The government will improve the use of special guardianship orders, children’s minister Edward Timpson has announced.
Responding to a question in Parliament, the Tory MP for Crewe and Nantwich, said special guardianship orders (SGOs) had become the “default option” for many children.
This increasingly popular arrangement provides a secure placement for children unable to live with their parents, and are most commonly used when the subjects live with members of their extended family. Unlike adoption, children living with special guardians maintain legal links to their biological parents.
The Minister said:
“It is now a decade since [SGOs] were introduced by the last Labour government, and it is time for us to have a close and proper look at the consequences of their introduction. For instance, we have seen a sharp increase, of 64 per cent, in the use of SGOs for children under the age of one, which is not what was originally intended or envisaged when the legislation was introduced.”
“We have also seen… SGOs often now being regarded as a default option when considering a child’s long-term future. We also have a disparity in respect of the level of assessment that there is of the potential placement for a child in a special guardianship placement, as opposed to adoption.”
SGOs offer family judges a less drastic alternative to adoption. No less than 3,300 were made in 2014, nearly three times the 1,290 issued five years ago.
Children’s charities have criticised the trend, claiming that SGOs cannot match the stability and permanence of adoption.
Andy Elvin of the Adolescent and Children’s Trust (Tact) welcomed the announcement. His organisation has been critical of the use of SGOs in the past.
“There is a recognition that the difference in depth and quality between assessments for adoption and fostering and those for SGOs is not sustainable. We certainly know of cases where [the assessment] is not sufficiently in-depth, and the worry is that will lead to a spate of breakdowns in the next five or 10 years.”