The recent focus on the higher number of babies and young children removed from their parents places an even greater imperative on understanding permanence, as we are talking about a child living with alternative parents or carers for all but a few minutes or weeks of their life.
In the UK today, there can be no one size fits all permanence option. Families and communities are recognised as altogether more dynamic and complex than when I was adopted, when adoption was more of a moral crusade to place the children of ‘undeserving mothers’ with ‘deserving and better off’ couples.
That policy and practice led to many successful placements but it carried with it the unsavoury undertone of stigma, miscarriages of justice and the state removing children from poor families without assessments or safeguards.
To some extent, the recent focus on making special guardianship placements for babies and very young children safer can be located fairly within that historic trend, and for good reason. In the last year or two, some very young children have been placed with extended family carers who they do not know and with whom they do not have a prior relationship.
The assessment of carers in these circumstances has to be akin to that of non-family permanent placements. It should take into account the track record of caring, the ability to understand the child’s need to recover in many cases from abuse or neglect. It also needs to take into account the understanding, capacity and capability to provide a vulnerable child with a good level of care throughout their childhood and indeed their life.
I have been involved with how best to tighten up the Special Guardianship Regulations to achieve this, so that the placements lacking this focus and framework can be stopped, or at least considered properly before a court authorises them to go ahead. Most Special Guardianship placements are indeed special. They allow children to remain within their kinship care network when they can’t live with their parents and the placements are consistent with an inclusive family model which is alive and well in the UK today.
So tightening up the situation for very young children, for whom Special Guardianship Orders were not originally conceived, will mean that Special Guardianship as a whole will be strengthened as a permanence option. As I say, I have been involved heavily in this and welcome the change which was announced by the Department for Education on 17th December.
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