A Special Guardianship Order is a legal way of providing long-term stability for a child who cannot return to live with their birth parents and for whom adoption is not appropriate
All children and young people need a long-term, stable, loving environment where they can thrive and reach their potential. This page explains about one way that this can be achieved for children whose birth parents are not able to look after them. This is called a Special Guardianship Order.
What is a Special Guardianship Order?
A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is a way of providing stability for a child who cannot return to live with their birth parent and for whom adoption is not appropriate. It is a legal way of giving the person caring for the child clear, long-term responsibilities for the child's upbringing. At the same time it preserves the legal link between the child and their birth parents.
In many cases the child will continue to have contact with their parents. Where appropriate the court may make a Contact Order at the same time as the SGO.
Once a SGO has been made, the Special Guardian will normally be the permanent carer for the child until that child reaches the age of 18.
Under what circumstances may a Special Guardianship Order be suitable?
A Special Guardianship Order may be particularly suitable for:
- Children in long-term foster care
- Children who are cared for on a permanent basis by members of their wider family
- Older children who wish to retain a legal link with their birth family, but who would benefit from more permanent care arrangements
- Children from families who have cultural or religious difficulties with the legalities around adoption.
Who can apply for a Special Guardianship Order?
A Special Guardianship Order is made through a formal application to a court. You can apply to become a Special Guardian if you are over 18 and you are:
- Any guardian of the child
- A Local Authority foster carer with whom the child has lived for one year immediately before the application is made
- A relative of the child with whom the child has lived for one year before the application is made
- Anyone who is named in a Residence Order or Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live, or who has the consent of all those in whose favour such a residence or child arrangements order is in force
- Anyone who has permission from:
The Local Authority (if the child has been ‘looked after’ under s31 for less than 12 months)
or All those with parental responsibility for the child
or The court.
- Anyone with whom the child has lived for three out of the last five years
- Where the child is in the care of the local authority, anyone with the consent of the local authority
- Anyone who has the consent of all those parental responsibility for the child
- Anyone who has the consent of all those with parental responsibility for the child
- Any person who has the leave of the court to apply
Anyone not on the list above will require the permission of court before they can make an application.
If the child is being looked after by a local authority, the applicant must give the written notice to the authority that is looking after the child. If the child is not looked after by a local authority, the applicant must give written notice to the local authority in whose area the applicant is ordinary resident.
What is the procedure for applying for a Special Guardianship Order?
Any person who wishes to apply for a Special Guardianship Order must give three months written notice to the local authority of their intention to apply for an order.
During this three month period the local authority must investigate and prepare a report to the court that deals with, among other issues, the suitability of the applicants to be Special Guardians.
This report will also assess whether a SGO is the best way to meet the child's needs. It has to look at the child's needs and wishes; information about the prospective Special Guardian; the views of people involved in the child's life and what support services may be needed. This report must be completed whether or not the child has been looked after by the Local Authority.
The court may not make a Special Guardianship Order unless it has received the report covering the suitability of the applicants.
Once the assessment is completed it is for the person who wishes to become a Special Guardian to decide whether to make a formal application to the court. You may wish to take legal advice about this.
What support is available?
As part of the SGO process, the local authority must consider what support may be needed.
Support could be in the form of
- Financial Support
- Peer Support
- Therapeutic Services
- Assistance to promote relationship stability
The following people are entitled to request an assessment for support services:
- A child subject to special guardianship order or a parent of such a child
- A child in respect of whom a person has given notice to a local authority of his or her intention to apply for a special guardianship order or a parent of such child
- A child in respect of whom the court has required a local authority report or a parent of such child
- A child who is the subject of, or is named in a local authority report for the court
- A special guardian or prospective special guardian
- A child of a special guardian or prospective special guardian
- A relative of a child falling within the first three bullet points providing contact arrangements were in place before the request for an assessment.
Overall it should help to ensure a stable home environment and supportive relationships for the child.
If a child has previously been looked after, those involved in the application for Special Guardianship, including the child, the child's parent and the proposed Special Guardian, have a right to request a support assessment. There is no such right when a child has not been looked after, but Social Services will still consider whether support should be provided in the best interests of the child.
If support is provided, the details will be written down in a Special Guardianship Support Services Plan.
Who has parental responsibility for the child?
Unlike an Adoption Order, a SGO does not mean that parental responsibility stops for the birth parent, or anyone else who has parental responsibility.
However a Special Guardianship Order gives the Special Guardian enhanced parental responsibility for the child. This means that the Special Guardian has day-to-day responsibility for caring for the child and for making decisions about how they are brought up and can overrule the wishes of the birth parent if necessary.
As a birth parent, you will continue to be the child's legal parent. However, your parental responsibility will be very limited. While a Special Guardianship Order is in place, there needs to be written consent of every person who has parental responsibility for the child, or the court's permission for the child to be:
- Known by a different surname
- Removed from the UK for more than three months
- Medical procedures to be completed on religious or cultural grounds
- In respect of the Special Guardian applying for an Adoption Order
What can a Special Guardian expect from the Local Authority?
Children's Services will keep in contact with the Special Guardian, as a minimum this will happen at least once per year to check that everything is going smoothly. If support services are being provided, contact maybe more frequent.
If support services or financial assistance are provided, these will be reviewed at least once a year to ensure that they are continuing to meet the needs of the child.
Children's Services may also be in contact from time to time to inform Special Guardians about changes affecting Special Guardianship support arrangements locally such as change of contact details so that all Special Guardians will know where to go for advice and support should the need arise.
If you have concerns or queries you are welcome to contact us at any time.
What does the Local Authority expect from a Special Guardian?
Special Guardians have few formal responsibilities to the Local Authority. However by law you must inform the Local Authority if at any time
- You change your address
- The child no longer has a home with you
- The child dies
- The child is in receipt of income support or job seeker's allowance
- The child has begun full time employment
- If you intend on moving to another local authority
- There is any change in your financial circumstances or the financial needs and resources of the child.
Special Guardians who receive financial support must also provide the Local Authority with a written annual statement of circumstances.
However if you need to discuss issues after the Order has been granted, you can contact us at any time.
How long does a Special Guardianship Order last?
A Special Guardianship Order will normally last until the child reaches the age of 18.
If a child is a Child Looked After the child will cease to be looked after on the granting of the Special Guardianship Order.
The court may agree to end ('discharge') or change ('vary') a Special Guardianship Order if certain people, such as the Special Guardian, someone with parental responsibility or the young person, make an application to the court.
Birth parents can only apply to the court for the order to be discharged if there are significant changes since the order was made.
For further information
If you need more information, or want to talk about applying for a Special Guardianship Order, please speak to your social worker if you already have one. Or you can contact the Information, Advice and Assistance Team (IAA). IAA are the first point of contact for all public and professional enquiries to RCT Children's Services.
Tel: 01443 425006
When you are in touch with Children's Services, we will keep information about you in written records and computer files. We will keep this information confidential, except where we need to share it with people providing you with care, or to protect you or other people.
You have a right to ask to see records we keep about you.
We can give you more information about how we handle personal information.
Tel: 01443 425006.
Comments and Complaints
We welcome any comments about our services - good or bad. We are interested to hear how we could do things better, and we like to know when we are doing well.
If you are unhappy with the services you receive, we encourage you to make a complaint.
Tel: 01443 425450