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Special Guardianship

All children and young people need a long-term, stable, loving environment where they can thrive and reach their potential until they have grown up. This page describes one way that this can be achieved for children whose birth parents are not able to look after them. This is called a Special Guardianship Order. 


What is Special Guardianship

A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is a legal way of giving the person caring for the child clear, long-term responsibilities for the child's upbringing. At the same time, it maintains the legal link between the child and their birth parents. It is an alternative to other options such as Adoption, Child Arrangements Order or long-term fostering of a child.


Once a SGO has been made, the Special Guardian will be the permanent carer for the child until that child reaches the age of 18.





  • Under what circumstances may a Special Guardianship Order be suitable?

     A Special Guardianship Order may be particularly suitable for:

    • Children in long-term foster care

    • Children who are cared for on a permanent basis by members of their wider family

    • Older children who wish to retain a legal link with their birth family, but who would benefit from more permanent care arrangements

    • Children from families where there is conflict with cultural or religious views and the legalities around adoption

  • Who can apply for a Special Guardianship Order? 

    A Special Guardianship Order is made through a formal application to a court. You can apply to become a Special Guardian if you are over 18 and you are:

    • Any guardian of the child

    • A Local Authority foster carer with whom the child has lived for one year immediately before the application is made

    • A relative of the child with whom the child has lived for one year before the application is made

    • Anyone who is named in a Residence Order or Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live, or who has the consent of all those in whose favour such a Residence or Child Arrangements Order is in force

    • Anyone who has permission from The Local Authority (if the child has been ‘looked after’ under s31 for less than 12 months) or All those with parental responsibility for the child or The Court

    • Anyone with whom the child has lived for three out of the last five years

  • What is the procedure for applying for a Special Guardianship Order?

    If the child is being looked after by a local authority, the applicant must give three months written notice to the authority that is looking after the child. If the child is not looked after by a local authority, the applicant must give written notice to the local authority in whose area the applicant is ordinarily resident. 


    During this three-month period the local authority undertake an assessment and prepare a written report for the court to consider the suitability of the applicants to be Special Guardians.


    This assessment report will assess the child's needs, their wishes and feelings, information about the prospective Special Guardian/s, the views of people involved in the child's life and what support may be needed. This assessment must be completed whether or not the child has been looked after by the Local Authority.


    The Court may not make a Special Guardianship Order unless it has received the assessment.


    Once the assessment is completed it is for the person who wishes to become a Special Guardian to decide whether to make a formal application to the Court. You may wish to take legal advice about this.

  • What support is available?

    As part of the SGO process, the Local Authority must consider what support may be needed.


    Support could be in the form of:

    • Financial Support

    • Peer Support

    • Family time (previously known as contact)

    • Therapeutic Services

    • Assistance to promote relationship stability

    • Mediation


    The following people are entitled to request an assessment for support:  

    • A child subject to a SGO or a parent of such a child

    • A child in respect of whom a person has given notice to a local authority of his or her intention to apply for a SGO or a parent of such child

    • A child in respect of whom the Court has required a Local Authority report or a parent of such child

    • A child who is the subject of, or is named in a Local Authority report for the Court

    • A Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian

    • A child of a Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian

    • A relative of a child falling within the first three bullet points providing contact arrangements were in place before the request for an assessment

    Overall, it should help to ensure a stable home environment, supportive and caring relationships for the child.


  • How is Special Guardianship different from Adoption?

    Adoption ends the legal tie between a child and their birth parents, and transfers all parental responsibility to their adoptive parents. The child’s birth certificate is replaced by a certificate naming the adopters as the child’s parents. Unlike an Adoption Order, a SGO does not mean that parental responsibility stops for the birth parent, or anyone else who has parental responsibility, a SGO ends when the child reaches the age of 18.


    A SGO gives the Special Guardian enhanced parental responsibility for the child. This means that the Special Guardian has day-to-day responsibility for caring for the child and for making decisions about how they are brought up and can overrule the wishes of the birth parent if necessary.


    A birth parent will continue to be the child's legal parent, however, their parental responsibility will be very limited.


    While a SGO is in place, there needs to be written consent of every person who has parental responsibility for the child, or the Court's permission for the child:

    • To be known by a different surname

    • To leave the UK for more than three months

    • To have a medical procedure completed on religious or cultural grounds

    • If the Special Guardian would like to apply for an Adoption Order

  • How is Special Guardianship different from a Child Arrangements Order?

    A Child Arrangements Order (CAO) gives parental responsibility to the holder of the Order, shared with others with parental responsibility, and determines that the child is to live with the holder of the Order. For all other decisions, parental responsibility is shared equally and everyone who has it must be consulted when making decisions about the child.


    However, a Special Guardian can use their parental responsibility to the exclusion of anyone else on most issues. This means they will make all the major decisions about the child, e.g. where they live and where they go to school, and can give consent to most medical treatment.


    When there is a CAO, a birth parent can apply at any time to end (‘discharge’) it.

    Local authorities do not have to provide support to people with a CAO, although they have the discretion to pay an allowance.

  • What can a Special Guardian expect from the Local Authority?

    Children's Services will keep in contact with the Special Guardian, at least annually to ensure that everything is going smoothly. It may be more often if that is what is needed. 


    Children's Services may also be in contact from time to time to inform Special Guardians about changes affecting Special Guardianship support arrangements locally such as change of contact details so that all Special Guardians will know where to go for advice and support should the need arise.


    If you have concerns or queries you are welcome to contact us at any time.

  • What are your responsibilities as a Special Guardian? 

    To offer the child a stable, loving and caring home to achieve their full potential. 


    Special Guardians have few formal responsibilities, however, by law you must inform the Local Authority if at any time:

    • You change your address

    • The child no longer has a home with you

    • The child dies

    • The child is in receipt of income support or job seeker's allowance

    • The child has begun full time employment

    • If you intend on moving to another Local Authority


      There is any change in your financial circumstances

    • If there is a change to the financial needs or resources of the child

    Special Guardians who receive financial support must complete an annual financial questionnaire.


  • How long does a Special Guardianship Order last? 

    A SGO will normally last until the child reaches the age of 18.


    The Court may agree to end ('discharge') or change ('vary') a Special Guardianship Order if certain people, such as the Special Guardian, someone with parental responsibility or the young person, make an application to the Court.


    Birth parents can only apply to the Court for the Order to be discharged if there are significant changes since the order was made.


Further Information

If you need more information or want to talk about applying for a Special Guardianship Order, please speak to your social worker if you already have one. Or you can contact: