The Contribution of Supervision Orders and Special Guardianship to Children's Lives and Family Justice

Project Dates

May 2015 - November 2018


The Nuffield Foundation

Project Summary

Study Aims

The overall aim of the study was to examine how far supervision orders and special guardianship provide children with safe and sustainable permanent homes and to identify whether the results indicated a need for reform in policy, law or practice.

This was the first national study of supervision orders supporting child reunification to birth parents. It was also the first study to use Cafcass national population-level data to identify the use and outcomes of supervision orders and special guardianship orders over time. 

The study used a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods:

  • National profiling of the scale, pattern of use over time and by region, and stability of supervision orders and SGOs evidenced by return to court for further s.31 proceedings were mapped from 2010/11 – 2016/17 using Cafcass administrative records.  The results were based on a total of 175,280 individual children’s records, drawn from 101,759 cases of s.31 proceedings that started between 2007/08 and 2016/17. The analysis of legal outcomes was possible for 140,059 children in 81,758 cases that concluded between 2010/11 and 2016/17.
  • An intensive descriptive case file study of 210 children reunified with their birth parents on a supervision order and 107 children made subject to a special guardianship order in four local authorities (two in the North of England and two in the South). Supervision order cases were tracked for up to four years following the end of the care proceedings and SGO cases for up to three years.
  • Focus groups were held with family justice stakeholders (n=89 participants), special guardians and a small number of parents whose children were subject to a supervision order.

The project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, see here for more details.


On the basis of the results, the study concluded that there was a need to review the effectiveness of the practice, legal and regulatory framework for supervision orders and for special guardianship. It set out a number of options for reform and called for the practice and policy community to consider how best to take forward the recommendations.


The contribution of supervision orders and special guardianship to children’s lives and family justice.  Final report.

The contribution of supervision orders and special guardianship to children’s lives and family justice.  Summary report.

Care Demand and Regional Variability in England: 2010/11 to 2016/17. Report.

New entrants and repeat children: continuity and change in care demand over time. Family Law Article.

Women in recurrent care proceedings in England: continuity and change in care demand over time. Family Law Article.

Spotlight on supervision orders: what do we know and what do we need to know? Family Law Article.

Considering the case for parity in policy and practice between adoption and special guardianship: findings from a population wide study. Family Law Article.

A National Study of the Usage of Supervision Orders and Special Guardianship over time. Briefing Paper.

Research Team

Professor Judith Harwin, Principal Investigator

Professor Karen Broadhurst, Co-Investigator

Dr Bachar Alrouh, Co-Investigator

Lily Golding, Researcher

Tricia McQuarrie, Researcher

Dr Linda Cusworth, Researcher 


For further information please contact Judith Harwin (

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