Friday, 2 September 2011

Special Guardianship gave us a sense of stability


Special Guardianship is a hot topic in the world of adoption and fostering. Many carers seem concerned or confused by this new type of care order. Deborah Brockbank explains how she fought through the uncertainty to find a new sense of stability for her family through Special Guardianship.

One day, around two years ago, I received a tearful phone call from Mai, a young Chinese girl I had been teaching English to. She told me that she was extremely unhappy at home and literally begged to come and live with me. After long discussions with social services Mai moved in with us under a private fostering arrangement.

Although becoming a parent for the first time at the age of 50 was daunting, I loved caring for Mai. She is a warm and loving child and I've seen her come on leaps and bounds. However at the back of my mind there had always been an uncertainty of how long it would last. I was always prepared and accepted that Mai might one day tell me she wanted to return to her birth family. But the reality was that she would often tell me the complete opposite. She repeatedly told me she didn't want to leave, yet under a private fostering arrangement neither of us had any control over her mother suddenly deciding she wanted Mai back.

Then one day Mai told me her step-father was arranging for her to go to China. This was the first I had heard of it and I was quite concerned. I didn't know if he was taking her forever or whether I would ever see her again. And there was nothing I could do to stop it. I tried to contact her birth mother about it, but couldn't get hold of her. In the end Children’s Services stepped in and stopped the visit going ahead because of fears for her safety.

It was after this that we decided to do something to make the arrangement more permanent. It was Mai's social worker who suggested Special Guardianship. I often think about Special Guardianship as half way between adoption and fostering. I share parental responsibility with Mai's birth mother which means I can now make decisions about things like medical treatment and who she can and can't stay with. This makes things much easier.

I did have some reservations about it at first – I was a bit worried that Mai's social worker might be pushing me in to something that wasn't necessarily right for us. I also didn't want to lose the support I had been receiving from Children's Services. So I decided to consult with a solicitor and was able to claim back the costs through Legal Aid.

With the help of the solicitor I was able to negotiate a deal where Mai's case is left open. This means that although she doesn't have a named social worker like she did when she was privately fostered, if I need to I can still go to them for help. I was also able to negotiate a Special Guardianship allowance.

It's still early days, but so far Special Guardianship seems to be working out well for us. It was a fairly straight forward process which has given both myself and Mai a secure foundation and made every day decision making around Mai's care much easier.

If you are struggling with Special Guardianship please contact our advice services at http://www.baaf.org.uk/info/advice. You may be interested in our booklet on Special Guardianship which is available from our online book shop.

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