No parent or carer imagines that in striving to prevent a child entering care they will ruin the child’s chances to get specialist therapeutic support later on down the line when it is desperately needed, or lose the chance to access the specialist knowledge of the Virtual Head Teacher for Looked After Children. Yet this is the scenario that special guardians can find themselves in when the Adoption Support Fund and Pupil Premium Plus are not available to the children and young people they care for, if they were not ‘previously looked after’.
Two special guardian SG&AT members have decided that this not OK and they are going to campaign to stop this injustice. These are the same children, with the same needs, and it is plainly wrong that in trying to do the right thing for a child, that much needed support becomes inaccessible.
Specialist knowledge and understanding are absolutely vital for special guardianship and adopted children in schools, social care and the education sectors. The child’s need for safety, stability and security within their family where they receive love and affection that the corporate parent cannot offer, is of paramount importance, yet the approach taken may not place this need at the heart of the support given. This can happen if the professional or agency has limited experience of working with special guardianship and adoptive families and does not fully appreciate the pressures of parenting or caring for a child with a difficult past on family life. Many of our children have undiagnosed neurodiversity issues such as FASD or autism. When a child’s difficulties are not recognised, hidden because they are not physical, or remain undiagnosed, the child and family can struggle to get the help and understanding that is needed – especially when the child’s behaviour, rather than its cause, becomes the focus.
A Virtual Head Teacher, with their oversight role, can make such a positive difference to a child and family who are struggling because of the legacy of a difficult past. Last year, following a major project funded by the DfE and DfH, the SCIE recommended that there be a virtual mental health lead for every Looked After or Previously Looked After Child (see recommendation 5). Although this important recommendation has not yet been acted on by government and become a reality, it seems that were this to happen, many special guardianship children would still be left without the help that is needed – by their special guardians striving to prevent the children from being taken into care.
Like many other special guardians, Katherine and Jennifer, and their partners, were completely unaware of the fact that by preventing the child from entering care they would subsequently be unable to access much needed support for the children they care for. They have both had to give up work/reduce hours to care for their special guardianship children, and cannot afford to pay for specialist therapy privately, with local services under so much pressure. Being able to access the right support in a timely manner is of utmost importance for families where children are on the edge of care.
If you have been affected by this issue, or would like to join SG&AT as an adopter or special guardian, or if you would like to pledge your support for this campaign please get in touch using the contact form below. We will pass your details and comments onto Jennifer and Katherine, who are taking the lead on this campaign.
SG&AT are also interested in hearing from MPs and councillors who are concerned about special guardianship and adoptive families getting the right support, with services under pressure, and the impact this is having on vulnerable children at the edge of care who need permanency.