A new report published by the Nuffield Foundation says that placing children with appropriate family members when parents can’t look after them offers children greater stability than alternatives like adoption and fostering.

The report also says there is an urgent need for  research on how best to ensure safe and positive contact with birth parents and a child’s wider family.

The Foundation is calling on the government to reform Special Guardianship, which allows for children to be placed with relatives or individuals with whom the child already has a good relationship.

In their report, the Foundation calls for more research into outcomes for children placed with Special Guardians, and says children and young people’s views must be explored when developing this form of care.

The Foundation also suggests that the sector needs to change the way it works:

“We conclude that special guardianship continues to be an important permanence option ‘for the right child and the right family’. But for this to be so, the system as a whole must operate in a coherent, timely, evidence-informed way and this requires changes in mindset, regulations and protocols.”

The study also revealed that children who are being cared for by Special Guardians have better educational outcomes at key stages 2 and 4 than looked-after children.

The Nuffield Foundation’s report offers a set of recommendations to enable Special Guardianship orders where appropriate, which include the following suggestions:

  • Strengthen and resource the pre-proceedings phase of the Public Law Outline to identify and work with family members who might become long-term carers for the child.
  • Ensure that prospective special guardians complete preparation and training to an agreed statutory minimum.
  • Assessments should not be concluded until sufficient preparation has been completed.
  • Develop the skills and knowledge of children’s social workers in family placement as a priority.
  • Ensure that the local authority agrees a plan with the prospective special guardian about the assessment process.
  • Establish a robust protocol that ensures that the prospective special guardian has – or develops – a significant relationship with the child, including day-to-day care of the child, and that this forms the evidence base for the making of the Order.
  • Ensure that prospective special guardians receive full information about the meaning, significance and responsibilities of the relevant legal Order in both the immediate and long term.
  • Ensure that the timetable for concluding care proceedings within 26 weeks is complied with or that an evidenced-based timetable for an extension is agreed.
  • Ensure that a support plan is based on a comprehensive evidence-based assessment of need.
  • Ensure that support services are available locally that comply with the Special Guardianship Support Regulations 2005.

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