Ombudsman challenges councils to ensure appropriate support provided for special guardians

Councils need to provide the right support and guidance to carers and children subject to Special Guardianship Orders, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.

The advice comes following publication of the Ombudsman’s report, ‘Firm Foundations’ which highlights the variety of problems faced by special guardians in seven out of 10 complaints it upholds about councils on this subject.

Special guardians are people who look after children who are not their own, following a court order. The Special Guardianship Order (SGO) gives children more permanence than a regular fostering arrangement, and gives their guardians more rights to make decisions on their behalf. In practice, they are often a less costly option for councils than residential or foster care.

Common faults include councils not giving the right advice, including about the financial support available, before people become special guardians – leaving them to make uninformed decisions about the long-term implications.

Sometimes children who need the protection of a SGO have additional needs, and the Ombudsman is also seeing problems with councils not getting proper support plans in place, leaving guardians unclear about the support available, and for how long after they become guardians.

Other problems the Ombudsman sees include councils incorrectly calculating, changing or cutting special guardianship allowances. In one case, a council wrongly calculated the allowance it paid to scores of families over a number of years.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King said:

“Special Guardianship Orders can offer a stable and secure home life for some of the most vulnerable children in our society; children for whom, for whatever reason, it is not possible to live with their birth parents.

“Many of these guardians are also family members, and take on their role willingly, but with little notice and without understanding the consequences. It is imperative, therefore, that these children and their guardians get the right support available to them – and without having to fight the system to get what they are entitled to.

“Many of the investigations detailed in the report have resulted in councils taking positive steps to improve their practices. I would encourage all councils that have a duty to support people contemplating becoming special guardians to learn from this report and ensure their policies and procedures include the proper provisions for families.”

There has been a steep increase in the number of SGOs made over the past seven years. Government figures show that more than 5,300 were made in 2015 - 81% more than in 2011.

The Ombudsman’s report draws on best practice guidance written by a council in response to a complaint it upheld, and offers advice to local authorities to ensure their policies and procedures properly support both existing and prospective special guardians.

It also includes a number of questions local councillors can use to scrutinise their authorities to ensure they conform to statutory guidance and best practice.

Article date: 17 May 2018