Special Guardianship Order Reports: Tips and Hints

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Special guardianship assessments are one of the most detailed and extensive assessments to complete within Children’s Social Care Services. An SGO serves to grant parental responsibility to one of more special guardians (usually kinship carers or sometimes foster carers) whilst not severing the bond with birth parents. It was introduced in 2005 as a permanency option and once granted is expected to last until the child/ren reach the age of 18 years.

The amount of information needed to formulate the assessment can be daunting and very time consuming. As such, I have put together some vital information and tips to consider during the assessment process.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Legislation and Guidance” font_container=”tag:h2|text_align:left|color:%23ef7e21″ use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]

  • The Special Guardianship Regulations 2005
  • The Special Guardianship (Amendment) Regulations 2016
  • Children Act 1989
  • Adoption and Children Act 1989
  • Re B-S judgement
  • Special Guardianship Guidance 2017 (updated from 2005)
  • DfE Impact of the Family Justice Reforms on Front-line Practice Pase Two: Special Guardianship Orders – research report – August 2015
  • DfE The impacts of abuse and neglect on children; and comparison of different placement options – Review – March 2017

Supervision Orders have quite commonly been attached to SGO’s due to remaining doubts about the prospective guardian’s ability to care for the child/ren on a long term basis. However, the government have reported that “it is vitally important for the Local Authority analysis to be robust, supported by strong and independent evaluation” so as to reduce the need for Supervision Order applications.

The report will encompass a detailed assessment and analysis of the child/ren, both birth parents and the applicants. Below is not an exhaustive list, but may help in some aspects to consider:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Family history” font_container=”tag:h2|text_align:left|color:%23ef7e21″ use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]

  • When interviewing parent’s and prospective special guardians, ensure all family names, dates of birth, places of birth, any deaths and explanations for deaths are gathered and the dynamics of each relationship. This will enable you to consider the support network and any conflict within the family that should be explored further.
  • A short personal history of the parents and special guardians should include occupation, health care difficulties, any risk factor in respect of alcohol use, drug use, criminal activity, mental health or psychological difficulties. In addition, the way in which each special guardian was parented and what have they learned from their own past experiences etc.
  • Analysis of their early life and teenage years to include any involvement with the Local Authority, any welfare or child protection concerns. Include any physical abuse, sexual abuse, how their emotional needs were met and any negligent patterns of parenting.
  • An analysis of the special guardian’s relationships with each birth parent including any risk factors.
  • Consider family conferencing to enable the wider family to provide support for the placement sustainability.

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  • Undertake a chronology of educational placements for each special guardian. This needs to include any qualifications gained, changes in schools and why, experiences of bullying or being bullied, special educational needs, school attendance, attainment and exclusions, their values regarding education.
  • Include any college courses and/or university courses and whether these were completed.
  • Previous, current and future career goals and aspirations and how these can be achieved as a special guardian.

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  • A full chronology of the special guardian’s employment to include explanations for leaving employment (whether sacked and reasons why), periods of time out of work and if they were in the forces (if dishonourably discharged) and possible mental health implications from such employment.

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  • Undertake an analysis from the special guardian’s own self reporting in respect of their childhood and adulthood to include any serious illnesses, accidents, injuries or operations (including head trauma).
  • The impact that any medical or health care problem has had upon their ability to parent or quality of life.
  • Medical records should be made available and should be considered. The medical records can also be cross-referenced with other aspects of the assessment. For example, drugs, alcohol misuse and mental health.
  • Special guardian’s overall physical health and age should be taken into account, including any illnesses that are degenerative, any patterns of health problems in the family, hereditary illnesses, smoking, diet and exercise.

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  • Consider whether mental health services were involved when the prospective special guardians – whether as children or as adults.
  • The Recent Life Events questionnaire and the Adult Wellbeing Scale are useful tools to use.
  • Consider whether the special guardian has attempted to take their own life, self-harmed or had suicidal ideation. Detail here when each event happened and in what context etc.
  • Consider any medications taken and the reasons for such medication.

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  • Create a chronology in respect of the use of alcohol and drug use to include all substances. For example, cannabis, heroin, cocaine, glue, gas, amphetamines and psycho-active substances. Detail here when any problematic use started and the context etc.
  • The Alcohol Use Questionnaire should be undertaken.
  • The medical records should be cross-referenced in respect of drug and alcohol use.

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  • Complete a detailed analysis of the applicant’s forensic history to include all involvement with the police and courts.
  • Discuss all relevant convictions with the applicant and set out their response within the body of the assessment report. Cross reference with their respective criminal records.
  • Identify any patterns of behaviour and any risks regarding illegal activity upon the child/ren.

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  • Complete a detailed account or chronology of each special guardian’s relationship history, the children from the relationships (on-going contact etc.) their involvement with those children and any concerns about those children.
  • This section should include any relationship issues, such as domestic violence, reasons for relationship breakdowns, child deaths etc.
  • Interview previous partners and their experiences of the prospective special guardians.
  • Stability of current relationship, any periods of separation, how disagreements are solved, how each applicant views the others characteristics etc.

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  • Include how long they have known the child/ren, and in what context, how much involvement they have had, their understanding of the needs of the child.
  • Their on-going understanding of the longer term needs of the child up until 18 years of age and any difficulties they may face regarding the child/ren’s past experiences.
  • Their understanding of any current or future risks posed by birth parents.
  • The strength of the previous and current relationship between the child/ren and the applicants.
  • Include a ‘day in the life of’ to explore an average day (if children are currently placed with them) in the children’s lives.

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  • To include observations between applicants and child/ren.
  • Observations of applicants during interview process.
  • Discussions with family members and references.

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  • This aspect should include an analysis of their practical, emotional, financial and professional support networks, their attitude to help and support and their ability to engage and co-operate.
  • Familial and friends references should be obtained.

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  • A detailed analysis of the home conditions should take place, details of each room should be observed, look out for any aspects that could present a risk to the child/ren. The Home Conditions questionnaire is a useful tool.
  • Consider whether the family is vulnerable to eviction, debt, privately owned, rented etc.
  • The outside area of the home should be seen, both front and back and any safety aspects discussed.
  • The children’s bedrooms and bedding should be seen.
  • Any pets and any risks attached – meet the pet.

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  • Complete a detailed analysis of the applicant’s income and expenditure. This should be supported with bank statements or other documentation and should also set out what disposable income is spent upon. Any loans, CCJ’s, debt should be taken into account.

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  • The domains of parenting capacity should be considered through the observation of contact, discussion during interview, information obtained from other professionals, references and questionnaires and scales completed.

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  • Analysis should take place on the applicant’s ability to meet the health, education, emotional and behavioural developmental needs of each child, provide emotional, financial and home life stability.

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  • The applicant’s ability to safeguard the child from parental risks, their understanding of what the risks are and how they will manage these.
  • To include other potential risks, e.g internet use, social media, stranger danger and how risks may increase as the child enters adolescence including CSE, drug and alcohol use, mental health etc.

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  • This should include an understanding of the child’s identity within the family, the child’s attachment to the parents, the parents’ attachment to the child, the sibling attachments, religious persuasion and sexual orientation and how these will be managed and supported.

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  • How the applicants will provide a stimulating environment, extra activities, family time etc.

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  • What is the applicants understanding of these aspects of care, what their values are regarding boundaries, routines, (cross reference in ‘day in the life of’), expectations, behaviour management etc.

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  • This should consider the children’s social presentation and self-care skills but should also include the applicant’s ability to meet these needs. Their own social presentation and self-care skills to include; how they manage their health, household, emotional well-being etc. and how they have presented during the course of the assessment and any deficits within self-care skills should be raised.

Finally, just remember not to become overwhelmed with the amount of information needed. Organise yourself to discuss specific sections in each interview session so as to break the process down.

You can also set ‘homework’ to enable the gathering process to become easier. For example, request family trees to be completed by each applicant before your next meeting, a chronology of employment, education and income. In addition, for the applicants to involve themselves in research regarding the impact of specific abuse and neglect the child/ren may have experienced. Above all, always keep the child’s needs, safety and welfare at the centre of the assessment.

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Author Bio

The Author of this blog is an experienced Social Worker, Practice Educator and Independent Social Work Consultant who enjoys sharing experiences and learning new skills and knowledge. Background includes working in Child Protection, Family Court, Fostering, EDT, Adults with Learning Difficulties and the Youth Justice System.

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Parenting Risk Assessment: What You Need To Know

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Parenting Risk Assessment is fundamentally a report to determine the specific and level of risks posed towards the child/ren and parent’s ability to adequately and safely care for them long term.

The Department for Education document ‘Assessing Parental Capacity to Change when Children are on the Edge of Care: an overview of current research evidence – Research report’ is a good starting point in preparation for the completion of a sound and robust assessment.

Often undertaking a Parenting Risk Assessment can be a challenging prospect. Particularly given that usually there is no ‘one formula’ or template to use. As such, here I have put together a useful guide (with headings) that will help you detail and focus on the salient points of the assessment process.

Other tools that are useful include:

  • NSPCC Assessing parenting capacity factsheet.
  • DfE Children’s Needs – Parenting Capacity 2nd Edition (Child abuse: Parental mental illness, learning disability, substance misuse and domestic violence.
  • Cafcass website – Forms, templates and tools for external practitioners.

Holistic assessment

The assessment will be underpinned by information from the child/ren, parent’s, carers and professionals working with the child/ren and their family. It is important to set out the report with the specific concerns and how these risks can be reduced and managed. Whether this includes parenting support in a specific areas or the child/ren being removed from such an environment.

By setting out each specific risk will allow the report to flow, be clear on what the concerns are, will enable you to analyse each risk individually, how this can be addressed and if indeed there is a risk with evidence to support your analysis and recommendations.

Here are a few tips to consider when in the process of completing a parenting risk assessment.

Chronological history

Where to start? Ensure that you have a good knowledge of parental history, patterns of behaviours and ability to make positive and sustained change. A chronology of significant events (both concerns and strengths) is crucial and can support you to filter through sometimes very extensive past documents and give a good indication of patterns of behaviours. This will give you a sound knowledge base regarding the family and will help to measure any progress made.

Observations

It is important to observe contact between the child/ren and their respective parent’s in order to understand the dynamics and functioning of the family. Dependent upon the risks identified, observations would be much more natural and enable a deeper understanding of family functioning should this process be observed over several hours each time. For example, in the community with tasks that the family have to plan and achieve as well as within the family home (if this is possible). It can also be useful for educational settings to be vigilant to parent and child contact at the beginning and end of the school day.

It is possible for these observations to form your analysis regarding the attachment the child/ren have with their respective parent’s and the bond that they have with each child. Determining the type of attachment will provide you with more depth with regard to the analysis of the risks and how these may or may not be managed due to the relationships in the family.

Information gathering

You are likely to have a host of information relating to the child/ren and their family. It is important to ensure that you filter through this information as to what can be evidenced and what cannot. Ensure that information gathering from other professionals is also evidenced and not based upon ‘hear say’. Checking the sources of information is fundamental to completing a true and fair account of risks involved. It is the narrative of any good assessment.

Of course a multi-agency approach to assessment is fundamental. Therefore contacting all agencies working with the family is crucial in determining the most appropriate recommendation.

Focus

Keep your focus upon the specific risks involved and how these impact upon the child/ren. Offer actions to be taken to reduce each risk and whether or not the risks are potentially too high to manage and whether engagement is likely.

By being focused will enable the assessment to flow.

Child’s voice

Ensure that the assessment is focused upon the impact of the child/ren throughout the assessment. Do not lose sight of this! Ensure the child’s wishes and feelings are sought and are included in your assessment. You will also need to analyse why these wishes and feelings are either in the child’s best interest or not.

SMART planning

If you are recommending a plan of work, ensure this is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic & timely). Ensure the plan is detailed enough with timescales, including the reason for the task and what is expected to change.

Make clear recommendations

Finally, ensure your recommendations are concise with a clear outcome of what needs to happen next. Use your supervision to discuss your findings to ensure you are secure in the recommendations you are making.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Author Bio

The Author of this blog is an experienced Social Worker, Practice Educator and Independent Social Work Consultant who enjoys sharing experiences and learning new skills and knowledge. Background includes working in Child Protection, Family Court, Fostering, EDT, Adults with Learning Difficulties and the Youth Justice System.

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An open letter to my childhood social worker, Trish Johns

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]For lent I chose to write a letter a day to a person who has impacted upon me. In the world of social work you often do much, for what feels like little reward. This is a reminder that the impact you have upon children is far reaching than you imagine. This is an open letter to my social worker when I was a small child, to say thank you. The social worker was called Trish Johns, and she worked within Newport Social Services.

I was a small child, the unkempt kid in school that people would look at in pity. The home in which I lived as a child was cold and never warm, I remember washing my hair under the cold tap as we often didn’t have money or electricity to warm the immersion heater. Clothes were washed as and when my mother chose to do the washing. I’m ashamed to say that here was a time when the clothes and bedding we had was stolen from others washing lines in order to care for ourselves. Mornings at home were often spent looking for something to wear that was a) not too smelly, b) that fitted and c) something that was not too ugly or hideous that would make us stand out more so from our peers. I wanted to go to school but lack of accessible clothing often prevented this. My sister had already decided she would rather not go to school so made less effort.

It was one of those days where the coldness of the tiled floor would make my feet tingle with chills, despite placing the blanket off my bed, on the floor to make a carpeted area. The grey sky outside producing an endless drizzle of rain, the kind of day where I’d sit watching rain drops roll down the window to while away the cold, hunger and boredom.

I would often look forward to Trish Johns home visits, she was the type of mother I wished for; she was all mumsy and caring. She would reprimand my mother, which for some reason I took joy from. She would point out that the way she was caring for us was unacceptable and that she should be looking after us children better, allowing us an education. Trish arrived on a day when I was watching the rain drizzles race down my mothers bedroom window, I would often sit at my mothers window as I could see who was arriving at our house and watch people pass by. I saw Trish’s car pull up and ran downstairs to greet her, my mother hated social workers visiting so I often tried to intercept workers knocking by answering the door quickly.

Trish, like many mothers, including myself will often tidy our children’s wardrobes and cupboards, removing clothes too small and making way for new clothes. It was what Trish did with these clothes which was of significance to me. Trish took me and my sister down to her car and opened her car boot; she had clothes, lots of them, all dry and clean smelling! What Trish didn’t realise that day, was that it was better than any Christmas I had ever known, which wasn’t hard as Christmas tended to be pretty bleak in our house, however the clothes were what I believed Christmas should feel like. My sister and I carried the bags back indoors and chose clothes for ourselves. For weeks later I attended school, which wasn’t the norm, for once I felt proud that I wore outfits all clean and not smelly; for once I felt like the normal kid, things so many children take for granted. The bags had socks in as well, socks were often overlooked, but mean so much, especially when you have cold feet! I slept in the socks and was wearing two pairs at a time so I could rotate them without taking them off for fear of losing them. I must have had really cold feet thinking about it!

I don’t think I ever thanked her for being the social worker she was. The act of kindness she showed has stayed with me to this day, some thirty years or so later I remember her so well. It’s the little things as adults that count as huge things for children, the impact is more so than you think. So when you’re having a tough day as a social worker remember the little things you do are huge to a child, keep doing them. When you’re having a tough day as a leader within social care remember that the frontline workers are doing a job that requires caring and this caring costs nothing but is having a huge impact upon the children they work with, so please support them with this. So a big thank you to Trish Johns and a big thank you for all you still caring within social work.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Michelle E. McKay

Michelle is an independent practitioner who prides herself on her work ethic; professionalism, efficiency and integrity. The ethos of Michelle’s work is based within improving life chances and outcomes for disadvantaged children and young people.

Michelle is able to assist with conferences as an experiential speaker, motivational speaking given her own upbringing in the care system and living in an abusive household and factual guidance for television scripts and research.

Should you wish speak with Michelle or would like to find out more, please call on 07970100780

Click here to connect with Michelle via LinkedIn.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]