Call for ‘open door’ to support special guardians taking on life-changing caring role

A drive to improve support for special guardians – mainly family members raising children unable to remain with their parents – will take a major step forward today (15 March).

An event this evening will see the launch of a new film and agenda-setting event, led by the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University, Kinship (formerly Grandparents Plus) and CoramBAAF.

The last decade has witnessed a remarkable change and uptake in the use of special guardianship as a resolution to care proceedings.

It has become the main and fastest-growing route for children out of the care system following care proceedings, overtaking adoption.

But policy and practice have not yet adjusted to the implications of this transformation.

Opportunities for change are increasing and today’s event includes an impressive line-up of speakers and influencers, that places special guardianship centre stage and sets out the policy and practice changes needed and how they should be implemented.

Speakers will include:

· Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division

· Josh MacAlister, Chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

· Krish Kandiah, Chair of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board

· Maxine Campbell, special guardian and Project Worker, Kinship

· Steve Walker, Director of Strengthening Families, Protecting Children Improvement Programme, Leeds City Council

· Professor Judith Harwin, Professor in Socio-Legal Studies, Lancaster University

The webinar takes places against a backdrop of growing interest in special guardianship.

Opening the event today, the President of the Family Division will underline the importance of special guardianship, outline key changes in best practice guidance, and the ambitious national training programme starting in April to ensure that the reform package is delivered consistently across England and Wales.

The webinar will also feature growing evidence from pioneering local authority Leeds that investing in supporting special guardians can reduce the number of children in care, improve outcomes and lead to savings.

Special guardian, Maxine Campbell, will discuss with Krish Kandiah, the newly appointed Chair of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board, his priorities for reform.

The webinar will launch a new training film for sector professionals ‘Special Guardianship – an agenda for change’ made by Lancaster University, Kinship, and CoramBAAF.

The film shines a light on the specific role of special guardians and the challenges they face and sets out an agenda for change.

This is the sister film to ‘The First Day of Forever – becoming a special guardian’, a moving first-hand account of what it is really like to be a special guardian.

Both films are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Impact Acceleration Account.

Professor Judith Harwin, of Lancaster University, said: “The research is clear – special guardianship benefits vulnerable children, their families and society at large. Yet it is an undervalued and under-supported form of care. With more children leaving care on special guardianship orders than adoption orders, there’s an urgent need to focus on ensuring these children and their carers are properly supported. Now is the time to act on the evidence and to invest in special guardianship.”

Dr Lucy Peake, the CEO of Kinship, said: “Special guardianship is a positive option for children whose parents are unable to care for them. But too many special guardians are struggling to access the support they and their children need. They need independent advice, financial allowances and tailored support services. Special guardians are being pushed to the brink. If we don’t support them there’s a real risk that they won’t cope and more children will enter the care system.”

Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBAAF John Simmonds, said: “Special Guardianship has seen a remarkable growth in its use since it was introduced in 2005. There is an urgent agenda for change. Every child subject to the order, must get the services and resources they and their carers need to ensure that they fully recover from any maltreatment they have experienced and go on to have a loving, enriched and full life of opportunity.”

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