Special guardianship orders are more permanent than long term fostering and child arrangement orders.
They offer greater security but not the same legal severance from birth parents as adoption.
The special guardianship order was introduced to meet the needs of children who cannot be brought up by their parents. These include:
- older children who have become separated from their birth families
- children already settled with a relative or foster carer
- children from minority ethnic groups which have cultural difficulties with adoption
- unaccompanied asylum seeking children who may need a secure legal basis without breaking the strong attachment they may have with their family abroad.
Under a special guardianship order, one or more people are appointed to exercise parental responsibility. No other person will have parental responsibility apart from another special guardian. This applies in virtually all decisions affecting the child.
A special guardianship order limits the rights of birth parents to intervene or challenge the order without permission from the court. Unlike adoption the order retains the basic legal link with the parents. They remain legally the child’s parents, but their ability to exercise their parental responsibility is limited.
Apply for special guardianship
A special guardian must be over 18 years of age and must not be a parent of the child. An application can be made by one person or joint applicants.
You can apply to be a special guardian if you are:
- a guardian of the child
- a council foster carer with whom the child has lived for one year immediately before applying
- a relative with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year immediately before the application
- anyone who is named in a residence or child arrangements order as a person with whom the child is to live, or has the consent of all those in whose favour such a residence or child
- arrangements order is in force
- anyone with whom the child has lived for three out of the last five years
- where the child is in the care of the council, anyone with the consent of the local authority
- anyone who has the consent of all those with parental responsibility
- any person who has the leave of the court to apply
Before you apply
You must inform the council of your intention to apply for a special guardianship order in writing at least three months before you submit your application to court.
This will give them time to complete your assessment report and support plan. Once these have been completed, the social worker will share them with you. The court will need the assessment and support plan in order to make a decision.
If they decide to, the court may also make a special guardianship order in family proceedings concerning the welfare of a child. A special guardianship order can be made where no application has been made, and includes adoption proceedings.
The special guardianship support plan is an important part of the assessment. It:
- specifies who is responsible for caring for the child or children
- includes information on how you will meet their health, education, contact, emotional and behavioural needs
- contains important information of who you can contact if you have any questions relating to your role as a special guardian
- includes the names and contact details of relevant persons in the council
Review of the support plan
The council must review the provision of services within the special guardianship support plan. As a minimum, we must make contact with special guardians at least once a year.
A telephone call may be all that is needed when:
- there is an established and settled relationship between the guardian and the child
- there are no worries, difficulties or concerns
- the special guardianship arrangement is working well
No further advice, guidance or support may be required.
Alternatively, a social worker from the family and friends team may arrange to visit the special guardian’s home. This could be where there is a complex package of support, or where a more robust review of the support plan is required.
During the review of the support plan, we must take into account the same considerations as the original assessment.
The council must consider, assess and monitor financial support provided. We may provide financial support in specified circumstances. These are broadly where financial support is necessary to:
- ensure that the guardian or prospective guardian can continue to look after the child
- meet legal fees
- meet special care needs
This is so that financial barriers are not the sole reason why a special guardianship arrangement is not successful or cannot proceed.
The financial support paid to a special guardian must not duplicate support that may be available from the benefit and tax system. You will be expected to apply for all eligible benefits. We can refer you to a benefits advisor if you need help with this.
How financial support is provided
Financial support may be:
- a single lump sum to meet a specific assessed need
- a series of lump sum payments to meet a specific assessed need
- a periodic or regular payment at agreed intervals to meet a specific ongoing assessed need
Review of financial support
The local authority must review the financial support it’s providing at least once a year, or sooner if there is a change in circumstances.
About six weeks before your annual financial review is scheduled, you will receive two letters. One will request you complete a Declaration of Finance form, and one will tell you what documents are needed to complete a financial review.
Once the finance department have received your documents they can calculate whether or not you will continue to receive an allowance. This is a means tested assessment, so your support may increase or decrease dependent on your income.
The permanence team will complete the necessary documents to authorise your allowance once they receive the completed financial assessment.
If you don’t want a means tested financial review
If you don’t want a financial means assessment then you don’t need to provide any details of your finances. However, you would not be able to receive financial support.
If you change your mind you can request an assessment of needs at any time.