S1, Ep 6. When there’s no legal representation – LiPs and McKenzie Friends

** Please note, the sound is not perfect in this episode due to the different level of voices and background noise that I could not remove from the recording ** 


In todays episode I’m joined by Sylvia Schroer and Dave Bagshaw. We discuss the role of McKenzie friends, the difficulties Litigants in person encounter and the trauma that adoptive parents and special guardians and their children face when fighting the system.  We also speak about  Special Guardians and Adopters Togeher the peer supported awareness raising group , and the work and research that they’re currently undertaking – specifically the Beyond Disruption Project amongst other things.


Beyond Disruption project


Sylvia Schroer is an adoptive parent and the co-founder and chair of Special Guardians and Adopters Together. SG&AT is a peer supported awareness raising group for special guardians and adopters. Sylvia’s professional background is in psychology and complementary therapies. She has a PhD in health research and the group uses lived experience research to bring the issues affecting parents and guardians to the fore.


Dave Bagshaw is a member of the POTATO group and SG&AT. He has been involved with adoption for 24 years and sat on an adoption panel for 8 years. He has been a McKenzie Friend in two highly complex adoption cases where a child had re-entered care and parent litigants in person were applying for discharge of a Care Order. These parents did not meet the threshold for legal aid but could not afford legal representation. Dave is retired. He has a background in sociology and was previously an ultra marathon record holder. He was a university lecturer in his professional life.



Special Guardians & Adopters Together 


Special Guardians and Adopters Together is a peer led and peer supported campaigning and awareness raising group.

SG&AT formed in August 2017, initially just for adopters. The decision to include special guardians came in October 2017. They could see that the issues which impact adopters, were issues also affecting special guardians and many birth families where children and young people have complex needs.

As a group, SG&AT tries to provide a platform for people who wish to see positive social change for children who are brought up in second permanent families. They seek to enable all involved to be supported to create beneficial change, through engaging in research and dialogue in order to achieve shared understanding of the problems. The problems we deal with are so complex and we so much need to find ways to come together with researchers, professionals and experts. With so many caring people, adopters, special guardians, professionals and experts from a range of disciplines we hope to find better ways of minimising the trauma experienced by children and their families. We feel participation in sharing skills and knowledge to achieve this common goal probably needs better supportive structures to optimise success – in this difficult and complex task.


S.20 of the Children Act 1989 – voluntary care order

s.20 is about a local authority (social services / childrens’ services) providing accommodation for children who do not have somewhere suitable to live. It is sometimes called ‘voluntary care’ or ‘voluntary accommodation’ because usually parents must agree to the child being accommodated.


A guidance note about s.20 from The Transparency Project: http://www.transparencyproject.org.uk/press/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/s20guidancefeb16.pdf


McKenzie Friends 

Anyone involved in a family law case in a United Kingdom court is entitled to represent themselves in court (they do not need to employ a solicitor or barrister) and if they choose to do this they are termed a Litigant in Person (LIP).

A LIP may be accompanied by someone to help them and this person is called a McKenzie Friend, named after the case which established the principles in 1970. This is not an automatic right, but a judge would only refuse to allow a LIP to have the help of a McKenzie Friend for a very good reason.

Information taken from: http://courtwithoutalawyer.co.uk/mckenzie-friends.html


Adoption Support Fund 

For information on the Adoption Support fund see: https://www.first4adoption.org.uk/adoption-support/financial-support/adoption-support-fund/


Personal Support Unit

The Personal Support Unit is a charity dedicated to providing free, independent assistance to people facing proceedings without legal representation.



Citizen’s Advice Bureau 



Articles and other links:

Accessing and Receiving Support report –  (this explains about Lived Experience research)
Other SG&AT research reports
Nuffield Family Justice Observatory – special guardian reform
The recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption and Permanence in respect of the Adoption Support Fund
The BASW Enquiry into the ethics of the role of social worker in adoptions
A recent article by the report’s authors that talks about impact of austerity
Craniosacral Therapy
Petition – Legislation not guidance for special guardians

SCIE- Social care institute for excellence



Mary Gauthier – singer songwriter
The Foundling (powerful album about adoption)

“Abandoned, abandoned, falling through space
With nobody’s eyes and nobody’s face
A foundling A child disconnected who no longer cries
With a prisoners stare and an orphans eyes”


The War after the War – from the Album Rifles and Rosary Beads, co written with US verterans and their families:
“Whose gonna care for those who care for those who went to war
Landmines in the living room eggshells on the floor”

Contact me if you have any questions:

Email: voicesoffamilylaw@gmail.com

Website: http://www.voicesoffamilylaw.com

Twitter : @voicesoffamlaw

Instagram: @voicesoffamlaw




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