A local authority has been criticised after a rushed special guardianship assessment left a young girl to suffer years of “Dickensian” cruelty.
According to reports, six-year-old “Megan” had been subjected to neglect and physical assault by her parental grandmother who had been granted a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) three years earlier.
SGOs have grown in popularity over the last decade after multiple court rulings declared that adoption should be a “last-resort permanence option”.
The order gives the special guardian – often a family member – parental responsibility for the child, where the child cannot return to a parent but does not need to be kept in care or be adopted.
However, after investigating Megan’s case, the Gloucestershire safeguarding Children Board concluded that the assessment of Megan’s grandmother proceeded too quickly despite a Cafcass guardian’s concerns.
In particular, the review found that the culture within the council at the time “allowed managers to sign off reports for special guardianship cases from social workers they trusted without seeing them, in order to save time”.
Additionally, family members were often subject to “far less scrutiny” than potential adopters and foster parents.
In Megan’s case, the review found that her grandmother – who at the time had serious money problems – “had no time to assimilate” her role as a grandparent and seemed “emotionally flat” during the assessment.
Commenting on the case, the board said: “It is not clear if the [grandmother] fully understood the enormity and permanence of what the SGO involved.
“Professional practice and the actual assessment process was below the standard expected. Practitioners were of the apparent predisposition of keeping a child with the family wherever possible, and believed the SGO would inevitably be agreed by the court, a preconceived practitioners’ assumption, in any case.”
Welcoming the report, Richard Boyles, Gloucestershire Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Safeguarding and Early Help, said: “It is clear that, with our partners, we could have intervened more effectively at the time these events occurred.
“A significant amount of progress has been made since to learn lessons and improve the way we work.”