There is little evidence to show that unaccompanied asylum seeking children are benefiting from special guardianship arrangements according to a new study commissioned by the government.
Special guardians were introduced as a half-way house between fostering and adoption, transferring legal responsibility for a child from local authorities to guardians but without severing links with birth parents.
One of the reasons put forward for introducing the new model was to provide unaccompanied asylum-seeking children with a secure, permanent home without compromising any strong attachments to their family abroad.
However, the study, which assessed the impact of special guardians in the first two years after its introduction in December 2005, found little evidence that asylum seeking children were being considered by councils.
The study also found that only 13% of special guardians were foster carers, with the vast majority (86%) being grandparents of children under five. However, government figures from 2007-08 showed two-thirds of special guardians were former foster carers.
Issues around financial uncertainty for foster carers becoming special guardians still remain. But the study also found that support from social workers was “inconsistent” with 61% closing cases after court proceedings.
In some instances, particularly for those guardians of children with behavioural problems or complex relationships with birth parents, case closure “had been experienced as unduly abrupt and their need for continuing support was not addressed”.
The study concluded that while outcomes of special guardianship were similar to those of adoption and foster caring, training and support was not as comprehensive.
“While special guardianship will undoubtedly offer a valuable permanence option for some children, it is much more likely to work successfully if it is adequately resourced and carers are supported to deliver the care that children need,” the authors stated.