The number of children made subject to special guardianship orders continues to rise year on year. According to figures released by the Department of Education, between April 2014 and March 2015, a total of 3,520 special guardianship orders were granted compared to 3,360 in the previous year. Even more startling, the number of special guardianship orders granted has almost doubled from the 2010/11 figure of 1,780.
A special guardianship order is made under the Children Act 1989, appointing one or more individuals to be a child's 'special guardian.' It is intended to benefit those children who cannot live with their birth parents, however, it does not extinguish the legal relationship between the child and their birth parents as an adoption order would do.
Often children subject to a special guardianship orders are placed in the care of extended family such as grandparents. They are also quicker to implement than adoption orders, allowing vulnerable children to enter a stable family environment which provides the permanence so often lacking in their lives.
Due to the process being brisker than a formal adoption procedure, groups working closely with families worry that selection and vetting processes for special guardianship orders are not detailed enough. There are also concerns that the level of post-placement care available after adoptions is not as prevalent after children are placed with relatives through a special guardianship order.
A person granted a special guardianship order over a child has responsibility for that child until he or she reaches 18 years of age unless the order is discharged before then.
The special guardian has the right to make decisions about the child's day-to-day care. However, a special guardianship order does not remove a parent's parental responsibility for the child. Parents retain the right to be consulted on major decisions that concern the child such as changing the child's name.
Concerns have been voiced regarding the fact that the number of adoptions taking place in the United Kingdom is declining at a rapid rate despite more children being taken into care. Questions are being asked as to whether the fall in adoptions is related to the over-reliance on special guardianship orders.
A government research report entitled Impact of the Family Justice Reforms on Frontline Practice Phase Two: Special Guardianship Orders (2015) concluded that some child-welfare agencies were concerned about special guardianship orders being used for babies and infants when they were originally designed to assist older children. The report also highlighted a lack of consistency regarding the application of special guardianship orders between local authorities.
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