Special Guardianship Order
A Special Guardianship order gives the Special Guardian parental responsibility for a child. Special Guardianship offers legal security without requiring the legal severance from the birth family.
What is Special Guardian?
A Special Guardianship order gives the special guardian parental responsibility for the child. Special Guardianship offers legal security without requiring the legal severance from the birth family. Unlike adoption, under a Special Guardianship Order the birth parents remain the child’s legal parents and retain parental responsibility, however, their parental responsibility is limited.
Responsibilities of a Special Guardian
The special guardian will have responsibility for all the day to day decisions about caring for the child or young person. This includes taking any other decisions about their upbringing, for example their education. They may exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of others with parental responsibility, such as the parents, and without needing to consult them in all but a few circumstances. The decisions that cannot be made without parental consent are for example, changing the child’s surname, or moving the child abroad for more than three months. Additionally, a special guardian cannot override a parent’s refusal to consent to the adoption of the child.
Why might Special Guardianship be appropriate?
A Special Guardianship Order secures the relationship between the special guardian and the child or young person and enables the special guardian to become more involved in decision making by giving them parental responsibility above and beyond that of the parents, whilst maintaining links with the child’s or young person’s parents.
What alternatives are there to Special Guardianship?
- Adoption places a child or young person in a permanent home. Once an adoption order has been granted, the birth parents lose parental responsibility and links with the birth parents and wider family are lost in most cases.
- Long term fostering offers a secure placement for a child who is unable to live with their parents. However, a foster parent does not get parental responsibility and therefore they have no legal basis upon which to make important decisions relating to the child’s care. Long term fostering does not also allow the child to feel a sense of stability and belonging.
- Child Arrangements Order is an order from the Family Court setting out arrangements for where a child is to live and would grant the person parental responsibility which is on an equal level to that of the parents.
Who can apply to be a special guardian?
A special guardian must be over 18 years of age and must not be a parent of the child. Joint applications may be made and there is no requirement that joint applicants are married. It is possible to apply for a Special Guardianship Order if:
- you are a Local Authority foster carer with whom the child has lived for a period of one year before the application or
- the child has lived with you for three of the last five years or
- you are the guardian of the child or
- the child is in Local Authority care and the Local Authority consents to you making an application or
- you have a child arrangements order or a residence order in respect of the child or
- you are a relative of the child and the child has resided with you for at least one year immediately before the application or
- you have permission from the Court to make the application
Is the prospective special guardian assessed?
If a person wishes to apply for a Special Guardianship Order they will be required to inform Children’s Services in writing of the intention to apply three months before submitting an application to the Court. Children’s Services then investigate and prepare a report for the Court. The report will contain information about the child and the child’s family, the wishes and feelings of the child and others and information about prospective special guardians. Information is provided about the Local Authority who made the report together with a summary prepared by a medical professional. The report has to provide information as to the implications of the making of a Special Guardianship Order for those involved and the merits of special guardianship and other orders. The report will make a recommendation about special guardianship and contact.
What kind of support is available?
Financial support and other services may be available for the special guardians, the child and the parents. However, if a child is not, or was not, looked after by a Local Authority, then there is no automatic entitlement to an assessment for special guardianship support services.
Examples of possible services include:
- mediation to assist with new or existing contact arrangements
- counselling, advice and information
- access to support groups
- therapy services
- training for the special guardian to meet the needs of the child
- respite care
- financial assistance