Special guardians require more advice and support from councils before taking on the role, a report has warned.
The finding forms part of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s review of a case in which Bedford Borough Council “unfairly” cut the financial support to a couple.
The unnamed pair were asked to become special guardians to the children they were fostering “without fully involving them in the process” and “not properly explaining” how financial support would be reviewed, said the Ombudsman.
It added that this was “despite the couple saying they didn’t want to accept the arrangements if it meant a reduction in their income as professional foster carers”.
The review follows Ombudsman calls earlier this year for councils to learn from the seven out of 10 complaints it upholds about Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) to “ensure children and their guardians are properly supported”.
SGOs were introduced in December 2015 by section 115 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. They involve appointing one or more individuals to be a child’s ‘special guardian’, effectively giving them parental responsibility for the child. This gives the special guardian control over most of the decisions relating to the child, without taking away parental responsibility from the child’s birth parents.
Commenting on the recent review of Bedford Borough Council’s decision to remove financial support from the couple, Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Special guardians do a vital job in providing stability and security for some of our most vulnerable children who cannot live with their birth parents. While taking this on willingly, in return they deserve to have all the facts to understand the implications for their lives.
“In this case, Bedford Borough Council simply didn’t follow best practice in advising, involving and consulting with the couple.
“In addition, I have used our powers to recommend how the council should improve its procedures in the hope that other potential special guardians will not be placed in the same position.”
Following the investigation, the council has agreed to restore the couple’s payments to the level received as foster carers, including any backdated payments they were due.