Once an individual has exhausted the statutory complaints process within the Local Authority and is not satisfied with the outcome, the individual complainant can then apply to the LGO for a further independent investigation of their complaint. The LGO shares their decisions on their website; the reason for this is to learn from the outcomes of the investigations and support good practice. The case reporting do not identify or name the persons involved in the complaint, however, the Local Authority involved will be named.
There have been a number of complaints brought to the LGO that have highlighted the consequences of the lack of support by local authorities for those caring for children under a Special Guardianship Order. We have detailed below a few cases focusing on what can be learned from these decisions and support the development of good practice.
In all the cases to the credit of each local authority involved there has been a clear commitment to remedy matters, make positive changes and improve practice within the local authority.
Special Guardian Order (SGO)
s. 14A Children Act 1989 details a special guardianship order to be an order appointing one or more individuals to be a child’s “special guardian/s”.
This order legally secures the child’s long-term placement with the special guardian/s when the child is not able to live with their parents and can live. On the making of the SGO, the special guardian is granted parental responsibility and they can then make all day-to-day decisions in relation to the child to the exclusion of all others with parental responsibility with exception of the other special guardian if there is more than one.
Special Guardian Support Plans
The Statutory Guidance on special guardianship guidance on the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 as amended by the Special Guardianship (Amendment) Regulations 2016 detail that in accordance with regulation 14 the support plan should set out:
- the services to be provided
- the objectives and criteria for evaluating the success
- time-scales for provision
- procedures for review
- the name of the person nominated to monitor the provision of services in accordance with the plan.
Decisions by the LGO are helpful to learn from and to develop better practice
- Consider the Social Work assessment report and clearly record reasons for decisions made in relation to financial support
“Council did not do enough to support woman” reported 08 September 2022
You can read the full report by clicking here:
This case highlights the importance of the need for clear case recordings of the decision-making and the evidence relied upon before finalising the support plan.
Facts of the case:
A female carer took over the care of a young relative child under a SGO. The Special Guardian carer lived in a 2 bedroom property which she shared with her adult son, and as a result, the young relative child was forced to share a bedroom with the carer. The carer’s adult helped the carer to care for the child.
The accommodation was not suitable on a long term basis and the council did consider various options. It offered the carer and her son increasing amounts of money for the son to move out for a limited time and then later offered £30,000 to be used as a deposit for house or for the family to move to a larger property.
Although at first sight the offer of £30,000 could be considered a considerable amount of money, the LGO found that the local authority had:
- not been clear with the family about the support it would offer prior to the carer agreeing to take care of the child under an SGO;
- It delayed by 12 months in completing a needs assessment;
- failed to consider the social work report, and the impact on the child’s welfare if the adult son moved out;
- failed to show its calculations in its financial offers;
The local authority agreed to:
- apologise to the carer, pay her £30,000 for the accommodation and a further £500 to recognise the time and trouble she had experienced;
- review how it agrees and arranges SGO support plans to ensure they are clear on the support being offered including the financial support it will provide;
- carry out training for members of panels that consider requests for SGO payments to ensure they are aware of the need to consider any social work reports and
- to record the reasons for its decisions when the local authority decides not to follow the social work recommendations.
2. The support plan should consider the support for the children as well.
“council criticised for failing to support vulnerable children properly reported” reported 02 May 2019
You can read the full report by clicking here: https://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/news/2019/may/lancashire-county-council-criticised-for-failing-to-support-vulnerable-children-properly
This case highlights the importance of the support plan to address the needs of the children who will be subject or are subject to SGOs.
Facts of the case:
The siblings after a period of foster carer became subject of SGOs granted to the their uncle and aunt.
The uncle complained to the LGO in 2016 about the lack of support provided by the local authority, due to the sibling’s significant needs. The carers were of the view that they required specialist support including respite care due to the children’s past experiences.
To the local authority’s credit, it agreed to a number of recommendations. Unfortunately, the uncle had to return his complaint in 2018 as many of the agreed remedies had not been implemented.
The local authority was required to:
- apologise to the couple for failing to provide support to their niece before she turned 18;
- write to the couple setting how the family will be supported in future by issuing an amended SGO support plan.
- look at the couple’s training needs;
- pay the couple any backdated respite for the niece that has not been taken along with a further £300 for the distress caused by delays.
- apologise for the lack of explanation on how the amount the family would be paid was calculated, and a further £100 for time and trouble.
- backdate (to October 2016) the allowances owed
- consider what financial support it should provide the couple now the nephew is the only child in the household, and to backdate this from when the niece left home.
- Special Guardians should be consulted and given an opportunity to seek advice and support before taking on the role.
“couple’s support withdrawal highlights special guardianship concerns” reported 20 November 2018
You can read the full report by clicking here:
This case highlights the importance of informing and consulting prospective SGs before finalising support plans, thereby giving prospective SGs an opportunity to comment and to seek advice if necessary.
Facts of the case:
The couple had fostered 2 young siblings for around 18 months. The care plan was the children were not returning to their mother’s care, and the local authority approached the couple to care for the siblings long-term under a SGO. The siblings were thriving in their care and were happy to look after the children long term.
The couple stated that they were led to believe that they would continue to receive the same level of support as foster carers. The couple made it clear that the long-term arrangement needed to be financially viable for them.
The local authority failed to properly explain to the couple that their financial support will be subject to a review.
The investigation found the local authority had:
- failed to explain the financial implications of changing status from foster carers to special guardians
- failed to consult on versions of the support plan
- reduced allowances contrary to the support plan
- poorly explained its decisions and keeping records
The local authority agreed to
- pay £500 to the couple in recognition of the couple’s distress and trouble and
- report back to the LGO on how it will brief its staff on the correct procedures and legal requirements of Special Guardianship, particularly around making support plans clear on the matter of financial support and ensuring that:
- proposed Special Guardianship Support Plans make clear the local authority’s intentions regarding any conditions to be placed on financial support;
- it discusses Support Plans with prospective Special Guardians in a timely way, giving them 28 days to comment;
- it fully explains the financial implications to foster carers who wish to become Special Guardians; and
- how it plans to improve record keeping so it has evidence that prospective Special Guardians can make fully informed decisions before taking on the role.
The key themes to take away from these cases is the need to consult, assess and clearly case record the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the decision made in devising the final support plan.
How we can help
We are specialists in providing legal and social care training. If you require bespoke and practical skilled training on undertaking a SGO assessments or related subjects, please contact us for a no-obligation discussion of your training needs.
Copyright: The content of this legal briefing is the copyright of Kingsley Knight Training. It can be printed and downloaded free of charge in an unaltered form temporarily for personal use or reference purposes. However, it is prohibited for any content printed or downloaded to be sold, licensed, transferred, copied, or reproduced in whole or in part in any manner or in or on any media to any person without the prior consent of Kingsley Knight.
Disclaimer: The contents of this guide are for information and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice