Supporting special guardians in policy and practice: capturing voices for change

Project Dates

January 2020 - July 2020


Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Award (ESRC-IAA)

Project Summary


National research by Harwin and colleagues (details here) and a rapid evidence review commissioned by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (available here) demonstrated that that special guardians play an increasing and vital role in caring for children who have been subject to care proceedings. Yet their support needs are often insufficiently recognised.  There is a pressing need to work collaboratively with advocacy groups and special guardians themselves, despite the fact that the personal testimonies of special guardians are often the most persuasive in terms of what needs to change.


The overall objective of the project was to co-produce a documentary film for education and training purposes for family justice practitioners, children’s social workers and prospective special guardians in partnership with leading kinship charity, Grandparents Plus and children’s charity CoramBAAF.

The film aimed to:

  • trace the journey of special guardians through first-hand accounts, from initial approach by children’s services, their experience of courts, the challenges in the parenting role, including contact with birth parents and siblings and access to support.
  • Identify broader practice and policy messages and research findings through interviews with senior members of the judiciary, children’s services and partner advocacy organisations


Individual interviews were filmed with a small number of special guardians and senior professionals.


A documentary film The First Day of Forever: Becoming a Special Guardian - has been made and is available on YouTube.

The First Day of Forever will be complemented by a second film, ready later this year, about professional perspectives. This will include interviews with members of the senior judiciary, children’s services, the chair of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board, Professor Harwin, John Simmonds and Dr Lucy Peake.

The interviews will explore the implications of a new Report on Special Guardianship and Best Practice Guidance recently authorised by the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, and describe what practitioners can do immediately to help achieve better support for special guardians.

Research Team

Professor Judith Harwin, CFJ, Lancaster University

Dr Lucy Peake, Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus

John Simmonds OBE, Director of Policy, Research and Development, Coram BAAF

Dr Louise Sims, Kinship Care and Fostering Consultant, CoramBAAF


For further information please contact Professor Judith Harwin (

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