Contact with birth parents or family
It can be important for children to have contact with birth parents and family as it allows them to maintain a relationship and have a sense of identity. It should be a positive experience but there are occasions when it is not seen as in the child’s best interest. This may be because the child presents with emotional or behavioural difficulties before, during or after contact. It could also be because the parent says things which may upset the child or there are occasions when a child will simply refuse to go. While it is important for Special Guardians to promote and encourage contact they cannot force a child to attend.
The level of contact with the birth family recommended by the local authority will be something that is discussed with you as part of the support package.
Applications for Contact Order
Parents can make an application for a Contact Order and if granted contact cannot be changed without going back to court.
The local authority are not in favour of a Contact Order (unless in special circumstances) as it prevents the Special Guardian from varying the contact arrangements to suit the changing needs of the child. However, the Special Guardian can terminate the contact session if the child becomes distressed or is unsafe or stop contact if the child is at risk or suffering significant harm.
Generally it is expected that Special Guardians will supervise contact between the child and their parents and family members. In some circumstances it may be necessary for the contact to be supervised by a professional following a risk assessment. However, work can be undertaken with the Special Guardian and parents to reduce risk and put safety measures in place so that eventually the Special Guardian will take on the supervisory role within a reasonable timeframe.
If direct contact cannot take place then telephone contact may be an alternative.
If no Contact Order is in place and the Special Guardian is considering making changes to the contact arrangements, such as allowing it to become unsupervised, it is advised that they first seek advice from the Special Guardianship team.
The Special Guardian team provides advice on contact issues which may include arranging mediation between the Special Guardians and birth parents/family or providing training.
Leaving care services for children under Special Guardianship Order
Section 24(1) of the Children Act 1989, as amended, provides that a young person aged 16 – 17 who is the subject of a special guardianship order, or a young person aged 18 – 21, who was the subject of a Special Guardianship order when he reached 18, and in either case immediately before that order was made, he was looked after, accommodated or fostered by a Local Authority, is a person who qualifies for advice and assistance under s24A and s24B of the Act.
With respect to financial assistance being provided to a Special Guardian where the child is reaching 18 years of age, a Benefits Advisor may be asked to undertake a review of the family and young person’s entitlements prior to the young person reaching the age of 18. If the young person does not have any benefit entitlement in their own right, any ongoing Special Guardianship allowance will remain in place until the last day of the academic term of the year when the child reaches the age of 18.