Special Guardianship (SGO) – An Agenda for Change

Special Guardianship is finally getting some recognition that it needs. A webinar, Special Guardianship (SGO) An Agenda for Change took place on 15 March 2021.

It was hosted by Lancaster University; the key message is that Special Guardianship (SGO) finally is being recognised. The agenda highlights that there needs to a national strategy when it comes to Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) the distribution of support and development of resources.


agenda for change special guardianship 3 girls sitting together

Over the last decade there has been remarkable change in the use of special guardianship. It has become the main route for children out of the care system following care proceedings, overtaking adoption. But practice and policy have not yet aligned themselves to the implications of this transformation.

The Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University, Kinship (formerly Grandparents Plus)and CoramBAAF hosted a webinar that places special guardianship centre stage. It focuses on what changes are needed and how they may be implemented.

The following keynote speakers took part raising information about Special Guardianship and the plans to get this key group onto a national agenda.

Lucy Peake, CEO for Kinship is heading the taskforce in the agenda for change.

The webinar started by giving a flavour of what it is like to be a Special Guardianship Carer (SGO carer), the experience of being assessed.

Extracts were shown from the new training film (made by Lancaster University, Grandparents Plus and CoramBAAF funded by the ESRC).

Special Guardianship – an Agenda for Change


and its sister film

The First Day of Forever – Becoming a Special Guardian


It was touching to hear the personal stories of Special Guardianship carers and having been on the other side, the person assessing, it is something I have always wondered how to make the experience easier and better for the special guardianships that are assessed. What is clear is how different experiences were for these Special Guardianship carers, but what comes across most is the lack of support and advice available during the Special Guardianship assessment (SGO Assessment).

Josh MacAlister, Chair of the Independent Children’s Social Care Review

Josh Macalister spoke about the Independent Review in Children’s Social Care.  This recognised the importance of listening to experts in this matter. When they say experts, they are not talking about the university researchers, social workers or Judges, they are talking about the real EXPERTS.


Special Guardianship (SGO carers) are experts who have been there and walked in the shoes. They know what they need and it is time they are listened to.

Whilst recognising this, we know that there are also a range of professionals involved in Special Guardianship, social workers, lawyers and judiciary who also need to give Special Guardianship a voice.

You can sign up for updates from the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care here


agenda for change SGO carers and special guardianship

SGO Reference Group – Maxine Campbell

The Special Guardianship Reference group has been set up to inform policy and practice.

Maxine Campbell is a Special Guardian (SGO carer) and Project Worker, Kinship she spoke honestly and frankly about her experience when being assessed as a Special Guardian. Her key point was that although she had been able to navigate her way to sites like Family Rights Group and Grandparents Plus (recently changed to Kinship), she said at that point she didn’t always know the right questions to ask during her Special Guardianship (SGO) assessment.

She discussed how she was left with housing issues which had not been addressed at the time the SGO Order was granted. She discovered that as a special guardian she was not entitled to paid time off work and most importantly, that it was so difficult navigating the system to get support and resources as a special guardian carer.

Maxine Campbell said that Special Guardians need help in several key areas

  • Managing Contact
  • Education  
  • How to tell children their story.

 When asked what 3 things she would like to change, Maxine Campbell said

1.Support for SGO starting at the point of assessment. She would like a prospective SGO carer to be buddied with an experienced SGO carer who can help them navigate the system. Maxine Campbell spoke of how when she was being approved to care for a family member, she was not party to proceedings, this meant that there were people sitting in a court room making decisions that would affect her but she had no chance to add her voice. Never had she felt so alone trying to navigate the system.

2. Entitlement to financial support She found out that she was not entitled to paid leave like adopters are and that the financial support for SGO carers falls short in relation to other kinship carers. She would like to see a unified and fairer financial package for Special Guardianship (SGO) carers.

3. Support to manage contact. She discussed how the SGO support plan which sets out contact is often constraining and is not child focused, especially when it is not working. She highlighted that contact tends to focus on the parents rather than a distressed child.

Maxine threw in a bonus point she would like to see in the Special Guardianship (SGO) agenda for change

4. Education. She would like to see more information about Special Guardianship (SGO) available so that there is more awareness in areas such as DWP, statutory agencies, teachers, health departments, judiciary and the general public. Many people could probably tell you what a foster carer does and what an adopter does but many have never heard of Special Guardianship carers.

special guardianship carers carer and child with backpack holdling hands

Krish Kandiah is Chair of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board

He discussed that the aims of the Adoption and SGO Board is to get attention for Special Guardianship (SGO) out at governmental level and within the public arena.

He highlighted some best practice and gave Shropshire Council as an example of an authority who where there are matching SGO allowance with the fostering allowance.

It is fair to say that the chat blew up at this point with several Local Authorities highlighting that they that they too match the special guardianship allowances, the ones I noted were Redcar, Stoke, Staffordshire and I am sure there were a few more.

What is clear is that decisions are being made around Special Guardianship at a local level and it is still the luck of the draw as to which part of the country you live in as to what support you will get. Clearly, it should not be this way.

The key message was what is needed is a national strategy and national policy so that no matter where you are in the country you will receive the same level of support and care if you are a Special Guardianship carer.

Steve Walker, Director of Strengthening Families, Protecting Children Improvement Programme, Leeds City Council

Steve discussed how Leeds are re- thinking Kinship Care and Special Guardianship (SGO) care.

They take action early on using the Family Group Conference (FGC) model inviting families themselves early on in the process, to come up with the care plan.

Leeds have developed this area of care significantly, they have 3 kinship teams

They match the finance that is offered to Special Guardianship (SGO carers) and foster carers.

The support to Special Guardianship (SGO carers) is not time limited.

What they realised is that a national response is needed, not just local offers of support. It really is still a postcode lottery if you are a Special Guardianship carer as to the level of support and resources that are available to you.

Judith Harwin – Professor in Socio-Legal Studies, Lancaster University

Judith Harwin discussed the contribution of research to the change agenda for Special Guardianship.  

She discussed that Special Guardians (SGO) make a positive contribution to the care planning and prevents the return to Court because children are much more settled in Special Guardians (SGO) arrangements and are less likely to experience health difficulties if they live with a family member than in mainstream foster care, therefore it makes sense to invest in Special Guardianship carers and prioritise their support.

Although this information is known, she highlights that professionals are not making the best use of Special Guardianship and the wider research findings to support Special Guardians (SGO) carers properly.

The big issues she highlighted for Special Guardians were poverty, therapeutic support and housing.

  1. Poverty – Research shows that poverty impacts families but Special Guardians (SGO) carers continue to fall through the net in financial assistance that they can obtain.
  2. Therapeutic support – Just 10% of the ASF fund has been allocated to Special Guardians (SGO) carers for therapeutic support. Special Guardians (SGO) still seems to be largely invisible in the Adoption Support Funding. It was also important to note that it is not just the children but SGO carers who can also suffer emotional and mental strain within these arrangements and there is no support for them.
  3. Housing – Special Guardians (SGO) carers have no entitlement to housing based on their status and there needs to be change and recognition in this area.

Judith Harwin discussed some of the reasons for these gaps. Simply put she states that research is not being used to back up policy and strategy regarding Special Guardians (SGO) and has not caught up yet.

Using research she would like to bridge those gaps and to see research being used more in Special Guardians (SGO) decision-making process and highlights that :-

Special Guardianship (SGO) needs a national strategy, and support should be the same irrespective of where you live

Special Guardianship (SGO) needs to be valued more. Local Authorities need to remove the disincentives to become an SGO carer

Special Guardianship (SGO) Education is needed. Many agencies and the general public don’t know what Special Guardianship (SGO) is and what Special Guardianship (SGO) carers do.

Contact and Special Guardianship (SGO)  – there is a huge gap in the support and how contact is managed. SGO carers are left to manage this on their own.

Professor Harwin sums it up aptly, she says it

‘It feels likes a jigsaw puzzle full of empty pieces’.

puzzle pieces special

Special Guardians all over the UK will be relieved to learn that change is on the agenda and that the missing pieces are being worked on, lets hope that the missing pieces will be put together with a good fit for Special Guardianship carers all over the UK.

Special Guardianship Info –  Giving SGO a Voice

UPDATE 9th May 2021

Since the webinar, in which over 700 people attended, there is a resource pack that has been put together through the Lancaster University research partnership.

you can find it in the Resources Section 

You can also find the update resources at  Special Guardianship Resources for England 

There is also an article calling for investment in special guardianship 

The key figures responsible for the information update are:-

Judith Harwin 

Professor in Socio-Legal Studies and Co-Director Centre for Child & Family Justice Research, Lancaster University 

Lucy Peake

Chief Executive, Kinship 

John Simmonds

Director of Policy, Research and Development, CoramBAAF 

Special Guardianship Info –  Giving SGO a Voice