no order principle - what is a 16.4 guardian

One of the more common arrangements in care proceedings is for a child to be placed away from their parents but with a family member, such as a grandparent or uncle or aunt. However, concerns have arisen about the quality of some of those placements and whether the placement was really in the child’s best interests. Sadly some placements break down and the child experiences further disruption and involvement in legal proceedings. On 24 May 2019, the Family Justice Council issued guidance to address concerns about the quality and adequacy of special guardianship and connected persons assessments.

The 26-week deadline for care proceedings to be concluded has led to assessments of prospective Special Guardians and connected persons needing to be completed and filed within six weeks, so that the court can comply with the timetable.

The guidance reiterates the importance of identifying potential carers early during or pre-proceedings. The local authority and children’s guardian should act proactively, even when the parents object, to identify and assess potential carers when this is in the child’s best interests. There is a recognition that an assessment should take at least 12 weeks, depending on the complexity of the case. The requirement to conduct a full assessment will justify the extension of the 26-week deadline.

The guidance alerts Local Authorities, legal representatives and the court of the need to provide potential carers with full information about the assessment process and what will be required of them. Information should also be given about their options to challenge a negative viability or full assessment. It outlines the essential checks and time required to have sufficient sessions with the potential carers and allow them time to adjust and reflect on their position. The assessment must inform the court about the quality of the relationship between the child and the potential carer. If extra time is required to ensure the stability of the relationship and placement, the 26-week deadline should be extended and the legal framework for the child to be with the proposed carer should be considered, if it cannot be as a kinship foster placement. Prospective special guardians should be given an opportunity to read the assessment report before it is filed and seek legal advice on the support plan, which should be filed with the Local Authority’s final evidence.

Local Authorities should formulate information fact sheets that social workers can provide to potential carers, to ensure compliance with the guidance, and provide the court with a schedule of the assessment sessions before the case management hearing.

Accordingly, the need for and importance of early legal advice in care cases is essential to provide the best outcome for a child involved in such proceedings.