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What is a special guardianship order?

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‘We have never had to do anything like applying for a special guardianship order – filling in forms, wondering what was right, going to court.  All so that we could go on doing what we do - looking after our grandchild.  We asked for help, and read up everything – it was all worth it.’

The law applies to a child residing in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. If the child resides elsewhere or if you need further information please contact us.

Special guardianship is a hugely complex issue – this is the Grandparents' Association easy-to-understand guide to help you make decisions on what is best for your grandchildren and you.

Definition of a special guardianship order
Who can apply?
Who cannot apply?
The court's decision
What is the effect of a special guardianship order?
The role of the local authority
Support Services

Definition of a special guardianship order
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.

Who can apply?
The following people may apply to be special guardians:

* Any guardian of the child.
* Any individual who has a residence order or any person where a residence order is in force and who has the consent of the person in whose favour the residence order is made.
* 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.
* Anyone who has the consent of those with parental responsibility.
* Anyone who has the leave of the court.
* NOTE: You must be over 18 years of age and you can apply on your own or jointly with another person.

Who cannot apply?
A parent of a child may not be appointed as the child's special guardian.

The court's decision
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 (Children Act 1989, section 14A(8), (9).

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.

The role of the local authority
The regulations say that the local authority report should include certain key information about the child such as:

* Whether the child has brothers and sisters and details of both parents.
* The relationship a child has with other family members and the arrangements for the child to see or keep in touch with different family members.
* Details of the child's relationship with his/her parents.
* The parent/s' and the child's wishes and feelings.
* The prospective Guardian's family composition and circumstances.
* Parenting capacity.
* Medical information on the child, prospective special guardian and the birth parent(s).
* An assessment of how a Special Guardianship Order would meet a child's long term interests as compared with other types of order.

Support services
Each local authority 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 consider 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.

See our factsheets
If you want to know more why not view our factsheets

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