What is a Special Guardianship Order?
Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2014 11:39
A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is an order made by a Court 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. An SGO can enable a child to remain in his or her family as, unlike adoption, it does not end the legal relationship between the child and his or her birth parents. A Special Guardianship Order usually lasts until the child is 18.
Who can apply for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO)?
To apply for a SGO you need to be:
- Any Guardian of the child. You do not have to be related to the child.
- Any individual who has a Child Arrangements Order applying to residence (previously known as a Residence Order) or any person where a Child Arrangements Order is in force and who has the consent of the person in whose favour the Child Arrangements Order is made.
- Anyone with whom the child has lived for at least 3 years out of the last 5 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 1 year preceding the application.
- Anyone who has the consent of those with Parental Responsibility.
- Anyone who has the leave of the Court.
- 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 Family Court must decide that a SGO is the most appropriate order to make in the best interests of the child. In considering this they follow the ‘welfare principle’ which means the child’s welfare is put first. In doing this they take into account a number of key factors, commonly known as the Child Welfare Checklist.
We have a useful information sheet on the Child Welfare Checklist http://www.grandparents-association.org.uk/applying-and-going-to-Court/what-is-the-child-welfare-checklist.html. Please ring 0845 434 9585 for a printed copy.
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 this order.
|Everyone applying for a SGO is required to give three months written notice of his/her intention to apply for such an order to the responsible local authority or the local authority in whose area the child currently lives.
The role of the Local Authority
Once Children’s Services receive this notice, they must investigate and file a report with the Court on your suitability to be a special guardian and other related questions. This will involve a social worker or another child care professional talking to you to find out background information and your current views about the placement, contact arrangements for the child to keep in touch with important people in their family etc.
Once this report is filed by Children’s Services, the Court must consider whether the report should or should not be shared with each of the parties in the case and if so whether any parts of it should be deleted beforehand.
If you are applying for a Special Guardianship Order in a case where there are already care proceedings about the child’s future, the timetable for the proceedings will be very strictly controlled by the Court. Under new rules, the whole case must be completed within 26 weeks. This means that there are very strict procedural rules about how and when things must be done. For further information: Family Justice website section on care proceeding timetable: https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/family/practice_directions/pd_part_12a#para5.1
MIAMS and Mediation
Anyone applying to the Family Court for assistance in resolving a dispute about parenting or finances following relationship breakdown (which includes applying for a SGO) must undertake a compulsory Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) and prove to the Court that they have done so in the application to the Court. There are some exemptions to this need to attend a MIAM including domestic violence and child abuse. Also, if you already have a Child Arrangements Order relating to residence and had undertaken a MIAM already, you may be exempt but it is important to check.
Our Information Sheet All about MIAMS and Family Mediation has more information:
Please ring 0845 434 9585 for a printed copy.
What is the effect of a Special Guardianship Order?
Fundamentally this Order secures a child’s long term placement, and it discharges an existing Care Order or related Section 34 Contact Order.
When awarded a SGO you will be given Parental Responsibility which gives you day to day control of bringing up and making decisions for your grandchild without reference to the birth parents and to to others with Parental Responsibility except another Special Guardian. However If there is conflict between the parents and the special guardian(s), then the special guardian’s opinion takes precedence.
To find out more about Parental Responsibility please read our Information Sheet What is Parental Responsibility:
Please ring 0845 434 9585 for a printed copy.
The Order allows a Special Guardian to remove the child from the UK for up to three months without consent of other 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 SGO, the Court may give leave for the child to be known by a new surname.
What support services are available?
Government family and friends care guidance requires that all English local authorities have a 'Family and Friends Care Policy'. This guidance also requires that each authority identifies a senior manager with responsibility for overseeing this area of child welfare. To find out more about what your local authority could offer please use this link: http://www.frg.org.uk/involving-families/family-and-friends-carers/local-policies-and-contacts
If the child you're raising is living with you under a SGO, your local authority can pay you a Special Guardianship allowance. Payment is discretionary, and the local authority will carry out a means-tested assessment of your needs. If you've previously been the child's foster carer, you should get a higher rate for the first two years. You can ask for an assessment and you can also request other forms of support such as:
- Assistance with the arrangements for contact between a child, his/hers parents and any relatives that the local authority consider beneficial. This assistance can include cash to help with the costs of travel, entertainment and mediation to resolve any difficulties on contact.
- Respite care.
- Counselling, advice, information and other support services.
- Therapeutic services for the child.
Early years education: From September 2014 two-year-old children who are being raised by family and friends’ carers and are the subject of a Special Guardianship Order, are entitled to 570 hours a year of Government funded early education over no fewer than 38 weeks of the year (which equates to 15 hours per week). Contact your local council to check if your grandchild is eligible: https://www.gov.uk/find-your-local-council.
Consider your options and get advice
It is always important to consider whether applying for a SGO is the right step for all the family. It is important to get as much advice about the different options such as applying for a Child Arrangements Order relating to residence. Do not hesitate to contact us on the numbers below to talk things through.
The Grandparents’ Association
How the Grandparents’ Association helps grandparents raising their grandchildren (commonly called kinship carers).
Kinship carers ring our confidential helpline, access the advice of our unique welfare benefits service, look at our website and read our information specially designed to help them through the maze of requirements to enable them to be recognised as having permanent rights as a full timer carer of their grandchildren.
Helpline: 0845 4349585
Welfare benefits advice: 0844 3571033
Information on support groups: 0844 3572907
Lawyers List: call our helpline for more information on 0845 4349585. Some Lawyers on our list offer a 20 minute free session.
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