Adoptions Are Falling, Do You Need A Special Guardianship Order?


More local authorities are choosing to recommend special guardianship orders instead of placing children for adoption. Children are being kept within the family but more needs to be done to support families after the transition.

Children and Special Guardianship Orders

Adoption – The Unpopular Option?

According to figures obtained by the BBC, in 2014 520 children, mainly aged 4 and under were made subject to special guardianship orders compared to only 160 in 2012. Over the same period the numbers of chidren being made subject to placement orders (which allow a child to be placed for adoption) have fallen dramatically. A special guardianship order enables children to be placed within the care of their extended family, friends or foster parents until they reach the age of 18.

Many have put this rise in special guardianship orders, and the fall in adoptions, down to two court decisions made in 2013, which were perceived to have changed the law in this area.

Greg Moss, our Family Law Partner in the Bristol office commented on the supposed change in the law by saying;

"There was a widely held perception that a couple of cases in Court of Appeal and Supreme Court in 2013 (Re B-S and Re B) raised the bar for adoption, making it more difficult for social workers to satisfy the court that the test for adoption had been fulfilled. The court in those cases said that adoption was to be an option of 'last resort' and only where 'nothing else will do'. The perception amongst social workers and adoption workers, as well as many lawyers, was that adoption law had changed as a result."

"In late 2014 there was a further Court of Appeal decision (Re R). The President of Family Division said that it had not been his intention in Re B-S to change the law relating to adoption and in fact the law had not changed at all. In Re B-S, he had simply been clarifying the processes that needed to be followed both by social workers and the courts in order to ensure that every realistic option for a child’s care had been thoroughly explored, and that all options had been properly weighed in the balance. Social workers, he said, should not shy away from recommending adoption where that was in the best interests of the child."

Do You Need A Special Guardianship Order?

The requirements for a special guardianship order are less onerous than for adoption but there is some evidence that they are being used to provide a child with permanence, in circumstances where adoption might previously have been thought the better option. One of the primary concerns about the use of special guardianship orders over adoption is the huge variance in levels ofsupport given to families after the order has been made. This can include financial support but many relatives express concern about taking on such a huge responsibility if they cannot receive assurances that a particular level of financial support will be maintained throughout the child’s minority, and such an assurance is rarely provided.Special guardianship orders may not always be appropriate in every case and identifying when they are and making an appropriate recommendation will be the role of the social worker and of the Children’s Guardian in the proceedings. The ultimate decision is for the court of course..

Used in the right circumstances, special guardianship orders can offer a child the perfect outcome, ensuring that his links with his birth family are maintained while providing much prized “permanence” to ensure continuity of care throughout his childhood. Proper support, including financial support, is a key element contributing to the success of such arrangements.Greg gave us his thoughts on why he thought special guardianship orders are currently overtaking adoptions.

"Whether the law changed or not, the requirements on social workers to assessl family members as potential carers, and the way in which they must now present their evidence when applying for a care order with a plan for adoption, appear to have reduced the number of applications for placement orders. That may be a good thing, if more children are able to remain in their wider families, or a bad thing if social workers and the courts are settling for a less permanent orsecure option for a child because of perceived barriers to adoption (whether real or not)."

We see a number of family members, including grandparents, who seek special guardianship orders to make sure the children in their family are raised with those who love them. Simpson Millar LLP can help you to make that happen so they're not adopted out of the family.

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