Demystifying ‘Special Guardianship Orders’: What are they and what do they achieve?
by Faizan Sadiq
Special guardianship is a term that you may hear a lot about in public or private children proceedings. It was introduced into the law as an alternative to adoption or fostering, but to ensure that a child is able to have a secure, permanent and settled home.
If someone is granted a Special Guardianship Order, they become Special Guardians for a child. This gives them parental responsibility for that child. More importantly, it allows the Special Guardian to make day-to-day decisions for a child to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility for the child (except for another Special Guardian). There are some exceptions to this, however. In some cases, the Special Guardian may need to make a court application for permission to make a major decision for the child, such as changing a child’s surname.
Special Guardians are also entitled to be assessed by the Local Authority for financial or other types of support.
For the birth parents, the benefits of a Special Guardianship Order is that they can still have legal connection to the child, although they may not have a parental role.
If you wish to apply for a Special Guardianship Order, you must be over the age of 18 and cannot be the actual parent of the child. You will also need to meet one of the following criteria. You must be:
- any guardian of the child
- anyone who is named in a child arrangements order as a person with whom the child is to live
- anyone with whom the child has lived for a period of at least three out of the last five years
- any person who has the consent of each of the persons with whom a child is named as living with under a child arrangements order
- where the child is in care, you would require the consent of the local authority, or
- any person who has the consent of those who have parental responsibility for the child
- a local authority foster parent with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application
- a relative with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application
- If you do not fall into any of the above categories, then you would need to seek the court’s permission to apply for a Special Guardianship Order.
When making a Special Guardianship Order, the court has to consider child’s welfare as its paramount consideration. The court also has to apply the ‘welfare checklist’, which looks at a child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings; a child’s physical, emotional and educational needs; the likely effect on them of any change in their circumstances,; a child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics of theirs that the court considers relevant, as well as other factors. Ultimately, the court has to be sure that making a Special Guardianship Order is in the best interests of the child.
If you wish to apply for a Special Guardianship Order, or if you are already going through court proceedings where this is a live issue, then please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to speak to you and see if you are eligible for Legal Aid.