Special Guardianship in Wales: Experiences and Support Needs

A Special Guardianship Order is a court order granted to people who are not a child’s birth parents, but are people who are known to the child or their family. This order aims to give legal rights to a carer in recognition that the child is permanently in their care. This order can be granted through private or public law proceedings. A Special Guardianship Order can be positive for some families, as it aims to provide more stability for a child, and less involvement with services if this is not what they want or need. However, some special guardians have raised issues with the lack of support that they get once this order is granted.

Although the use of Special Guardianship Orders in Wales as a route for children leaving care is now more prevalent than leaving care though adoption, it is an under researched area. Little is known about which families have these orders, what their characteristics are, how many have SGOs under private or public law, and what the children’s needs and experiences may be prior to the SGO being granted. A new study by Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE), funded by Nuffield Foundation, aims to address this gap.

This project provides an opportunity to draw on expertise in a multidisciplinary collaboration comprising the Neurodevelopment Assessment Unit (NDAU) at the Cardiff University Centre for Human Developmental Science (CUCHDS; School of Psychology), The Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) and the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank. This will enable application of methods used with adopted children and their families, children in care, and families in the general population to address our aims. The project has the potential to make a step-change in our understanding of structural, social, and psychological factors that could impact on long-term outcomes for children subject to SGOs.

How do you plan to utilise the SAIL Databank for your study?

Using the SAIL Databank, we plan to link relevant datasets to establish individual and structural factors characterising SGO households and the child’s pre-SGO care pathways across Wales. This will enable us to develop a nuanced picture of who these families are and enable a consideration of contextual factors that might impact on children’s outcomes, such as neighbourhood factors and the role of regional variations through accessing whole population data at a national level.

Can you elaborate on the specific datasets within SAIL that you intend to use within your study?

The following linked administrative datasets will be used to derive variables for analysis:

  • Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru to identify children who received an SGO and their carers, and whether this was through public or private law proceedings.
  • Looked After Children Wales to identify comparison children in care who do not receive an SGO. It will also be used to identify demographic information and information about care histories of those who do/ do not receive SGOs.
  • Children Receiving Care and Support Census and Children in Need Wales to identify additional concerns that local authorities have identified in relation to the children.
  • Welsh Demographic Service to identify residents in the household once the SGO has been granted and identify comparison households with children from the rest of the population. It will also identify deprivation levels, and age and gender of household members.
  • Health datasets including Welsh Longitudinal General Practice, Patient Episode Database for Wales; Emergency Department Dataset; NHS Hospital Outpatients; Outpatient referrals from primary care to identify health/mental health issues in both children and carers.
  • Education datasets to identify Special Educational Need (SEN), ethnicity, school attendance while in care and Free School Meals status when in carer’s household.

Will you be linking across these datasets? If so, what benefit will this have to your study?

We will link all the datasets listed above using Anonymous Linking Fields (ALFs), to create two datasets through which we will carry out our analysis.  One will include the details of the children who receive SGOs.  This will be derived from the CAFCASS Cymru data, but it will be linked to the other children’s social care, education and health datasets.  The other datasets will be a dataset of the carers and their households, which will again be derived from information in the CAFCASS Cymru data and linked to Welsh Demographic Service data where we will identify the households children are living in once they have received their SGO using the Residential Anonymous Linking Field (RALF). These data will also be linked to health and education data.

What potential impact do you anticipate your study will generate, and what positive changes do you envision it bringing about?

Having access to the data held by SAIL provides an opportunity to build a clear picture of these families in Wales. In consultation, Special Guardians raise the issue that with no data, they struggle to argue for the support that their children need. Having access to an accurate reflection of Special Guardianship in Wales can help to empower these families to self-advocate for support.

The study explicitly aims to improve support for special guardianship families in Wales. It is anticipated that this project will have a medium and long-term impact on child welfare practice, contributing to a growing body of research, providing local authorities with greater insight on how best to design and implement services to support Special Guardianship families once the order has been granted, including how assessment and support plans can best be designed to enable long-term positive outcomes for children and guardians.

In the long-term, it is anticipated that this body of research will help increase the stability of SGOs, and support children who are subject to an SGO to achieve positive outcomes in line with their same age peers.

Read more about this study here: https://cascadewales.org/research/special-guardianship-families-in-wales-experiences-and-support-needs-nuffield-foundation/

To learn more, email: SGO@cardiff.ac.uk