Special Guardian’s Leave
A few months ago one of our Instagram followers messaged us for some advice as they were starting their Special Guardianship process. They wanted to know whether we had received any paid leave from work once we became Special Guardians as they were worried about what they were going to do. And this got us thinking. No, we hadn’t been entitled to any paid leave… why was that? It hadn’t even crossed our minds at the time, but now, just over two years since we legally became Special Guardians, we have questioned why this isn’t the case.
For those of you that are new to our blog, you might be wondering what on earth Special Guardianship actually is. Back 2000, the Government identified the need for an alternative legal status for children that offered greater security than long-term fostering but without the absolute legal severance from the birth family that stems from an Adoption Order. Thus, Special Guardianship Orders were born. A Special Guardianship Order should:
- Give the carer clear responsibility for all aspects of caring for the child and for taking the decisions to do with their upbringing
- Provide a firm foundation on which to build a lifelong permanent relationship between the child and their carer
- Be legally secure
- Preserve the basic link between the child and their birth family (birth parents will still have some parental responsibility)
- Be accompanied by access to a full range of support services, including where appropriate, financial support
The key point here is the ‘where appropriate’ when it comes to financial support. Special Guardians are entitled to Special Guardians Allowance. This is means tested and seems to differ between local authorities. In our own experience, we were not made aware of any financial support that we were entitled to during. It wasn’t until after we became Special Guardians that Jade’s Mum did some extensive Googling to find all of this out.
However, the issue we have is not with money. It’s about how Special Guardianship is meant to be something that goes in-between adoption and foster care, yet the support in place is far from similar.
After we were messaged about paid leave, we conducted a little bit of research and were shocked to find out it isn’t just Special Guardians that aren’t entitled to paid leave. You are not eligible if you arrange a private adoption, adopt a step child or adopt a family member. To us, this all just seems ridiculously unfair.
Firstly, it just completely undermines the transition and change that those children are going through. The circumstances that lead up to a child needing to live with someone other than their birth parents is never going to be a positive story. Those children will have almost certainly gone through a significant trauma. Why is that not recognised? Why is it seen as less important? For us, our Niece and Nephew came to live with us almost instantly (they spent the first few days with their grandparents). They never retuned to their Mummy’s home. They were dealing with a whole range of emotions (not just grief), moving house, going back to school, adapting to life without their Mummy. They were learning to lead a whole different life. And we were too. We went from having no serious commitments, to being responsible for two young children. We now had to think about bedtime routines, behaviour management, school trips, ironing uniform, as well as dealing with bereavement. We’d say all of that is a pretty gigantic transition for a family to go through.
Many people who become Special Guardians are also family members, and take on their role willingly, but with little notice and without understanding the consequences. Because they know that that is the right thing to do and because it will ensure that the child does not enter the care system. It is imperative, therefore, that these children and their guardians get the right support available to them – and without having to fight the system to get what they are entitled to. For us, there was no other option than to suggest that we care for our Niece and Nephew. And luckily other family members agreed with us. They supported us endlessly, not just emotionally but financially too. We were not entitled to any financial support for our court fees from the local authority as Niece and Nephew were not classed as ‘looked after’. If there was any funding that we were able to access, we weren’t made aware of it.
So what difference would special guardianship leave make? It would enable families to spend valuable time together during the toughest time in their lives. Being able to take paid leave from work would mean that families can effectively support each other during that initial period of change. It would also give the Special Guardians the security of knowing that they will be able to return to work. So many Special Guardians we have spoken to have said they had to give up their job so they could give the child the appropriate support. Our Special Guardianship assessment took 9 months to finalise. So if leave did exist, it wouldn’t have started until after that point. This still would have given us the time and opportunity to slow down. To stop running on empty. To spend some quality time with our Niece and Nephew. Without having to worry about money.
It is time for special guardianship to receive the recognition and support that it deserves.
Because of this, we have decided to set up a petition. We want Special Guardians to be given paid leave in line with adoption. If you would like to sign our petition then please click this link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/266064
It only takes a few minutes but will make a world of difference.