In public proceedings cases where the Local Authority has initiated proceedings, it has a responsibility to ensure firstly that the best interest decision of securing permanency through a Residence Order or a Special Guardianship Order is in the children’s interest.
Secondly to ensure that the permanent carers have been assessed and matched through a proper panel process and then passed on to the Agency Decision Maker. This demonstrates that the local authority has taken a departmental view rather than an individual view in relation to meeting the needs of the children concerned.
This, is critical as once a Residence Order/Special Guardianship Order is granted, the Local Authority does not have statutory responsibility to monitor the children through the reviewing process.
The Adoption & Permanency Panel or the Placements Panel also makes recommendations regarding allowances and support needs which will then be required to be ratified by the Head of Service for Placements. The Head of Service can also give approval on individual cases.
In private proceedings, e.g. where the applicant makes an application for a Residence Order or a Special Guardianship Order in respect of a child, where the Local Authority is NOT party to the proceedings, then the applicant can make a request to be Means Tested for eligibility for a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Allowance. This can only be done when the applicant has been granted and given a copy of the court order. The applicant may apply by contacting Brent’s Kinship Team on 020 8937 4521 on receipt of the court order.
If the applicant is eligible (following the means test) these allowances are subsequently paid at the same rate as the Long Term Fostering allowance - less a sum representative of child benefit (which can be claimed by the RO or SGO holder).
A Residence Order or Special Guardianship allowance is subject to an annual review, which ensures that all is going well, the child is still being cared for and that public money is spent in an accountable way.
There is no requirement for Residence Order/SGO applicants (where the order was granted in Private Proceedings) to have their case presented to the Adoption & Permanency Panel. It is the responsibility of the relevant Team Manager and Head of Service to authorise payments where the applicant has satisfied the Means Testing requirements.
Cases are usually presented to the Placements Panel for formal agreement unless in exceptional circumstances this cannot happen. If the Means Testing process is successful, payment of the Residence Order/SGO Allowance will be backdated to the date of application (referral) for an allowance. Payments will not be made retrospectively i.e. for orders granted in earlier years.
It is expected that the carer will apply for the Child Benefit allowance which will then bring the rates below into line with the rates paid to Long Term Foster Carers or Adopters.
When a referral is received for a Residence Order Allowance Assessment, a social worker will be allocated to conduct an initial visit. As part of this visit, the social worker will take a Residence Order Allowance Financial Assessment form for the applicant/s to complete. The social worker will explain the Means Testing process to the applicant during this visit. Applicants who can provide evidence that they are in receipt of state benefits can fast track this aspect of the means test.
The completed financial assessment form is then returned to the Kinship Team Administrator, along with evidence of all income and expenditure. The income and expenditure section of the financial assessment form is then checked against the evidence supplied. The financial exercise is completed once all the information supplied has been entered on the database.
A Residence Order settles the arrangements about who a child is to live with, and if the child has been Looked After by a Local Authority under a Care Order, this ends and the Care Order is extinguished. The Residence Order holder acquires Parental Responsibility for the child but unlike adoption, the order has some restrictions and leaves some rights with the birth parents.
Foster carers can apply for Residence Order’s in certain circumstances e.g. length of placement with the potential Residence Order holder, view of the local authority, wishes of the child / birth parents etc.
The courts now have the power to grant a Residence Order until the child is 18. Residence Order Allowances are means tested allowances and are considered if Brent is involved in the assessment of the Residence Order holder or upon referral to the Kinship Team - if the order is granted via private proceedings.
Residence Order holders can also apply for support services via the framework of support for Children in Need (Section 17 services).
Contact Orders may be attached to Residence Orders and the birth family are likely to have regular and frequent contact with the child. In Brent cases where we are supporting this application, legal costs may be reimbursed, if the carer is not eligible for legal aid.
Children who have been matched with their foster carers for Residence Orders will still continue to receive the appropriate fostering allowance up until the point that the Order is granted in court. At this point subject to agreements made prior to the order, the Residence Order allowance will be paid instead of the Fostering allowance at a date to be decided by all relevant parties.
Birth parents are not eligible to apply for Residence Order allowances.
Residence Order Allowances will normally cease of the young person’s 18th birthday.
A Special Guardianship Order gives the Special Guardian Parental Responsibility for the child. Unlike Adoption, under the SGO the birth parents retain Parental Responsibility - although their ability to exercise this is extremely limited. Foster carers can apply to court for a SGO where a child has been in placement for at least one year before making the application.
The SGO holder will have clear responsibility for the all day to day decisions about caring for the child or young person e.g. education. The making of a SGO order will bring a Care Order to an end. SGO’s last until the child is 18.
SGO’s are increasingly becoming the preferred plan for children where foster carers are wanting to make a permanent commitment to a child but have reservations with regards to going down the adoption route to permanency.
Once the order is granted and the child is in placement, Child Benefit can be claimed for by holder of the SGO.
This order should provide a strong foundation for a lifelong relationship between a child and their former foster carer, so the child’s needs in the present and into the future must be considered. Local Authorities are required to make arrangements for the provision of SGO support services and to undertake an assessment to address this.
In Brent these will be provided akin to the adoption support services. E.g. financial support, mediation services, therapeutic support, respite care, support groups, training, contact support, legal advice etc.
Some children who are Looked After prior to a SGO being granted may be eligible for Leaving Care support (see eligibility criteria- to follow) Children Act 89 Section 24 (1A), Children Leaving Care Act 2000, Adoption and Children Act 2002, DFES Guidance (Special Guardianship Regulations 2005).
A Contact Order may also be made under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. Although it is likely that there will be more face to face contact with an SGO than where a child has been placed for adoption. Contact Orders may need to be considered where there are concerns about the capacity of the SGO carer to facilitate contact without some additional support or boundaries being placed on the birth parents.
In Brent cases where we are supporting this application, legal costs may be reimbursed if the carer is not eligible for legal aid. Agreement for Legal aid costs must be confirmed by the relevant Team Manager/ Head of Service in consultation with the Brent legal department - See Template Legal Costs letter. Costs should not usually exceed £2,500.00
Complex needs rates are paid at the same level as for Long Term Fostering - minus £15.30 from each sum in recognition of child benefit payments.
Please refer to guidance provided earlier on in this document and by the Adoption Teams in relation to essential equipment to be provided for carers of younger children (under fives) and the possibility for assistance re ‘setting up grants’ for new carers.
Each SGO allowance applicant must complete the relevant Financial Assessment Form and provide supportive evidence for this. Applicants who can provide evidence that they are in receipt of State Benefits can fast track this aspect of the means test.
The completed financial assessment form is returned to the Kinship Team Administrator, along with evidence of all income and expenditure.
The income and expenditure section of the financial assessment form is then checked against the evidence supplied. The financial exercise is completed once all the information supplied has been entered on the database.
The eligibility criterion is based on the family’s disposable income. This allowance if granted is subject to an annual review.
Children who have been matched with their foster carers for Special Guardianship will still continue to receive the appropriate fostering allowance up until the point that the order is granted in court. At this point subject to the support plan and agreements made prior to the order, the SGO allowance will be paid instead of the Fostering allowance.
Financial support ceases to be payable to a special guardian or prospective special guardian if:
It is important that you inform the Placements service immediately if any of the above situations apply in your case.