A special guardianship order is an order appointing one or more individuals to be a child's 'special guardian'.
It is a private law order made under the Children Act 1989 and is intended for those children who cannot live with their birth parents and who would benefit from a legally secure placement.
It is a more secure order than a child arrangements order because a parent cannot apply to discharge it without significant consideration of the Court to do so however it is designed as an alternative to a placement/adoption order as it enables the birth parents to continue to have direct or regular indirect contact to their children where appropriate, as adoption severs those ties.
In order to apply for a SGO, you must be over 18 years of age and you cannot be the parent of the child in question. You can make an application on your own or jointly with another person. The following people may apply to be special guardians
- Any guardian of the child.
- You have a Child Arrangements Order or a Residence Order for the child.
- Anyone with whom the child has lived for at least three years out of the last five years.
- Anyone with the consent of the Local Authority if the child is in care.
- A Local Authority foster parent with whom the child has lived for at least one year preceding the application.
- You are a relative of the child and the child has resided with you for at least one year immediately pre-dating an application for a Special Guardianship Order
- Anyone who has the consent of those with parental responsibility for the subject child/ren
- Anyone who has the permission of the Court to make the application.
An SGO discharges any existing care order and provides parental responsibility to the special guardian, which can be exercised to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility apart from another special guardian. The special guardian has responsibility for day to day decisions relating to a child's care and upbringing. This order allows a special guardian to remove a child from the UK for up to three months without the consent of others with Parental Responsibility or the leave of the court.
Each local authority involved with the child who has recommended an SGO must make arrangements for the provision of special guardianship support services which may include:
- Financial assistance (means-tested).
- Assistance with the arrangements for contact between a child, his/her parents and any relatives that the local authority considers to be beneficial.
- This assistance can include cash to help with the cost of travel, entertainment, and mediation to help resolve difficulties on contact.
- Respite care.
- Counselling, advice, information and other support services.
- Services to enable children, parents and special guardians to discuss matters, this might include setting up a support group.
- Therapeutic services for the child.
Legal Aid funding is not always available for assistance in Special Guardian cases and it may be that a full financial assessment would need to be undertaken to establish whether the proposed Special Guardian could receive legal aid assistance. In some cases, the designated Local Authority who is dealing with the case will assist with funding legal advice.