The 29th of February 2016 saw The Special Guardianship (Amendment) Regulations 2016 come into force. The changes create additional factors that need to be addressed in any Special Guardianship assessment that is ordered after this date.
Having been instructed on cases involving plans for Special Guardianship, alternative carers contesting negative assessments, and even proceedings following the breakdown of a Special Guardianship placements, I would imagine that there are those who would welcome such changes and consider them long over due.
In short, the additional specific areas that assessments will need to address are:
(1) Any harm which the child(ren) has suffered and/or the risk of future harm posed by the parents, relatives or other person the local authority considers relevant;
(2) The nature of the prospective Special Guardian’s current and past relationship with the child;
(3) Addressing specifically the ability of the Special Guardian to meet the child(ren)’s current and likely future needs, particularly any needs arising out of the harm the child has suffered;
(4) The understanding of and ability to protect the child from current and future risk posed by the child’s parents, relatives etc.
(5) Suitability of the placement until the child(ren) reach 18 years of age.
At first blush, it might seem that addressing these additional areas will ensure that more attention is paid to the support package both in terms of services and also finances.
In my view, the changes also perhaps highlight that parties need to be aware of obtaining permission to disclose select papers to prospective carers at an early stage in proceedings. This would allow them to properly consider their position and address these issues as they will now form part of the assessment itself.
It will be interesting, perhaps, to see how existing reports or those that have been directed before 29 February will cope under any adverse scrutiny, particularly as report from Department of Education was publish in December 2015 and it was this report that helped form these new amendments.
For further information, you can find the 2016 amendment regulations here.
You can also view the SGO Consultation Report here.