Special Guardianship Assessment: How to structure visits to gather the information and a suggested timeline

Special Guardianship Assessment: How to structure visits to gather the information and a suggested timeline

This post was updated on 14.03.2021

With ever decreasing timescales to complete a Special Guardianship assessment report, you will need a plan of how to structure your visits in order to capture all the information.

The court process in care proceedings is required to be concluded within 26 weeks. Therefore all assessments requested need to fit into this timeline. You may think there is plenty of time to complete the Special Guardianship assessment within this timescale. However it does not work that way.

More often than not Special Guardianship assessment is often quite the opposite. On the whole the expected timescale for completion is often only 12 weeks at best. In some cases, I have seen Special Guardianship assessments requested to be filed within 4-6 weeks time!!

What is clear is that these unrealistic timescales, do not lend themselves well to the process. It is not simply a matter of meeting an applicant on a few occasions, learning a bit about them and reaching a recommendation.

The full special guardianship assessment of family members, is more intricate than that, it is a loaded assessment to begin with.

There are heightened emotions, applicants who may still be in turmoil from what has happened, and many who had not even thought of taking on the care of a child are suddenly required within 6 weeks to make the decision about whether to turn their whole lives around in order to keep a child of their family within.

 

Because Special Guardianship is often court directed and there are expectations, family feel under pressure to comply; they will do what is needed.

Their actions coming from a place of adrenalin, fight and fight in this case.

They only have one drive to keep a child of their family within and this is their sole focus. They drive forward fast and single minded.

Before they know it the Special Guardianship (SGO) order is granted and they are literally left holding the baby.

The Local Authority walk away and it is now up to the Special Guardians, to deal with the day to day, this is when the reality of the situation slowly starts to sink in.

It is my view, the current short timescale therefore do not lend itself well to enabling the prospective Special Guardian to process what is happening.

It does not give time, for the heart and the brain to catch up and stop, and assess fully what the next 18 years will be like.

The most important consequence of handing out such a short timescale to complete Special Guardianship assessments, is that families already feel this pressure to care for a child, they may have been asked by the parents, how do you say no?

Their instant reaction is to agree, and often they do not have time to reflect on what is happening. Everything moves so quickly and before they know it the Local Authority have handed them the child and left them to get on with it. That is when the work really begins for them.

Special Guardian carers find that this is the point that they really start to understand what this means for them. They do not have the time to process this in the current short timescales, alongside the pressure of an assessment or the anxiety of knowing whether they will get through the assessment.

Suggested Structure to complete Special Guardianship Assessment

You should aim for between 5-8 visits to complete the full Special Guardianship (SGO) assessment.

Visits should last between 2 – 2½ hours and you should ask applicants to set aside this time for the visit, with no distractions.

If they are caring for the child, then it would be useful to have some of these sessions without the child present, in order that they can fully focus on the assessment process, however part of your assessment is the observation of the child in their care, and so this should form the majority of the assessment.

Some assessors condense the visits, into longer sessions, with less frequency, this works better in assessments where the applicants live out of county or abroad, this makes more sense.

 

For example, I assessed a couple in Northern Ireland and was there for two days. The assessment took over their whole weekend, and we just kept going for as long as they felt able. We would take breaks just to have time to stop, it was important for this to happen, for both them and myself.

But when you have limited time, it is going to depend on the applicants and their ability to convey their information, and you will need to keep them on track with this.

Suggested Structure of Special Guardianship Visits

Visit 1 – Introductions, completion of statutory checks (DBS, Health and Safety, Pet Assessment, Financial Assessment), booking onto any preparatory training, confirm that they have obtained information about what Special Guardianship is and what this means for them in terms of Parental Responsibility, their reasons for coming forward, establish their past and current relationship with the child, what is their understanding of the concerns that have led to the matter and what harm do they think the child has experienced.

Visit 2 – Complete each applicants individual history – details of childhood, siblings and their parents information using genograms. Take education and employment history, health, personality, physical descriptions, request photographs. Their experience of being parented and reflections of this.

Visit 3 – Details of the couple’s relationship and information about previous relationships.

Visit 4 – Details of their previous and current parenting ability, you may also start to focus on the parenting of the child.

Visit 5 – Continuation of ability to care for the child and looking at the areas of the regulation report section n which is their ability to care specifically for the child, their ability to manage contact and discussion about how they see contact in the future. You should also discuss their support needs, which should be intrinsic throughout the process.

By the end of Visit 5, you should have gathered enough information required to complete most sections of the report. It is recommended that you should complete writing up the report following each visit.

At this stage you will have a draft of the Part 4, which relates to the applicants, which you should then share with the applicants.

Ensure that you add a watermark to this part of the report indicating that this is a DRAFT. You should give the applicants time to read this draft report before completing your final visit with them.

Visit 6 – Consult with the applicants as to whether the draft report is a fair evaluation of them. Discussion about any areas that have been omitted, any factual changes that need to be made, any areas of disagreement about the report. This is an important aspect of the analysis, for example, do the applicants view themselves any differently to the way you view them? If so why is this, and do the views reflect those of their referees and checks that have come back.

You will need to make any updates and consider in consultation with the Child’s Social Worker who has likely completed the Parts 1,2,3 of the report. You should be provided with these parts as early in the process so that you have a clear understanding of the child’s needs.

The assessment of the applicants is your assessment of their future ability, you should state in Section 9 – The Recommendation, whether you have reached the view about whether they would be suitable to become Special Guardians.

Additionally, you will also need to factor in visits to interview three referees, any adult children and ex -partners if this is applicable. As you can see this is going to take a fair amount of time as well as a lot of writing power.

Reaching a Recommendation

You will ultimately be reaching the final conclusion as to whether they are suitable or not to become Special Guardianship carers for this child.

Once you have reached this point, you would need to confer with the child’s social worker (CSW) to advise them of your recommendation about the Special Guardians, and how this will fit in with their care plan.

The CSW will need to formulate their care plan based on the outcome of your recommendation. This is the crucial point, the time when there may be differing views between social workers about the plan.

Remember, your role was to assess the Special Guardian, ultimately you would have assessed whether they are suitable or not to become Special Guardians.

It will now be up to the Child’s Social Work team to formulate the care plan, you should input into this, especially when there are differences of opinion, and you should be the advocate for the Special Guardians as well as what you believe would be in the best interests of the child.

Remember, that you must be in full agreement with the ultimate care plan, to place a child with the special guardians or not, you could be called upon to give evidence in Court and you will need to be able to back up fully any decisions made and how these were reached.

Expectations of the Special Guardianship timescale.

Ideally the expectation has been that Special Guardianship assessments were completed within a period of no less than 12 weeks, however there has been an increasing trend by the Court to direct Special Guardianship assessments to be completed within 6 weeks, sometimes less.

There is much debate over this and the inherent risk this carries not to mention the effectiveness and robustness of such an assessment in terms of safeguarding a child, in many cases as is being seen used more often for  babies, they will be caring for a child for 18 years.

The role of the assessing social worker is therefore a crucial one not only do you have to build up a rapport with the applicants quickly, you also need to be able to gauge their motivation and ability to sustain the care they say they will provide.

I have completed several Special Guardianship assessments, where I reached a positive recommendation, whilst the Children’s Social Work team had been opposed to the placement with the Special Guardian carers, in some cases favouring adoption or even long-term foster care as the preferred option, when there was a suitable Special Guardianship placement assessed. Remember case law, Re B and BS, and ask yourself will this do and is this in the best interests of the child?

You need to ensure that when planning, that the child’s needs are not lost, and you need to be certain that these carers can care for this child until 18.

Your recommendation is ultimately one of risk and you need to be certain that these risks are balanced and clear. 

Special Guardianship Info –  Giving SGO a Voice

If you are a prospective Special Guardian or are already a Special Guardian, then get updates and resources information -  at our sister site at www.sgosupport.co.uk

Welcome to Special Guardianship Info -  Giving Special Guardianship a Voice.

*Disclaimer

This is a personal blog, reflecting my views and opinions, not necessarily those of my employer or anyone I’m currently working with. The information I provide is on an as-seen basis. I make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information on this blog and will not be liable for any errors, omissions or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its use.

Special Guardianship Info –  Giving SGO a Voice