Special guardianship orders
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 residence order because a parent cannot apply to discharge it unless they have the permission of the court to do so, however it is less secure than an adoption order because it does not end the legal relationship between the child and his/her birth parents. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 introduced Special Guardianship and Special Guardianship Orders.
Who can apply for Special guardianship orders?
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
Who cannot apply?
A parent of a child may not be appointed as the child's special guardian. The court must decide that a special guardianship order is the most appropriate order to make in the best interests of the child. The court must consider whether, in addition to the making of a special guardianship order, a contact order should be made and whether any existing Section 8 Orders should be varied or discharged. The court must have the benefit of the local authority report dealing with the suitability of the applicant and any other matters that the local authority consider relevant before it can make an order.
What is the effect of a special guardianship order?
This order discharges any existing care order or related Section 34 Contact Order. It confers parental responsibility, 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 consent of others with Parental Responsibility or the leave of the court.
The court can give permission for the child to be taken out of the jurisdiction for longer than three months. On making a special guardianship order the court may give leave for the child to be known by a new surname.
In addition, it gives the child security and a long term placement. It may also help to give the young person links to their birth parents too if deemed appropriate.
The role of the local authority
The regulations say that the local authority report should include certain key information about the child such as:
Each local authority must make arrangements for the provision of special guardianship support services which may include:
What happens after an assessment?
This assessment determines whether a person has a need for special support services and whether the Local Authority can offer this service. The person should be given notice and information of the support offered and if appropriate the financial support too. It is important to seek legal advice before any provision is agreed so you are fully represented.
What about financial support?
It may be possible to make an application to your Local Authority for a Special Guardianship Allowance. Local Authorities will then have to work out how much fostering allowance would have been paid had the child been fostered rather than cared for under a Special Guardianship Order. This is means-tested and you can find out more information in the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 (Updated 2016).