A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is a private law order which legally appoints an individual(s) as a child’s guardian. A SGO is application made under the Children Act 1989 and allows the child to remain and live with the appointed individual until they reach the age of 18.
When the Local Authority are be involved in the long term care planning for a child, it is under a duty to consider any viable family members or friends as carers for the child and to carry out an assessment to see if they can care for the child in the long term. If there is a positive assessment, the individual may be asked to consider applying for an SGO through the Family Court so that legally they will be the ‘guardian’ of that child. Where a child is ‘looked after’ by the Local Authority in foster care, a foster carer may also be asked to consider applying for an SGO. The Local Authority may then support them with this application and may pay for their legal fees in seeking legal advice and assistance. The individual that would like to apply for an SGO must inform the Local Authority of their intention to do so 3 months before they can apply to the court.
Where the Court is asked to consider an application for a Special Guardianship Order, they must have had sight of a special guardian assessment report in making their decision. The report details the suitability of the individual in being appointed as a child’s Special Guardian by taking into account the needs of the child. A support plan for the Special Guardian will also be made by the child’s social worker in conjunction with the supervising social worker so that the Special Guardian is supported in their care for the child until they are 18 years of age. This support plan may take into account a number of services and provisions such as financial support, any therapeutic services for the child or mediation for the child’s parents and the Special Guardian to discuss any important information about the child and their development or to facilitate contact between the child and parents.
The Court will also consider if the making of an SGO is in the child’s best interests and will consider a welfare checklist at section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989 in making that decision. They may consider the child’s own wishes and feelings, any needs the child may have and the background of the child amongst other factors.
Where an SGO is granted by the Court for an individual to care for a child, they will be given parental responsibility for that child which allows them to make decisions for them including consenting to medical advice, protecting and caring for the child or them travelling outside the UK. The child’s parents or another person who may hold parental responsibility will not lose their parental responsibility but the Special Guardian is entitled to exercise the parental responsibility to the exclusion of any other person for the benefit of the child. There are however some exceptions to this such as legally changing the child’s name or placing the child for adoption; consent must be obtained from the parents for this.
An SGO will usually last until the child reaches the age of 18 unless the Court discharges it before this date. The Special Guardian themselves can apply to the Court for an SGO to end but parents and others who hold parental responsibility cannot without gaining the court’s permission first. The Court will not usually grant permission for an application to be made to discharge the Special Guardianship Order unless it is satisfied there has been a significant change in the circumstances of the individual since the SGO was made.
Here at Emery Johnson Astills, we understand that it can be distressing when there is Local Authority involvement with your child. Our Care Team are specialists in providing expert legal advice in relation to any Local Authority involvement in a person’s life. If you require some advice in this area then please do not hesitate to call us on 0116 2554855 to discuss how we may be able to assist you.