This chapter should be read in conjunction with Permanence Planning Guidance.
RELEVANT NATIONAL GUIDANCE
This chapter was updated in April 2019 in line with the Children and Social Work Act 2017 and revised statutory guidance which require schools, through the designated teacher to provide support to previously Looked After Children
A previously Looked After Child is one who is no longer looked after in England and Wales because they are the subject of an Adoption, Special Guardianship or Child Arrangements Order which includes arrangements relating to with whom the child is to live, or when the child is to live with any person, or has been adopted from 'state care' outside England and Wales.
It was also updated to reflect the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman good practice points to follow when working with Special Guardians. A link to the full report 'Firm Foundations: Complaints about Council Support and Advice for Special Guardians (Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman) (May 2018)' was added into the Relevant National Guidance section of this chapter.
- Who may Apply?
- Parental Responsibility
- The Circumstances in which a Special Guardianship Order may be Made
- Planning Meeting
- Approval of Special Guardianship for Looked After Children
- Report to the Court
- Discharge of Special Guardianship Order
- Special Guardianship Support
- Entitlement to Assessment for Special Guardianship Support
- Assessment for Support
- The Special Guardianship Support Plan
- Review of Special Guardianship Support Plan
- Financial Support
- Urgent Cases
- Special Guardian Duty on the Death of the Child
- Appendix 1: Financial Support Application Form
- Appendix 2: Special Guardian Allowance Review of Child's Needs
- Appendix 3: Post Special Guardian Support Assessment of Need
- Appendix 4: Outcome of Special Guardianship Allowance Review Letter
- Appendix 5: Good Practice: Getting it Right First Time
Special Guardianship offers an option for children needing permanent care outside their birth family. It can offer greater security without absolute severance from the birth family as in adoption.
It will address the needs of a significant group of children, mainly older, who need a sense of stability and security but who do not wish to make the absolute legal break with their birth family that is associated with adoption.
It will also provide an alternative for achieving permanence in families where adoption, for cultural or religious reasons, is not an option.
A Special Guardianship Order offers greater stability and legal security to a placement than a Child Arrangements Order.
Children subject to a Special Guardianship Order are eligible as previously Looked After Children for additional support with their education (Sections 20(4) and 20A(4) of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008). For further information, please see the Education of Looked After and Previously Looked After Children Procedure.
Special Guardians will have Parental Responsibility for the child and, whilst this will be shared with the child's parents, the Special Guardian will have the ability to exercise this responsibility without seeking permission from the parents.
A Special Guardianship Order made in relation to a Looked After Child will replace the Care Order and the Local Authority will no longer have Parental Responsibility.
A Care Order, however, will not automatically revoke a Special Guardianship Order although the Special Guardian's exercise of Parental Responsibility will be restricted as the local authority will have primary responsibility for decision-making under the Care Order.
For further details about the Special Guardianship as a permanence option for Looked After Children, see Permanence Planning Guidance.
People thinking about becoming special guardians will be provided with clear, user-friendly information to help them make informed choices. This should include information on support available and how this is reviewed.
2. Who may Apply?
Applications for Special Guardianship may be individual or joint. Joint applicants do not need to be married. Special Guardians must be 18 or over.
The following persons may apply without having to obtain the leave of the court:
- Any guardian of the child;
- Where the child is subject of a Care Order or an Interim Care Order, any person who has the consent of the Local Authority;
- A local authority foster carer who is a relative of the child or with whom the child has lived for one year immediately preceding the application (even if the Local Authority does not consent);
- Anyone who is named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live;
- Anyone who has the consent of each person named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live;
- Anyone with whom the child has lived for 3 out of the last 5 years, providing the child has not ceased to live with the proposed applicant more than 3 months before the making of the application;
- Anyone who has the consent of all those with Parental Responsibility for the child.
Any other person (including the child and other than a parent) may apply for a Special Guardianship Order if he has obtained the leave of the court to make the application.
The parents of a child may not apply to become their own child's Special Guardians.
 A person who is, or was at any time within the last 6 months, a local authority foster parent of a child may not apply for leave to apply for an SGO unless (s)he has the consent of the local authority, or (s) he is a relative of the child or the child has lived with him for at least one year preceding the application.
3. Parental Responsibility
The Special Guardian will have Parental Responsibility for the child and will have clear responsibility for the day-to-day decisions about caring for the child to the exclusion of anyone else who might have Parental Responsibility (apart from another Special Guardian).
The child's parents will continue to hold Parental Responsibility but their exercise of it will be limited. The parents will, however, retain the right to consent or not to the child's adoption or placement for adoption.
In addition there are certain steps in a child's life which require the consent of every-one with Parental Responsibility, for example:
- The change of surname of the child;
- The removal of the child from the United Kingdom for longer than 3 months;
- The sterilisation of a child.
4. The Circumstances in which a Special Guardianship Order may be Made
The Court may make a Special Guardianship Order in any family proceedings concerning the welfare of the child. This applies even where no application has been made and includes adoption proceedings.
Any person making an application for a Special Guardianship Order must give 3 months' written notice to their local authority of their intention to apply. In relation to a Looked After Child, the notice will go to the local authority looking after the child. In all other cases, the notice will be sent to the local authority for the area where the applicant resides. The local authority receiving the notice will then have a duty to provide a report to the Court.
The only exception to the requirement for 3 months' notice is where the Court has granted leave to make an application and waived the notice period.
Where the local authority has received notice from an applicant or a request for a report from the Court, it should send written information about the steps it proposes to take in preparing the report to the prospective Special Guardian and the parents of the child in question. This should include information about Special Guardianship support services and how to request an assessment of needs for support.
5. Planning Meeting
Once notice has been received that an application for Special Guardianship is to be made, the notice should be passed to the allocated social worker or, if the child is not previously known, arrangements must be made for the case to be allocated to a social worker.
The allocated social worker should arrange a planning meeting as soon as practicable after the notice is received. The planning meeting should clarify the steps to be taken, who will carry out the necessary assessments and who will contribute to the report for the Court. Court timescales will need to be clarified.
The social worker or social workers preparing the Court report should be suitably qualified and experienced. There are no specific requirements as to the level of qualification or experience required and it will be for the manager of the relevant social work team to ensure that the allocated worker is competent to write the report.
In all cases there will need to be:
An assessment of the current and likely future needs of the child (including any harm the child has suffered and any risk of future harm posed by the child's parents, relatives or any other person the local authority considers relevant).
An assessment of the prospective Special Guardian's parenting capacity including:
- Their understanding of, and ability to meet the child's current and likely future needs, particularly, any needs the child may have arising from harm that the child has suffered;
- Their understanding of, and ability to protect the child from any current or future risk of harm posed by the child's parents, relatives or any other person the local authority consider relevant, particularly in relation to contact between any such person and the child;
- Their ability and suitability to bring up the child until the child reaches the age of eighteen.
The proposed contact arrangements and the support needs (See Section 11, Assessment for Support) of the child, parents and the prospective special guardian.
The assessment of the applicants should include their medical history, the references received and the Disclosure and Barring Service and other statutory checks undertaken for the assessment.
6. Approval of Special Guardianship for Looked After Children
If the child is Looked After and the application has been agreed as part of the child's Permanence Plan, the assessments will usually have been undertaken and the outcomes agreed as part of the permanence planning for the child, in which case there will be no need to hold a planning meeting.
Special Guardianship as an outcome for a Looked After child must be approved by the Designated Manager (Special Guardianship).
7. Report for the Court
The social worker or social workers preparing the Court report should be suitably qualified and experienced.
Once completed, the Court Report should be submitted by the author(s) to their line manager(s) for approval.
See Court Reports in Adoption/Special Guardianship Guidance for what is required to be included in the report.
8. Discharge of Special Guardianship Order
A Special Guardianship Order can be varied or discharged on the application of:
- The Special Guardian;
- The local authority in whose name a Care Order was in force before the Special Guardianship Order was made;
- Anyone named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child was to live before the Special Guardianship Order was made;
- With the leave of the court:
- The child's parents or guardians;
- Any step parent who has Parental Responsibility;
- Anyone who had Parental Responsibility immediately before the Special Guardianship Order was made;
- The child (if the court is satisfied that the child has sufficient understanding).
Where the applicant is not the child and the leave of the court is required, the court may only grant leave if there has been a significant change in circumstances since the Special Guardianship Order was made.
The court may during any family proceedings in which a question arises about the welfare of a child who is subject to a Special Guardianship Order, vary or discharge the Order in the absence of an application.
9. Special Guardianship Support
The local authority must make provision for a range of Special Guardianship support services.
Special Guardianship support services are defined as:
- Financial support (see Section 14, Financial Support);
- Services to enable children, Special Guardians and parents to discuss matters relating to special guardianship;
- Assistance including mediation in relation to contact between the child and their parents, relatives or significant others;
- Therapeutic services for the child;
- Assistance to ensure continuance of the relationship between the child and the Special Guardian, including training to meet any special needs of the child, respite care, and mediation;
- Counselling, advice and information.
Special Guardianship Support will be subject to the approval of the Designated Manager (Special Guardianship Support).
The services described above may include cash assistance.
Support services should not be seen in isolation from mainstream services and it is important to ensure that families are assisted in accessing mainstream services and are aware of their entitlements to tax credits and social security benefits.
Where the child was previously Looked After, the local authority that looked after the child has responsibility for providing support for the first 3 years after the making of a Special Guardianship Order. Thereafter the local authority where the Special Guardian lives will be responsible for the provision of any support required.
If a child is not Looked After, the local authority where the Special Guardian lives has the responsibility for Special Guardianship support.
Ongoing financial support, which has been agreed before the Special Guardianship Order is made, remains the responsibility of the local authority that agreed it so long as the family meet the criteria for payments.
In addition to the support provided by local authorities the Adoption Support Fund in England also covers therapeutic support for children, living in England, who were previously in care immediately before the making of a Special Guardianship Order.
Based on the assessment of needs, local authorities can apply for funding from the Adoption Support Fund.
10. Entitlement to Assessment for Special Guardianship Support
Where the child is Looked After or was Looked After immediately prior to the making of the Special Guardianship Order, the following people MUST receive an assessment at their request:
- The child;
- The Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian;
- A parent (but only in relation to their need for support with contact and/or discussion groups);
Where the child is not Looked After or was not Looked After immediately prior to the making of the Special Guardianship Order, the following people MAY be offered an assessment of their need for Special Guardianship support services:
- The child;
- The Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian;
- A parent.
In all cases, whether the Special Guardianship child is looked after or not, the following people also MAY be offered an assessment of their need for Special Guardianship support services:
- A child of the Special Guardian;
- Any person with a significant ongoing relationship with the child.
If a local authority decides not to assess in cases where they have discretion as above, they must notify the decision in writing, including reasons for the decision, to the person making the request.
11. Assessment for Support
The assessment should be based on the Assessment Framework under Working Together to Safeguard Children and include the following:
- The developmental needs of the child;
- The child's educational needs;
- The parenting capacity of the Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian to meet the child's needs;
- Family and environmental factors that have shaped the life of the child and the capacity of the Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian to respond to those experiences;
- Comment on how life with the Special Guardian might be for the child;
- Any previous assessment of the child or Special Guardian that is relevant;
- The needs of the Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian and their family;
- The impact of the Special Guardianship Order on the relationship between the child, parent and Special Guardian.
Special Guardianship Support will be subject to the approval of the Designated Manager (Special Guardianship Support).
At the end of the assessment and once the necessary approval has been obtained, the social worker must inform the person requesting provision of its outcome, including:
- Information about the outcome of the assessment and the reasons for it;
- Where it relates to financial support, the basis on which this is determined;
- The services (if any) that the Local Authority proposes to provide to help meet the child's needs;
- If financial support is to be paid, the amount and conditions attached.
12. The Special Guardianship Support Plan
Where an assessment identifies the need for ongoing support services, a Special Guardianship Support Plan must be completed.
Other agencies, such as education and health, may need to be consulted about the contents of the Plan.
As a previously looked after child, the child subject to a Special Guardianship Order will be entitled to additional education support. This will be accessed through the designated teacher in the child's school. For further information, please see Education of Looked After and Previously Looked After Children Procedure.
The Plan should be written in such a way that everyone affected can understand and set out:
- The services to be provided;
- The objectives and criteria for success;
- Timescales for provision;
- Procedures for review;
- A named person to monitor the provision of services in accordance with the Plan.
Special Guardianship Support will be subject to the approval of the Designated Manager (Special Guardianship Support).
Once the necessary approval has been obtained, the social worker must send the proposed plan to the person requesting support, and allow 28 days for that person to make representations about the proposed plan. The social worker should also give information to the person concerned about who to contact to obtain independent advice and advocacy.
Where representations are received, they should be referred to the Designated Manager (Special Guardianship Support) to decide whether to amend or confirm the Plan. The allocated social worker must then write to the person concerned setting out the final Plan.
13. Review of Special Guardianship Support Plans
Special Guardianship Support Plans must be reviewed taking into account the following:
- Any change of circumstances affecting the support;
- At whichever stage of implementation of the plan is considered most appropriate;
- In any event at least annually.
The reviews may be a paper exercise where there is no change or a minor change in circumstances. However, if there is a substantial change of circumstances, e.g. a serious change in the behaviour of the child, it would normally be necessary to conduct a new assessment of needs.
Any change to the Special Guardianship Support Plan will be subject to the approval of the Designated Manager (Special Guardianship Support). Local arrangements will determine whether any additional approval is required for changes to financial support.
If the local authority decides to vary or terminate the provision of support after the review, notice in writing must be given and the person concerned should be given 28 days to make representations.
14. Financial Support
Government guidance says that special guardianship arrangements should not fail just because of financial problems. Financial support should be paid to help secure a suitable arrangement where this is not possible because of a financial obstacle.
Each case must be assessed on its own facts. It would not be lawful, for example, to pay a flat rate to all Special Guardians, or a fixed percentage of fostering allowance.
Special Guardians must be helped to access any benefits to which they are entitled; this will usually include child benefit and tax credits such as Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.
The local authority must also take account of any other grant, benefit, allowance or resource available to the person in respect of his needs as a result of becoming a Special Guardian of a child. Financial support cannot duplicate any other payment available to the Special Guardian.
The Special Guardian's means will usually be considered when ongoing financial support is being considered. They should therefore be asked to complete a Financial Assessment Form, which when completed should be passed to the Finance Officer responsible for carrying out means assessments.
Once the means assessment has been carried out, the Finance Officer should send written notification of the outcome to the relevant social worker, who must present this to the Designated Manager (Special Guardianship Support) for approval.
The social worker should then write to the Special Guardian setting out the amount of financial support agreed by the Designated Manager (Special Guardianship Support) and information in relation to the following:
- Whether financial support is be paid in regular instalments and if so, the frequency of payment;
- The amount of financial support;
- The period for which the financial support is to be paid;
- When payment will commence;
- Conditions for continuing payment and date by which conditions are to be met, i.e. returning Review Forms;
- Arrangements and procedure for review and termination.
A copy of this letter should be sent to the Finance Officer.
Means may be disregarded in relation to:
- The initial costs of accommodating a child who has been Looked After;
- Recurring travel costs in contact arrangements;
- Any special case requiring greater expenditure due to illness, disability, emotional or behavioural difficulties or the consequences of the past abuse or neglect of a child previously looked after.
Where the Special Guardians were previously the child's foster carers - the local authority can maintain the fostering allowance for a transitional period of 2 years but with discretion to extend if necessary.
The only circumstance when the local authority MUST disregard means is when providing financial support in respect of legal costs, including fees payable to a court in respect of a child who is Looked After where the local the authority support the making of the Special Guardianship Order.
14.2 Introduction - Bexley
The purpose of this policy is to outline the Council's Special Guardianship Financial Support Scheme. Financial support is paid by Bexley's Children's Social Care (CSC).
This document forms part of the Council's Special Guardianship Procedures.
This policy should be read in conjunction with relevant updating guidance from the Department for Education and relevant legislation and case law.
The term 'Special Guardianship allowance' refers to a periodic or regular payment payable at intervals determined by the Local Authority. An allowance might be paid to help Special Guardians cope with the costs involved for caring for a child or group of siblings.
14.3 Legal Framework
With the introduction of the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 a new regulatory structure for Special Guardianship support services was introduced which placed a duty on local authorities to assess the need for Special Guardianship support services for Special Guardian families and others. The Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 specify the conditions for providing Special Guardian support services including the provision of financial support.
Bexley, subject to eligibility, is able in certain circumstances to provide financial support to a Special Guardian parent or prospective Special Guardian parent, for the purpose of supporting the placement of the Special Guardianship child or the continuation of Special Guardianship arrangements after a Special Guardianship order is made.
In certain circumstances a request for an assessment of eligibility for financial support can be made, following the granting of a Special Guardianship order by a Special Guardian. Bexley has a duty to provide an assessment of need but has discretion as to whether to provide financial support. Eligibility for financial support will be based on an overall assessment of the child and Special Guardian family's support needs undertaken using the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families and related practice guidance. This includes the undertaking of an assessment at the request of a Special Guardian parent, after the granting of a Special Guardian Order, if the Special Guardian parent feels there have been significant changes to a child's needs and circumstances or their own financial circumstances.
Bexley will use the DfE Model Means Test to determine the level of financial support that maybe provided.
14.5 The General Methods of Payment
The general methods of payment for financial support are by way of:
- Regular payments - which will be based upon the developmental age of the child and calculated as agreed periodically by the local authority to meet a specific assessed on-going need;
- Lump sum payments (settling in costs, special needs and adaptations), which will cover items or adaptations that are required as a consequence of an assessment of each child's individual's needs. Payment may be in instalments and will end at a time specified by the local authority;
- Payments in special circumstances, (for example, a child with additional needs or where foster carers become Special Guardians for a child for whom they are already caring, or where Special Guardians incur legal expenses in contested cases). Payment may be in instalments and may end at a time specified by the local authority.
Special Guardian Allowances are described in the 2005 Regulations. This allowance is in addition to any state benefit an adopter may be eligible for such as Child Benefit.
Financial support is intended to supplement existing means of support available to Special Guardian parents and the child or children to whom the Special Guardianship order applies where necessary and where the criteria for support are met. Special Guardians must be given advice of entitlements to benefits, tax credits and allowances, and these must be taken into account when considering eligibility for financial support.
All Special Guardians will be asked to complete a Financial Assessment Form.
14.6 Criteria / Eligibility / When can a Special Guardianship Allowance be Paid?
The 2005 Regulations set out that there must be no reward element in financial payments other than as a transitional provision for foster carers adopting a child for whom they are currently caring.
A Special Guardianship allowance may be paid from the date of the placement or from a later date.
In deciding how much, if any, Special Guardianship allowance to pay, Bexley must take into account any other grant, benefit, allowance or resource which is available to Special Guardians as a result of the Special Guardianship order. For example, Disability Living Allowances (DLA), nursery grants, child benefit, etc. Financial support from Bexley must not duplicate financial support that may be available via the benefits and tax credit system. The amount of any financial support provided in individual cases is a matter for Bexley to determine through the assessment process.
In addition, Bexley must take account of:
- Special Guardian's financial resources, including any benefits or tax credits that would be available to them if the child lived with them and any capitol or investments of the (prospective) Special Guardian (s); and
- Special Guardian's reasonable outgoings and commitments excluding outgoings in respect of the child; and
- The financial needs and resources of the child.
However, Bexley will disregard the factors listed in the 3 bullet points above if the allowance is for legal costs or to cover the costs involved in introducing Special Guardians to the child.
Financial support is payable to a Special Guardian for the purpose of supporting the placement of the child or the continuation of Special Guardianship arrangements after a Special Guardianship order is made.
If it is established that the child has needs requiring additional financial support it is only then that the Special Guardian's financial circumstances will come into consideration.
Financial support is payable to a special guardian or prospective special guardian:
- To facilitate arrangements for a person to become the special guardian of a child where the local authority consider such arrangements to be beneficial to the child's welfare; or
- To support the continuation of such arrangements after a special guardianship order is made.
Such support is payable only in the following circumstances—
- Where the local authority consider that it is necessary to ensure that the special guardian or prospective special guardian can look after the child;
- Where the child needs special care which requires a greater expenditure of resources than would otherwise be the case because of his illness, disability, emotional or behavioural difficulties or the consequences of his past abuse or neglect;
- Where the local authority consider that it is appropriate to contribute to any legal costs, including court fees, of a special guardian or prospective special guardian, as the case may be, associated with—
- The making of a special guardianship order or any application to vary or discharge such an order;
- An application for an order under section 8 of the Act;
- An order for financial provision to be made to or for the benefit of the child; or
- Where the local authority consider that it is appropriate to contribute to the expenditure necessary for the purposes of accommodating and maintaining the child, including the provision of furniture and domestic equipment, alterations to and adaptations of the home, provision of means of transport and provision of clothing, toys and other items necessary for the purpose of looking after the child.
Payment of financial support under (b) is intended where the child's condition is serious and long-term. For example, where a child needs a special diet or where items such as shoes, clothing or bedding need to be replaced at a higher rate than would normally be the case with a child of similar age who was unaffected by the particular condition
Financial support paid under (c) is payable so that the local authority may contribute to initial legal costs where appropriate but also any future legal costs that are associated with the order, to continue to support the existence of the order, again, where the local authority consider this to be appropriate.
In the above circumstances an assessment of the child/children's needs will be undertaken to consider whether an allowance is appropriate.
- Where such support is to meet recurring travel costs for the purpose of visits between the child and a related person; i.e. post Special Guardian contact;
- Where it is considered appropriate to make a contribution to meet the following:
- Expenditure on legal costs, including fees payable to a court in relation to a Special Guardianship application. Bexley will consider whether it is appropriate to fund legal advice in a contested leave or Special Guardian application or if it is necessary for the Special Guardians to be represented in court. Any agreement as to payment of legal costs (other than the Court fee) will be determined after discussion with Bexley Legal Services;
- Travelling expenses for Special Guardians during the period of introductions will be paid using public transport rates. If it is necessary for Special Guardians to incur accommodation costs to facilitate the process, consideration will be given to reimbursing these at the equivalent of Travel Lodge rates;
- Expenditure necessary for the purpose of accommodating and maintaining the child, including the provision of furniture and domestic equipment, alterations to and adaptations of the home, provision of means of transport and provision of clothing, toys and other items necessary for the purpose of looking after the child. This will be considered on a case by case basis dependent on the need of the child/children and in all circumstances Bexley will require proof of expenditure or at least 2 quotes in respected of proposed expenditure before payment can be made.
14.7 Types of Payment
Special Guardian allowances
Where the Special Guardian Support Assessment identifies a support need that requires on-going financial expenditure, consideration will be given to paying the Special Guardian a Special Guardianship allowance.
If there is disagreement between the family and the Head of Service as to the level of Special Guardianship allowance to be paid, the case will be referred to the Director of Children's Services to make the final decision.
Single payments of financial support may be provided in cases where the identified need does not require on-going expenditure. Single payments can be one off payments or paid by instalment where the Council and Special Guardian agree.
Remuneration for former foster carers
Financial support may be paid to foster carers in the form of 'remuneration' in the following cases:
- Where the decision to include it has been made before the Special Guardianship order is made and the support assessment considers it to be necessary;
- Where the Special Guardian has been a local authority foster carer to the child and they received remuneration in their foster care payments whilst fostering the child.
No other payments will be made in excess of the core allowance - this includes Birthday and Christmas allowances.
The remuneration element of the financial support will cease at the end of 2 years from the Special Guardianship order date unless Bexley consider its continuation to be necessary having regard to the exceptional needs of the child or any other exceptional circumstances
The remuneration element will only be payable where it has been agreed by the Director of Children's Services that Special Guardianship through the foster carers was the only practicable way to achieve permanence for the child. For example, where the proposed Special Guardianship is for a child where adopters could easily have been identified, the remuneration element would not be payable.
Where agreed, for foster carers from independent fostering agencies, the overall payment for the first 2 years would be the amount that they would have received as Bexley foster carers from the date of the Special Guardianship order.
Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits will be deducted from the remuneration element of the financial support.
After 2 years an assessment of the child and Special Guardian family's support needs will be undertaken using the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families and related practice guidance to determine eligibility for a Special Guardian allowance.
14.8 Assessment of Financial Support
The need for financial support will be determined as part of the Special Guardian Support Services assessment, from which a support plan is devised. The assessment is carried out under the Framework of the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families and related guidance. The support plan should be shared with the prospective Special Guardian and an opportunity to comment on the draft plan before it is submitted to court.
A Financial Support Application Form must then be completed by the Special Guardian in order to declare all relevant income and expenditure as required for means tested financial support provided by the London Borough of Bexley (see Appendix 1: Financial Support Application Form).
The Special Guardian will be asked to provide proof of finances and income (e.g. bank statements). The completed form should be forwarded to the Social worker completing the Special Guardian assessment to forward on to the Team Manager in Adoption. The Adoption Team Manager will recommend the level of support to be included in the Special Guardianship Support Plan, and obtain agreement and budgetary approval from the Head of Service for Looked after children and Permanence.
Before Bexley makes any decision as to whether to provide financial support reasonable notice of the proposed decision must be given to the Special Guardian(s) or prospective Special Guardian(s) to enable them to make representations in response.
The notice must contain the following information-
- A statement as to the person's needs for Special Guardian support services;
- Where the assessment relates to their need for financial support, the basis upon which the financial support is determined;
- Whether Bexley propose to provide them with Special Guardian support services;
- The services they propose to provide;
- If financial support is to be paid the proposed amount payable;
- Any proposed conditions;
- A Special Guardian support plan;
- Information about annual reviews.
Bexley will not make a decision until representations have been made or the local authority has been notified that the Special Guardian(s) is satisfied with the proposed decision, or the period of time for representations has expired. Any representations will need to be made within a reasonable period of time and no more than 28 days after notification of the decision in respect of financial support has been provided to the Special Guardian/prospective Special Guardian.
If it is decided that financial support should be given to Special Guardians, payment will be subject to statutory conditions.
Prior to making financial support available to prospective or Special Guardians, the prospective or Special Guardians will be required to agree to inform Bexley immediately in writing:
- Of changes to their home address;
- If the child dies;
- If the child (for any reason) no longer lives with them;
- If the child ceases full-time education or training and commences employment;
- If the child qualifies for universal credit, income support, employment and support allowance, jobseeker's allowance or any other credit or allowance in his own right;
- If there are any changes to their financial situation/the resources of the child.
Where information regarding the above changes in circumstances is given orally, the special guardians must confirm it in writing within 7 days.
Prior to making support available, the prospective or Special Guardians will also be required to confirm to Bexley in writing that they will complete and supply Bexley with an annual statement as per the below section regarding Annual Review of Support. Should Special Guardians fail to comply with the requirements, the authority may suspend payment of the financial support provided.
14.11 Annual Review of Support
The annual review of each Special Guardian allowance will be carried out by the Adoption Team. All cases will be reviewed annually. An application form will be sent out a few weeks before the review date, and must be returned with all proofs of income and expenditure by the deadline date. Financial support will be reassessed with effect from the date of review. If the form is not returned by the deadline, financial support may cease and may not be backdated to the review date.
If the Review results in a recommendation for the Special Guardian allowance to be increased, decreased, suspended or terminated, it must be referred to the Adoption Team Manager for consideration as to whether or not a visit to the Special Guardian family is required; before referring to the Head of Service to make a final decision.
If the decision about the prevailing rate, or change of rate, is difficult to make, a report may be requested from another professional, e.g. a consultant paediatrician, a psychologist, a person seeing a child on a regular basis.
Once a Special Guardian allowance is determined the family circumstances can be reviewed at a time other than at the annual review. This is in recognition that from time to time, there may be a major change either in the needs of the child or family circumstances which could have a significant impact on their ability to continue to adequately meet the needs of the child. This provision is not intended to be used solely to supplement a change in income of the Special Guardian family.
A record of all Special Guardian allowances will be kept by the Adoption Team together with a report of any medical or psychological condition.
The annual assessment of the child's needs will consider whether the criteria for a Special Guardian allowance continue to be met. The Adoption Team will send the Special Guardian a Review of Child's Needs Form (see Appendix 2: Special Guardian Allowance Review of Child's Needs) to complete together with the Financial Support Application form (see Appendix 1: Financial Support Application Form).
On an annual basis, the Special Guardians should provide supporting evidence as to:
- Their financial circumstances;
- The financial needs and resources of the child or children;
- Their home address and whether or not the child or children live at home with them;
- If there have been any changes to their own, or the child's/children's' circumstances.
The Adoption Team will carry out an annual review of the information provided in respect of the child's needs. It may be necessary to carry out a full assessment of need of the child in some circumstances. The Post Adoption Team will then complete the Post Special Guardian Support Assessment of Need – (see Appendix 3: Post Special Guardian Support Assessment of Need).
If the assessment of the child's needs determines that the criteria are met for the Special Guardian allowance to continue, then a review of finances will take place to calculate the amount, if any, of financial support that may be offered. Any proposed variation or termination of the financial support must be notified to the person(s) concerned and dealt with by the Adoption Team Manager. The adopters will receive an outcome of Review of Special Guardian Allowance letter (see Appendix 4: Outcome of Special Guardianship Allowance Review Letter).
Any decision to vary or terminate payment may result in Bexley considering whether it is appropriate to seek to recover all or any of the financial support already paid. This may be necessary when the Special Guardian has failed to notify Bexley in writing of any change in circumstances.
Should Special Guardian parents fail to supply an annual statement; the authority will send a written reminder and give them 28 days to comply. If they fail to comply, the authority may suspend payment of the financial support provided.
Before Bexley makes any decision as to whether to provide financial support, reasonable notice of the proposed decision must be given to the special guardian or prospective special guardian(s) to enable them to make representations in response.
The notice must contain the following information:
- A statement as to the person's needs for adoption support services;
- Where the assessment relates to their need for financial support, the basis upon which the financial support is determined;
- Whether Bexley propose to provide them with adoption support services;
- The services they propose to provide;
- If financial support is to be paid the proposed amount payable; and
- Any proposed conditions.
Bexley will not make a decision until representations have been made or the local authority has been notified that the prospective Special Guardian (s)/ Special Guardian (s) is satisfied with the proposed decision; or the period of time for representations has expired.
If there is disagreement between the local authority and the Special Guardians as to the level of Special Guardianship allowance to be paid, following the review, the case will be referred to the Head of Service.
14.12 Suspension of Allowances
The suspension of an allowance is an appropriate and reasonable response to a failure by, the Special Guardians to provide a completed Review of Child's Needs form (see Appendix 2: Special Guardian Allowance Review of Child's Needs) and a completed Financial Support Application Form (see Appendix 1: Financial Support Application Form) upon request. In the first instance, the decision as to suspension will be determined by the Head of Service for up to a maximum period of 3 months. Unresolved suspensions beyond the 3 month period will be referred to the Director of Children's Services.
Where a Special Guardian does not provide the required completed financial forms Bexley will not suspend the allowance until:
- The Special Guardian has been sent a written reminder of the need to provide an annual statement; and
- 28 days have expired since the date on which the notice was sent.
14.13 Ending of Financial Support
Financial support will end in the following circumstances:
- When a child reaches age 18, unless he/she continues in full time education or training when support may continue until the end of the course of education or training being undertaken, subject to any other financial support the child may be entitled to receive;
- Where a child ceases full-time education or training and commences employment;
- Where a child qualifies for universal credit, income support, employment and support allowance or job seekers allowance in his/her own right;
- Where circumstances have changed significantly and the criteria are no longer met;
- If a child leaves the Special Guardianship home and this is regarded as a permanent departure. Temporary absences do not apply, e.g. boarding school, hospital, and respite care;
- The child dies.
Financial support will also end if the assessment of the child's needs concludes that the criteria for the allowance are no longer met or where the specified period for payment agreed at the outset comes to an end.
Please address all correspondence or appeals to:
Bexley Adoption Team Manager
Bexley Civic Offices
2 Watling Street
15. Urgent Cases
Where a person has an urgent need of a service, the assessment process should not delay provision and arrangements can be made for support to be provided as a matter of urgency in appropriate cases. The approval of the Designated Manager (Special Guardianship Support) will still be required. The local authority will need to review the provision as soon as possible after the support has been provided in accordance with the procedures set out above.
16. Special Guardian Duty on the Death of the Child
If the child with respect to whom a Special Guardianship Order is in force dies, the Special Guardian must take reasonable steps to give notice of that fact to:
- Each parent of the child with Parental Responsibility; and
- Each guardian of the child.
The first 4 appendices for this chapter can be found on Bexley's local directory.
- Appendix 1: Financial Support Application Form;
- Appendix 2: Special Guardian Allowance Review of Child's Needs;
- Appendix 3: Post Special Guardian Support Assessment of Need;
- Appendix 4: Outcome of Special Guardianship Allowance Review Letter.
Please see: N:\Directorate of Social & Community Services\Children & Families\Strategies Policies & Procedures\Adoption and Permanence
Appendix 5: Good Practice: Getting it Right First Time
The following suggested good practice is taken from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report Firm Foundations: Complaints about Council Support and Advice for Special Guardians (May 2018).
The following is not an exhaustive list but sets out some of the positive steps councils can take:
- Give early, clear and unambiguous advice to people who are considering becoming special guardians. Consider how this can:
- Explain what is special guardianship and what this means for parental responsibility, legal security and stability;
- Explain the council's role and that of the court;
- Set out who can apply to be a special guardian and what alternatives could be more suitable;
- Make the process of applying to be a special guardian clear, including the role of the council in writing a report to court;
- Explain the assessment process before becoming a special guardian. Explain that applicants may need to complete some training.
- Be as clear as possible about the support that might be available and how the council will assess the applicant's support needs;
- Be as unambiguous as possible about the fixed term duration of support and what it is likely to be used for;
- Back up verbal advice and guidance in writing wherever possible, particularly where this may have long term consequences;
- Manage expectations early on, for example where special guardians expect ongoing support or help with major personal expenditure;
- Be as clear as possible with applicants that any support may be time limited;
- Develop advice for social workers involved in supporting potential and actual special guardians. This could include:
- A flow chart showing responsibilities at key stages such as suitability assessment, financial assessment, permanence panel and court;
- A checklist of things to cover at first assessment visit (for example explaining the process and financial situation);
- A summary of the SGO assessment process including child information (for example attachment issues and any early neglect or trauma), carers information (for example current relationship and stability).
- Keep clear and transparent records of contact with special guardians. This is always important, particularly where guardians will probably be supported by several different social workers and other officers over several years;
- Write support plans that are clear, in plain English and set actions that are as specific, measurable and achievable as possible so the council and guardian can review progress;
- Make sure support plans:
- Are shared, discussed and agreed with special guardians, and this is well documented;
- Are written so that they are easy to evaluate and keep under review. It should be easy for the council and guardian to decide whether all the support has been provided;
- Are regularly reviewed and kept up to date. Make sure plans continue to meet the child's needs as they change;
- Set out the approach to calculating special guardianship allowance. Explain this at the earliest stage as possible, making clear this will be reviewed and depend on evidence of continuing needs;
- Keep the best interests of the child at the forefront of decision making.