Special Guardianship Allowance Scheme Consultation
February 23, 2015 Leave a comment
***THIS CONSULTATION HAS NOW CLOSED***
1. Background to consultation
1. Background to consultation
1. Background to consultation
The following information explains why changes are being proposed, what the proposed changes are and how you can have your say about these changes.
Who are Special Guardians?
Special Guardians are people, who have secured Parental Responsibility for a child or young person with a legal order. This would have been through a social worker assessment and the court process:
Special Guardians could be:
- Extended family
- Former Foster carers
What is the Special Guardianship Allowance Scheme?
In these circumstances a Special Guardianship Order Allowance (SGO) may be paid to some, but not all Special Guardians. Family members usually take on this role to prevent a child who is unable to live with their birth parent/s from becoming looked after by the local authority throughout their childhood, or from being adopted. This is usually a situation where social care have been involved in the past to protect or safeguard the child/young person.
What is currently happening in Warwickshire?
Currently the Special Guardianship Allowance scheme is like the Adoption Allowance Scheme in Warwickshire. This is to ensure that there is no financial disparity between adoption and SGO for children who have been in the care of the Local Authority.
What does this mean?
Warwickshire currently provide payments to Special Guardianship carers, Adopters and Foster Carers:
- Special Guardianship and Adoption payments are based on a percentage of the fostering rates. Warwickshire base their fostering rates on those recommended by the national? Fostering Network charity. These rates are higher than the government recommended fostering allowances.
- The exact amount paid is based on a financial means assessment which is currently a self-reported declaration of income and outgoings. The financial means assessment results in special guardianship allowances being paid when a families monies fall below income support plus 50% of income support.
- Under the current scheme there are non-means tested additional Needs Allowances which can be paid at the request of the Special Guardian and assessed by social care. For example, this may cover the cost of additional support needs such as counselling for a child with emotional, behavioural, or psychological needs.
- Special Guardianship carers have the opportunity to make a representation if they believe that the financial assessment is unfair, wrong or inaccurate.
Nationally and within Warwickshire there has been a significant increase in the number of children subject to a Special Guardianship Order.
Traditionally, the Special Guardianship Order was envisaged as a permanent option to support older children. Over time, this has changed and there has been a significant increase in the number of younger children subject to a Special Guardianship Order. This has resulted in very young children often being placed with relatives on a longer term basis. Potentially these children may require longer term financial support from the local authority who are experiencing times of financial hardship..
Nationally, there have been legal challenges made by Special Guardianship Holders regarding payments, due to some local authorities supporting family and friends carers significantly differently to how they have supported foster carers who are not related to the child.. This outcome indicates a need for the payments to be linked more directly to fostering rates with a transparent rationale for any differences. Warwickshire have taken this on board as part of this proposal.
There have also been some changes implemented in support available to carers, for example, there is a higher rate pupil premium paid directly to schools for children subject to a Special Guardianship Order that may be used to meet their emotional, behavioural, physical or psychological needs. For preschool children over 2 years, where carers need child care support there is now free child care provision of 15 hours available.
The Council has reviewed the existing arrangements in Warwickshire and proposes a new approach to make the Scheme more equitable and transparent for everyone. The Council has considered the different responsibilities involved between fostering a child and caring for a child under a Special Guardianship Order, usually by a family member. The expectations are different in both practical and financial terms and in recognition of this, a revised payment is being proposed.
We intend to provide Special Guardianship financial support in a different way ensuring the process of assessment and payment of allowances is fair, transparent and consistent.
2. The Consultation Process
The aim of this consultation is to share a set of proposals for the future scheme with you and to provide you with the opportunity to share your views? comment upon these.
This is a six week public consultation starting 23rd February 2015 and ending on 3 April 2015. People will have the opportunity to respond via email or in writing to our questionnaire and a telephone helpline will also be made available. There is an electronic version of this questionnaire if you would prefer to response in this way, click on the link below to access the online questionnaire:
All views received as part of this consultation will be considered before the final proposals are presented to the council cabinet members to agree final before April 2015.
We propose to introduce a new assessment process to determine whether to award the Special Guardianship allowance. We feel this is a more equitable and transparent approach to awarding Special Guardianship Allowance. This new assessment process will consist of:
1a) A Pre- Order discussion will be held with the proposed Special Guardianship holder at an early stage to clarify whether financial support is necessary to ensure that the prospective special guardian can look after the child. The prospective special guardian will need to explain why their circumstances are such that they will require financial support in order to care for the child.
1b) Financial Assessment calculation will be undertaken by the Warwickshire County Council Benefits, Assessment and Income Control Team.
Following the social worker discussion, should a financial assessment be required , we are proposing to move the responsibility for the financial assessment and annual review of special guardianship allowances to the Warwickshire County Council Benefits, Assessment and Income Control Team (BAIC) who are also welfare rights experts. A revised financial assessment form would be produced, to provide greater clarity around the eligibility criteria and the information required in order that the financial assessment can be completed. This will be based on the Department of Education guidance.
We propose to change the amount awarded to Special Guardians in the following ways:-
a) Increase the Special Guardianship allowance maximum amount by 10%
b) To remove the non means tested Additional Needs Based Allowance which could be phased out over a 2 year period.
c) To replace the Additional Needs Based Allowance with an ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ payment that Special Guardianship Carers may request which will be assessed.
We propose that the eligibility threshold will mean that the first 20% of income is discounted and that the income support level + 25% rate is applied as is currently being used in adult social care assessments to provide a more equitable and fair process for everyone.
3. Have your say on the proposals
You views are important to us to help us improve the scheme and we would like to hear what you think about these proposals..
3.1 How can I get involved?
This is a six week public consultation starting 23rd February 2015 and ending on 3 April 2015
You can put forward your views in the following ways:
- Complete the on line questionnaire: https://docs.google.com/a/warwickshire.gov.uk/forms/d/17-bWFayEbkeenrbCGFKKIDLcK2ylYM7OB33GFjqh2l0/formResponse
- Or complete a paper copy (click here for a Microsoft Word version of the survey) of the questionnaire and send it to:
FAO Jenny Packeer
Central Fostering Services
Saltisford Office Park
- Or EMAIL your views and / or the completed questionnaire to:
4. Help and information
4.1 For help and advice about the consultation:
A dedicated phone line has been set up to answer any questions you may have related to the consultation or the proposals:
Please ring the phone line for:
- Information and advice about the proposals
- Concerns or queries on how the proposals may impact upon you
- Request further copies of the questionnaire
Consultation Phone Line: 01926 413831
The above telephone number is a dedicated phone line set up for this consultation and staff will be available to answer your queries as follows:
- Wednesdays– 9.30 am to 12 noon.
- Thursdays – 9.30 am to 12 noon
There is an answer-phone service on this number at all other times and when the line is busy. Please leave your name and number and we will return your call within five working days.
or email email@example.com
5. What will happen with all of the information gathered?
This consultation will end on 3rd April 2015. We will collate, analyse and consider all consultation responses and use the information provided to inform the future of Special Guardianship Allowance scheme in Warwickshire.
A consultation report will then be published on the County Council’s website in the summer of 2015.
We also expect that the final agreed proposals will be submitted to Cabinet for decision-making in June 2015 with the plan for implementation delivered over a 2 year period starting in the summer of 2015. If any, or all, of the proposed changes are approved by cabinet then existing SGO holders in receipt of allowances will be advised in writing of the specific date any changes will come into force.