Children’s directors denied that foster carers were being “pressurised” into becoming special guardians to save councils money, after latest figures showed the number of guardians continues to rise.
Government figures out last week showed there were 1,120 special guardianship orders (SGOs) recorded by councils in 2007-8 compared with 760 in 2006-7, itself a threefold increase on the year before. By contrast, the number of adoptions fell from 3,300 to 3,200.
SGOs were introduced in 2005 as a halfway house between adoption and fostering. Of people granted SGOs in 2007-8, two-thirds were former foster carers. However councils are only obliged to remunerate this group for two years after the order is granted, after which funding is at councils’ discretion.
Investigation into special guardianship orders
A Community Care investigation in July found that some councils removed funding from ex-foster carers after two years and that some carers were being “pressured” to accept SGOs, with councils saying they would otherwise remove the child from them (www.communitycare.co.uk/108795).
Ann Baxter, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services health, care and additional needs committee, denied carers were being pressured.
“This is proving a positive option and children and families are welcoming it,” she said.
Councils fail to inform about level of support
However, Vicky Swain, campaigns manager at charity Fostering Network, claimed the statistics showed councils were persuading more foster carers to become guardians “without telling them the truth about levels of support”.
“There should be a review of guidance to ensure that funding after two years is compulsory,” she said.
Mo O’ Reilly, director of child placements at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, suggested some councils could be using SGOs instead of adoption where adopters could not be found. She added that the application of the orders varied widely across councils.
The figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families also showed only 67% of children who had been in care for at least two-and-a-half years had either been placed for adoption or in the same placement for at least two years by April 2008, falling short of a government target of 80%.
• Figures from www.communitycare.co.uk/lacstats