What is the current policy and practice for social workers on planning contact between special guardianship children and their birth parents?
AuthorsThompson, Nicholas John
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AbstractSpecial guardianship is a new but rapidly expanding area of permanency planning that is increasingly popular with families and kinship carers. In 2017, 3,690 children left care for a special guardianship placement, and a further unknown number were granted orders in private proceedings. An integral feature of this new legal option is that where it is considered to be in the child’s best interests, they should continue to have some level of contact with their parents, after the special guardianship order has been granted. Social workers have a duty to assess, plan and recommend what the nature of that contact should be. However there is virtually no policy guidance provided to them on how to undertake those duties. Positive contact with their birth parents can help a child maintain existing bonds, while making sense of how they are part of two families, in order to explore and develop their sense of personal identity. To a large extent it will also determine the nature and success of the child’s future relationship with their parents. So these are vital decisions that will affect the child’s physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing. Yet very little is known about the process that social workers undertake in order to decide what level and type of contact is appropriate in each special guardianship case. This study set out to investigate the planning and recommending of birth parent contact in special guardianship cases. The literature review demonstrated a paucity of studies of this field to inform policy and practice, although information was gathered from other fields where contact is held, such as kinship care and fostering. The research method comprised of an online questionnaire that was completed by 102 local authority social workers, two focus groups for social workers and two focus groups for special guardians. The results provided quantitative data on what social workers included in their recommendations, and the factors they considered in reaching their decisions. Qualitative data from practitioners described the difficulties in planning contact for the long-term in complex and fluid family contexts. Involving special guardians in the study gave a chance to include the different perspectives of the people who have to make the contact recommendations work, and contrast their views on contact planning with those of the professionals. The carers provided additional insights into the challenge of managing contact, and the problems they faced when the parents were not always reliable or responsible. Recommendations for addressing the issues raised included more use of reviews of contact, a scheduled move from the initial contact plan to the special guardian assuming full responsibility for contact decisions, keeping cases open for a ‘settling in’ period, proposals for all contact plans to include training, and a rebalancing of the responsibility for contact onto parents through the use of contact agreements. This study has provided understanding of a crucial area of child permanency planning that has not been investigated before, by including the large-scale involvement of social workers, and introducing the contributions of service-users.
CitationThompson N.J. (2018) ‘What is the current policy and practice for social workers on planning contact between special guardianship children and their birth parents?’. Prof Doc thesis. University of Bedfordshire.
PublisherUniversity of Bedfordshire
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted to the University of Bedfordshire in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Professional Doctorate
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