Adoptions numbers drop sharply as use of Special Guardianship Orders increases
Recent figures show that children who are made subject to Special Guardianship Orders, where a child is placed with foster parents or members of the extended family, have tripled in the last 24 months. Instead of being adopted or fostered the child usually remains with the special guardian until they reach 18 years of age.
Adoption has been falling while babies, mostly children under four years and under, made subject to Special Guardianship Orders rose from 160 in 2012 to 520 in 2014.
Children’s rights groups are supportive of guardianships, which tent to take place within the existing family unit. Adoption UK points out that such orders provide permanence and safety for children. Special Guardianship is seen as a long-term option and a safe alternative to care proceedings or adoption for children who have been neglected or abused.
They also point to recent court cases which underline a local authority’s duty to consider all available options, such as placement with relatives before seeking adoption.
However, campaigners have also expressed concern at the drop in adoption rates and suggest that this could be due to over-use of Special Guardianship Orders in cases where they may not be the best option. Special Guardianship Orders were originally introduced to be used alongside adoption, designed primarily for older children for whom adoption is not appropriate. There were 960 child adoptions in 2014, a significant drop from the 1,830 in 2013.
A briefing paper prepared by the Department of Education suggests that the overall progress of children placed with guardians was better in some circumstances than others. Children fared best where the emotional bond between the guardian and the child was stronger prior to the Special Guardianship Order being made. The outcomes of the orders were also better where the children did not show signs of behavioural problems.
The report also stressed that children’s integration within the family was much higher where guardians received a high level of support from their immediate families.
What is a Special Guardianship Order?
A Court Order made to appoint a guardian for a child if they cannot live with their parents. The legal relationship between child and parents is not brought to an end (unlike with adoption) and the Order normally lasts until the child reaches 18 years of age.