Special guardianships: When a grandparent takes on the role of main carer
On Grandparents’ Day (1st October), Julian Tyson of Coodes Solicitors Family Team comments on Special Guardianships and the important role a grandparent can play when a child can no longer live with his or her parents.
Time and time again, we see the crucial role of grandparents in public law proceedings, which are those cases involving social services. Grandparents are often who the courts and social services look to first to provide care for children who can no longer live with a parent. Grandparents are often very important people in a child’s life. In the right situation, a grandparent can be the best person to care for a child, but there are a number of important considerations.
The courts have always had the obligation to keep children in the family if at all possible and this responsibility has often fallen to grandparents. If a grandparent is going to provide long-term care, the best solution may well be for them to become the child’s Special Guardian. My colleague Lucy Theobald previously wrote about Special Guardianships as an alternative to adoption. Special Guardianships are on the increase and this can provide a way for a child to stay within the family.
Taking on long-term, full-time care of a grandchild is clearly a big undertaking. As the child’s main carer, the grandparent would take on responsibility for managing contact between their children and grandchildren, which is critical to the child’s welfare and safety. With conflicting loyalties and emotions at play, this can be very difficult to deal with. When looking at a grandparent becoming a Special Guardian, Social Services will consider whether or not they can fulfil this role, which will ultimately mean prioritising their grandchildren over their own children.
If a grandparent wants to apply for a Special Guardianship, Social Services will carry out an Initial Viability Assessment and then a Full Special Guardianship Assessment. This is a detailed process, which will take into account the grandparent’s age, health, finances and housing situation. There is a need to provide long-term security, so this will look at whether or not the grandparent is likely to be fit to care for the child until he or she is 18.
While many grandparents play an active role in a child’s life, being a Special Guardian means taking on the role of main carer. The important thing for any grandparent who thinks about taking on this responsibility is doing so at any early stage because the court is unlikely to wait if they leave this to the last minute. The needs of the child will always be paramount and the courts will ultimately need to decide if the grandparent is fit to take on this difficult and important role.