Looking Beyond the Legal Order: Helping Reduce Isolation and Crisis for Special Guardians

Two years ago Andrea* and her partner Craig* became special guardians to her young nephew and niece aged 4 and 5 respectively. With a teenage birth child and facing parenting for a second time in later life, they reached out to PAC-UK for advice and training. In this feature Andrea shares her experiences of special guardianship and how she and her partner are building bridges with their children with the help of PAC-UK.

Andrea, Special Guardian

Two years ago my partner and I became special guardians to my young niece and nephew after spending almost 18 months in foster care following a traumatic start to life. We were approached by social workers who set up a family group conference where relatives were invited to submit for special guardianship. Of those who put their names forward, we were considered the best fit and were promptly awarded custody of the children.

Now in our 40s and 50s we are faced with parenting young children for a second time. Our peers, like us, either had grown up children or none at all which meant we felt out of place in the circle of friends that we had become accustomed to.

Being related isn’t enough

One of the peculiarities with special guardianships is, in the case of the local authority that placed the children with us, that unlike adoption we were not given any advice or training in advance of the placement.

While most prospective adopters are given an opportunity to attend courses months prior to becoming parents, the only advice we were given was to ‘take them home and give them boundaries’. Through caring for these children I have come to realise that there is a general misconception that those related by blood are equipped to handle the challenges of caring for children with traumatic backgrounds. I can attest that this is simply not the case. As a result, these children were not offered support and guidance from the local authority in the same way that adopted children are, despite a national drive to improve adoption, fostering and special guardianships.

Quite quickly into the placement, we started having behavioural problems. We were referred to CAMHS in the first instance, but they seem to think that it was our parenting that was causing the problem, which led to crisis talks where we thought we wouldn’t be able to continue looking after the children.

Finding help with PAC-UK

We knew we needed help but when we approached the local authority that placed the children with us, we found that they had a policy of not providing support to special guardians. It wasn’t until a social worker from the local authority where we live started a special guardian group that we found out about PAC-UK.

Looking through the website I was relieved to see that others were in the same situation facing the daily struggles we had encountered; up until then we had felt extremely isolated. Finding out that PAC-UK services were not just available to adopted families but also special guardians, foster carers and kinship carers meant that we could finally take steps to get help for the children and rebuild the family as a whole.

We went on a training course that centred round raising children who’d been sexually abused. This was a turning point in our otherwise bad situation. It was very important for us to be surrounded by other parents regardless of legal order, who described the same outbursts and challenges that we had faced. Hearing their experiences made us more confident that the problem was not a result of our parenting but a result of the children’s upbringing.

PAC-UK has not only opened doors for us to find the training we need to actively cope with the behavioural challenges the children presented with, but also additional benefits that will improve other aspects of their lives, for example Pupil Premium Plus to help fund better education around cared for children.

We are also accessing further training courses, with my partner attending weekly Non-Violence Resistance training which has been enlightening for him; to be with parents from all backgrounds sharing experiences and hopes for the future.

*Please note some details have been changed to protect identities

Further information

We have set up this page to enable birth parents, adoptive parents or other permanent carers to share their stories, and hopefully help encourage others to seek support from PAC-UK. If you are interested in sharing your own experience please contact us here.

For press and media enquiries please contact us here.