Welcome to another week.

After the very sad news that toddler Keegan Downer had been murdered by her carer, an MP from Birmingham has asked the commissioner of Birmingham City Council’s children’s services, Andrew Christie, to suspend the use of SGOs until a serious case review has been carried out.

Keegan was taken out of a foster placement and given to a family member under a Special Guardianship Order (SGO), despite concerns that there may have been financial motivation behind the desire to care for Keegan.

A special guardianship order is an order which appoints  one or more individuals to be a child’s special guardian. Applications can be made by an individual or jointly by two or more people to become special guardians, and must be 18 or over. The parents of a child cannot become that child’s special guardian.

A court can make a special guardianship order in favour of:

• Any guardian of the child

• A local authority foster carer with whom the child has lived for one year immediately preceding the application

• Anyone who holds a residence order with respect to the child, or who has the consent of all those in whose favour a residence order is in force

• Anyone with whom the child has lived for three out of the last five years

• Where the child is in the care of a local authority, any person who has the consent of the local authority

• Anyone who has the consent of all those with parental responsibility for the child

• Any person, including the child, who has the leave of the court to apply

SGO’s have come under fire recently with allegations of their misuse within social work – research by charities has cited pressure on local authorities struggling with budget cuts as one possible reason for the huge rise in SGO’s – they are much cheaper than foster placements.

So great was the concern over whether SGO’s were being unethically used, that the government launched a consultation looking into the matter, last year.  The consultation highlighted a lack of legal knowledge within the social work sector regarding SGO’s, a need to hurry child protection cases through to fit into the 26 week timescale policy, poor quality social work assessments, and a lack of support for carers, amongst other things. 

The consultation led to the government amending the regulations surrounding SGO’s. 

So our question to you then, is just this: do you think Special Guardianship Orders should be suspended countrywide, rather than just in Birmingham until a serious case review has been completed for Keegan, or does the child protection sector just need to improve the way it uses them?

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