As trailed at the start of the year.
The Special Guardianship ( Amendment ) Regulations 2016
These have been introduced by the Government, in response to their consultation about Special Guardianship Orders and the feeling arising from that consultation that some additional factors needed to be included within Special Guardianship reports. The new additions come into effect for any report that was commissioned (either by request by prospective Special Guardians or ordered by a Court) AFTER 29th February 2016.
That does raise the possibility that someone who asks for an SGO assessment on 28th Feb ends up with a slightly different one to a person who asks for it the next day.
The original Special Guardianship Order Regulations 2005 set out all of the matters that need to be included in a Special Guardianship report, and they add up to sixty eight items in all.
The new Regs add
In the section about the child
any harm which the child has suffered;
any risk of future harm to the child posed by the child’s parents, relatives or any other person the local authority consider relevant;
And adds to the part about assessing the child’s needs – current or in the likely future
In the section about the prospective Special Guardians
an assessment of the nature of the prospective special guardian’s current and past relationship with the child
[Meaning that the report will look at what the special guardian means to the child and vice versa, over and above the pure genetic relationship – one would assume that a prospective special guardian who had spent time babysitting or caring for the child or having regular visits would thus compare favourably to one who was genetically related to the child but had never met them. ]
And on the assessment of parenting capacity of the Special Guardian
an assessment of the prospective special guardian’s parenting capacity, including:
(i)their understanding of, and ability to meet the child’s current and likely future needs, particularly, any needs the child may have arising from harm that the child has suffered;
(ii)their understanding of, and ability to protect the child from any current or future risk of harm posed by the child’s parents, relatives or any other person the local authority consider relevant, particularly in relation to contact between any such person and the child;
(iii)their ability and suitability to bring up the child until the child reaches the age of eighteen;
[This is incorporating a concept of reparative parenting into the assessment. As I’ve said before, one person’s reparative parenting is another person’s social engineering, so we probably won’t know how this is going to work until the Court of Appeal tell us]
The changes are pretty sensible to me. They are additional factors to an existing pool of sixty eight factors. As Special Guardianship is intended to be a permanent solution for children, it must be right that the likelihod of the placement enduring permanently is considered.
The Regulations say nothing about how much weight any of these new factors have to be given within the assessment, just that they are mandatory factors to be identified and considered.
The real crux is in drawing together the factors and making a conclusion. I’m sure that some will argue that there can be no hard and fast rules about what is to be given what weight, and some will argue that as Parliament (or rather Government, as this is by way of Regulation not Act) has spoken and felt it necessary to include these additional factors that they should be assumed to carry some weight and force within assessments, for good or ill.
As these are Regulations, they do not impose on the Court a duty to particularly take these matters into account, although they will be delineated specifically within a report now rather than inferred or pieced together through other matters. It would be a somewhat churlish Court that ignored them completely. As I’ve said, it is the weight to be given, and particularly how far the reparative care element is taken that is likely to be the subject of litigation and debate.
[We are, I think, a month after the Minister ‘unveiled’ the major changes to adoption law, without seeing a glimpse of what lies under the veil. Maybe tomorrow.]