Special Guardianship Order Legal Advice: SGO Order Application & Removals
A Special Guardianship Order is when a child is placed with someone who is not their parent. This person then becomes the child's carer. The Special Guardianship Order does not take the parent’s Parental Responsibility away but gives Parental Responsibility to the guardian as well.
Why Choose Clifford Johnston?
At Clifford Johnston, we pride ourselves on having an outstanding reputation. We recognise the challenges families may face and we can offer legal support to those seeking a Special Guardianship Order.
We know that legal processes can be stressful, and we will be with you every step of the way to give advice. Based in Greater Manchester, we offer legal advice to ensure you have the practical solutions you need when applying for a Special Guardianship.
Get in contact - Our experienced solicitors are trustworthy and empathetic and will guide you through your options.
What is Special Guardianship?
A Special Guardianship is a formal court order which places a child or young person with someone permanently, but unlike adoption the child maintains ties with their birth family. An application is made to the court to assess the suitability of the proposed guardian and a report is carried out by the local authority.
Typically, a Special Guardian is someone who has a close relationship with the child. This includes family members, previous foster carers, or a family friend. Special Guardianship allows the child to live with their carers who will gain the majority of parental responsibility for the child until they are 18 years old.
For children who are ‘looked after’, their Care Order will be replaced by the Special Guardianship Order and the local authority will no longer have parental responsibility for them.
What alternatives are there to a Special Guardianship?
Adoption: This is when a child is placed in a permanent home. Following the grant of an adoption order, the birth parents lose Parental Responsibility and, in many cases, links to the birth parents and their biological family are removed.
Fostering: Long-term fostering allows for the safe placement of a child who can’t live with their birth parents. Foster parents don’t have Parental Responsibility, so they don’t have any legal rights to make decisions regarding the child’s care.
Child Arrangements Order: (Since 22 April 2014) A Child Arrangements Order is a court order which sets out who a child lives with and that person is given Parental Responsibility on an equal level to the child’s birth parents. Such an order may be made by consent if the parties are in agreement, but if they are in dispute the court will consider all of the relevant evidence and make such decision as is most appropriate and in the best interests of the child.
How to become a Special Guardian?
The court decides whether you can be a Special Guardian. There are various steps to become a Special Guardian.
When the child is ‘looked after’ three months written notice has to be given to the Local Authority. A social worker then assesses the suitability of who wants to become a child’s Special Guardian. An application can then be made to the Court. The Local Authority will produce a report which will take into consideration the background and information of all those applying, the benefits of applying for a Special Guardianship Order over other forms of care, as well as the wishes of the child’s birth parents and anyone else who has parental responsibility.
Should your child be considered old enough, then their wishes will be considered, and they will be asked if they want the applicant to be their guardian. Even though the age isn’t set, the court usually decides if a child is old enough to decide if they understand the idea of Special Guardianship.
Permanent Housing for the Child
The aim of a Special Guardianship Order is to ensure the child has a permanent home. A Special Guardianship Order is in place until the child turns 18 years old. As a Special Guardian it is expected that the young person is homed with you until they are able to leave home safely. This means that young people who go to university or college still require a secure base to return to during holidays.
Who can apply to be a Special Guardian?
A Special Guardian can be anyone who is over 18 years and not a parent of the child. Applications can be made jointly and there is no requirement for joint applicants to be married.
To apply as a Special Guardian, you will have to meet one of the following criteria:
- Consent must be given from the birth parents and/or those with parental responsibility
- If the child is in care you must have consent from the local authority
- You have permission from the courts to apply
- You are the child’s legal guardian
- You have lived with the child for three of the last five years
- The child has lived with you for a year before the application and you are a local authority foster carer
- You have a Child Arrangement Order in place relating to the child, or consent from all that a Child Arrangement Order relates to
Reasons to apply for a Special Guardianship Order
A Special Guardianship Order is very positive as it gives children the security of having a long-term placement. Unlike adoption, a Special Guardianship Order doesn’t take away Parental Responsibility from the child's birth parents.
The child's biological parents maintain shared Parental Responsibility, but the Special Guardian has day-to-day control. This means that the Special Guardian will have responsibility for everyday decisions as well as the important decisions regarding the child. The Special Guardian has to inform the birth parents regarding key decisions for example changing the child’s name, moving overseas, or agreeing adoption.
What support is given to the Special Guardian?
Financial support and other services may be given to the Special Guardian under the Adoption and Children Act 2002. If a child was not ‘looked after’ by a Local Authority, then entitlement to an assessment for Special Guardianship Support services isn’t automatic but there are some circumstances where an assessment can be requested.
Services available include:
- Mediation to assist with contact arrangements
- Counselling and access to support groups
- Training for the Special Guardian
- Respite care and financial support
By law, biological parents remain financially responsible for their child regardless of a Special Guardianship Order being issued.
How can you get support?
The Local Authority has to provide an assessment for support services to a parent, Special Guardian, or relation to a child. If the child has been ‘looked after’ and in the care of another Local Authority directly before the Special Guardianship Order was arranged, then the original Local Authority will be contacted for assessing the support needs. It is the decision of the Local Authority if they decide to carry out an assessment.
The following people can request an assessment from their Local Authority for support services:
- the child
- the Special Guardian
- a parent
- anyone who the Local Authority believes has a significant relationship to the child.
Following a request, the Local Authority should inform you of their decision in writing. You then have 28 days to respond.
What support is a child given under the Special Guardianship?
If a child has been ‘looked after’ by the Local Authority prior to the Special Guardianship Order being made they may qualify for advice and assistance under section 24 Children Act 1989. The child needs to be between 16-21 years, have a Special Guardianship Order in force if under 18 years old and have had a Special Guardianship Order in force when they reached the age of 18.
When a child meets the criteria, the Local Authority which last looked after the child will provide advice and assistance.
Changing the Special Guardianship
A Special Guardianship remains in place until the child is 18. If circumstances alter significantly then the Court can change or even discharge the Order. Changing an Order means altering the terms, whereas discharging means stopping the Order completely and returning the child to their parent(s).
You can apply to the Court to vary or discharge the order if there is:
- A Residence Order in your favour of the child prior to the Special Guardianship. A Residence Order is given to the person holding Parental Responsibility for the child. The Guardianships specifies where the child will live and typically ends at the age of 16 unless stated.
- To change or remove the Special Guardianship you have to have authorisation from the Court and also show what changes have happened since the Special Guardianship Order was made.
Getting Your Child Back Once the Special Guardianship Is Granted
It is only the court that has the power to reverse or terminate Guardianship Agreements. The child, the guardian, or third party have to apply to the court to have the Guardianship reversed.
The court will only agree to the reversal when it is in the best interests of the child.
Contact Our Expert Parental Responsibility Lawyers Today
We regularly help local families with all matters relating to Special Guardianship Orders so for professional, confidential advice contact us today.
Our friendly team will deal with your enquiry sensitively and with understanding, so contact us today for helpful and supportive advice.
With offices in Stockport (Heaton Moor) & Manchester (Burnage), our expert family solicitors are easily accessible. We represent clients not only locally and throughout Stockport, Cheshire, Lancashire & Manchester but also across the United Kingdom. You can count on us to help and guide you whatever your challenge or circumstance.