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

Project Dates

January 2020 - April 2021


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 two documentary films for education and training purposes for family justice practitioners, children’s social workers, prospective special guardians and policy makers in partnership with leading kinship charity, Kinship and children’s charity CoramBAAF.

The films aim 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 sector leaders.

Publications and Outputs

The first documentary film The First Day of Forever: Becoming a Special Guardian - captures the experiences and views of special guardians, tracing their journeys through the family justice system, and was available on YouTube in July 2020.

The second film - Special guardianship: an Agenda for Change – provides the views of sector leaders on the wide-ranging issues that need to be addressed in policy and practice, in both the short- and longer-term. This film was launched at a webinar on 15th March 2021, and is also available on YouTube. A recording of the launch webinar, which was hosted by Lancaster University in partnership with Kinship and CoramBAAF, is available here. 

The films are also accompanied by a resource pack (available here), which covers the legal framework including relevant case law, statistics, research and support for special guardians.

Professor Harwin wrote an article for The Conversation, published on 17th March 2021 and available here.

Research Team

Professor Judith Harwin, CFJ, Lancaster University

Dr Lucy Peake, Chief Executive, Kinship

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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