the quality of assessments, they undoubtedly mean more work, both on the ground and in the writing of reports. They will also mean prospective special guardians will need to be given a lot more information and background regarding the child’s circumstances and experiences to date, the concerns and the current and future risks. This would allow them to gain proper understanding and for their insight and ability to protect to be properly and fairly assessed with the correct support package identified to enable the child’s needs to be met long-term. This is undoubtedly what should happen in every case but, requires longer and/or more intense assessment periods.
Whilst these new regulations dictate a higher quality and a more robust assessment process which must be welcomed. They are clearly right and necessary in ensuring the possibility of an SGO is properly assessed with the child’s welfare prioritised and the right outcome achieved. They do, however, raise practical difficulties, particularly within the environment and timescales these proceedings are conducted in. These positive developments to the legal and assessment frameworks regarding SGOs need to be supplemented by good practice and amongst other things, the early identification of prospective carers to avoid rushed assessment or re-assessment and the other difficulties highlighted by the Government’s report.
It is clear the Government have considered the mistakes of the past and begun to try to make amends, however it remains to be seen how this will work and whether it is enough to make a difference and result in the necessary changes to approaches and practices.