During my adoption process and nearly three years of fostering, I have had direct or indirect contact with four different Guardians. These experiences have not exactly given me confidence that the role is being fulfilled as competently as it could or should be.
The Sniffy GuardianI met OB's Guardian on a number of occasions. Our first meeting did not get us off to a good start. On arriving at my house, he expressed something approaching horror about the estate where I was living, recounting a story of a previous visit to the area when "a bunch of feral kids" had been hanging about on the street. Feral kids. Great language for someone appointed and paid to put the best interests of often troubled children at the heart of the social care process. It became clear that he had mentally categorised me towards the lowest end of the social strata based on the location of my house, which I found irritating, partly because my decision to live in a low income area was motivated by the low pay I was getting for caring for looked after children (whereas he was obviously receiving a salary that enabled him to live in a much more exclusive environment!) and partly because I really detest that sort of prejudice, especially coming from somebody who purports to know better.
At the end of our first meeting, he stood on my doorstep, sniffed, and commented that he supposed that I should really decide whether I wanted to carry on living there or try to find the money to rent somewhere "better". I wasn't actually renting at the time and, honestly, it was a pretty nice house. It was all I could do to resist the urge to drag him back in the house and show him my certificates with a 'beat that!' look on my face! When I mentioned his name to social workers, I got a lot of knowing looks and expressions that indicated they'd love to say things but couldn't. It was only after he stopped doing the job that I started to hear about everyone else's universal low opinion of the man. And what was his new job? Yes, he was promoted to head of the service. You couldn't make it up!
The Invisible GuardianI cared for NB for 18 months. During this time he went from a Section 20 (voluntarily in care), through a full care order, to adoption. In all that time, which included many, many court dates, I never met his Guardian. The only contact I had with her was one phone call that she made to me the week before everybody was due in court to get the freeing order for his adoption. She chit-chatted for a while, asking me about how things were going and then, out of the blue, asked me if I'd consider keeping him as his Special Guardian. What?! This is the person appointed to ensure that the child's best interests are at the heart of the process and, without ever meeting the child, she decides to offer him over to a carer she couldn't identify in a line up. I said no. Special Guardianship is designed for children for whom adoption is not a suitable option and where contact with birth families will be maintained. It is usually used for older children, to provide the option of a more stable and secure setting than long-term foster care. From a foster carer's point of view, it can be a tricky option as social services support may be vastly reduced, and financial support moves to a needs-related, means-tested system rather than the regular stipend a foster carer gets. For a child like NB, not yet three years old, it seemed like a poor second option to adoption. I never heard from that Guardian again. NB's social worker knew nothing about the conversation beforehand and was horrified that it had even taken place.
The Demanding GuardianI only had LB for just over two weeks, but that was plenty of time for the Guardian to get their nose into things. Towards the end of the second week I received a phone call from my social worker to say that the Guardian had decided that LB should be having daily contacts with his mummy and would the foster carer facilitate that in her own home? No, the foster carer would not. Last time the foster carer allowed a birth mum into her own home, she ended up having to move house. I fail to see what part of the Guardian's role of representing the child's interests and wishes to the court gives them the purview to interfere in the contact arrangements that are being made for the child to the point of expecting foster carers to use their homes as contact centres without any kind of social services or contact officer support. In the end, LB was back with his mummy within four days of that request being made so my offer to facilitate extra contacts in a neutral venue was never taken up.
The Perplexing GuardianA few days after LB moved on, I was offered another placement which was quickly withdrawn when my social worker realised that I was going on holiday over Christmas. This was a baby who was in the process of moving on to an adoptive placement and was already settled in a successful foster placement. Unfortunately, the current carers were going on holiday over Christmas week, and the Guardian had decided that the child couldn't possibly go with them as there might be important appointments for the child to attend relating to the adoption, and missing them due to holidays might delay the process. Yeah, because social services is all about having the important meetings during Christmas Week! The Guardian didn't want the child to have the disruption of going to respite care for the week so, to minimise that disruption, they had decided . . . wait for it . . . to uproot the child completely and put them into a new foster placement for the last few weeks before their adoption.
This last example troubles me particularly. I can see that the Guardian is trying to consider only the interests of the child in this scenario (albeit in a way that I find somewhat strange) but the fact is that there are other things that have to be considered. Foster carers are entitled to have access to respite care in order to take family holidays. We are entitled to it. And yet, both myself and this other foster family were being denied work in this scenario because the Guardian's interpretation of the best interests of the child meant that the child could neither go on the holiday, nor be placed in respite for one week.
I have had only two weeks of work in nearly six months. If Guardians are going to start refusing to place children because the foster carer is due a holiday, then it could be another two months before I get another placement. The fact is that if decisions are made that make it impossible for foster carers to get work, or unreasonable demands are continually placed on them when they do have work, then they are going to have to stop being foster carers. And how easy will it be to promote the best interests of the children when there are no carers for the children?