Extending Placement Orders to Special Guardianship Orders

Part of Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:45 pm ar 12 Ionawr 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education) 12:45, 12 Ionawr 2017

I am aware of that. Mr Elvin is also very supportive of the changes we are making in clause 8. It is worth reminding the hon. Lady that I do not think there is the universal support for the new clause that she suggested. There are mixed views about what the right approach is and that is why we need to tread with some caution on the way forward.

The majority of special guardianship orders are given to carers with whom the child is living. They are cases where the child already has that relationship or is already in a caring situation. For the few who are not, the proposal would provide an opportunity, as the hon. Lady has said, to test the special guardianship placement in practice and allow the special guardian to reflect on the additional responsibilities they are taking on.

In some cases, that is very sensible. However, we believe that there is already sufficient flexibility to allow for that in the current system if a local authority and court believe that more time is needed to carry out a full assessment of a potential special guardian. Without boring the Committee too much about my previous life at the Bar, I recall a number of cases where there were adjournments of hearings in order for that to take place. Courts have the right to adjourn care proceedings to allow more time for an assessment to take place.

Although we have encouraged courts to complete care proceedings within 26 weeks, the rules are clear that this time can and should be extended where it would be in the interests of children to do so. In many cases, that happens where a potential special guardian has been identified late in care proceedings. We hope that the emphasis now on more pre-proceedings work will ensure that there are fewer cases where at the last minute a new potential carer comes forward.

Other courts have granted care orders to allow the local authority to place the child with a foster carer or kinship carer who is a potential special guardian—that is another route to test a placement—and the special guardianship order is then applied for after the child has lived with the carer for a few months and after a full assessment of their parenting capacity and skills has been carried out.

Although good decision-making is crucial, I am not persuaded that the introduction of a new special guardianship placement order is the best way forward. Indeed, there might be some risk that an order of that kind could encourage delay or instability, if courts and local authorities were to use it as an opportunity for a trial period for an arrangement that has little potential to succeed. That could cause harm for the child in the long term, if they move to a new placement.

In agreeing with the hon. Lady about the synopsis, we part ways somewhat when it comes to the solution. As she has acknowledged, we are already making changes through regulation and in the Bill to ensure that any assessment for a potential carer as a special guardian is as robust as it would be for any other placement. We know that we need to try to improve the long-term stability of those placements to avoid the unnecessary breakdown that we are seeing in some cases. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Lady will agree to withdraw the new clause.