Article 39 is a charitable organisation fighting for the rights of children in institutional settings.

Over the last decade social media platforms have enabled peer support groups to develop and grow – and in these groups policymakers would see a very worrying picture of adoption and special guardianship where parents and guardians too often end up desperately battling for support that is not forthcoming and having to make heart wrenching choices to put children back into the care system to keep the child or young person, themselves and other family members safe. The prevailing narrative is not however of relentless battles for support – but of a fund, the Adoption Support Fund, that has benefited many adoptive and special guardianship families. The reality behind the political rhetoric is this fund has created a new postcode lottery;  many special guardians and adopters cannot access it at all (for example, special guardians who prevented a child from entering care are not eligible for the fund); the funding is capped at £5k with restrictions around the sort of support that is provided and who offers this support and local authorities can prevent rather than expedite support through assessments that are misleading and inaccurate. By the time we reach out for help we will be on the verge of crisis – and the Adoption Support Fund, with the way it is administered and set up, is not geared up for crisis support of children and families in desperate straights. By the time help comes it is often too little and too late – if it comes at all.

The exact number of special guardianship children and adoptive children re-entering care is not known because many local authorities do not complete the returns they provide to the Department of Education in respect of the child’s legal status This information is missing for over 4k children – according to the statistics published by the DfE. 

When our children go back into care, where many end up in institutional settings, it is not because of us failing them – but due to the fact they are very hard to care for – for anyone. They still need to feel part of a family and a community. They still need to feel they are loved and wanted. Unfortunately the legal frameworks that support us when a child leaves the family home prematurely are not at all helpful for us to advocate for our children and get them the support they need. Once over 18 there can be little we can do sometimes apart from support our children as best we can so that they are not judged by their behaviour, which stems from trauma and loss – and punished instead of getting therapeutic help. Tragic outcomes often result because we are pitched against local authorities who want to save money in the short term and their agenda may not always be in line with a child’s best interests, although they will say this is what they think of first. There are power disparities: the pockets of a local authority run deep when it is to protect their reputation and we often cannot access legal aid and take cases to Judicial Review. Making complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman takes months if not years.  The system is abysmally failing our children and families and it is very important that the rights of our children are protected and their voices and ours can be heard.

We think adopters and special guardians need to be very worried about the rights of their children with the changes that have been taking place under Covid 19. These are described below by Article 39 taken from their website:

23 April 2020 – government lays a statutory instrument before Parliament which makes around 100 changes to 10 sets of children’s social care regulations. 65 safeguards for children in care are removed or diluted – affecting, for example, social worker visits, six-monthly reviews, adoption and children’s placements outside their home areas.

There was no public consultation. The changes came into force the very next day. Article 39 is legally challenging these changes; our judicial review is due to be heard in the High Court on 27 and 28 July.

13 May 2020 – government lays a statutory instrument before Parliament which reduces the rights of children detained in juvenile young offender institutions relating to education, training, physical education, family visits, access to chaplains and religious services, and the adjudication process.

There was no public consultation. The changes came into force the very next day and exactly mirror those made in respect of adults detained in young offender institutions. Although they are linked to COVID-19, the changes apply until 25 March 2022. If you are aged under 18 and affected by these changes, or you are a parent, social worker or advocate with concerns, please contact us.

1 July 2020 – government lays a statutory instrument before Parliament which reduces the rights of children as young as 12 detained in secure training centres (one is run by G4S, the other by MTC) relating to education, activities, family visits, physical education and work to tackle offending behaviour. The accompanying Explanatory Memorandum states that children’s time outside their cells can be reduced to a minimum of 1.5 hours a day (from 14 hours).

There was no public consultation.The changes came into force the very next day. Although they are linked to COVID-19, the changes apply until 25 March 2022.

SG&AT is fully supportive of Article 39’s legal challenge to scrap Statutory Instrument 445, which undermines the rights of our children and we hope that the Judicial Review will consider the fact that a high proportion of the children in the care system are adopted and special guardianship children who did not get the support they needed in their permanence family.