It is the Family Court that decides whether a Special Guardianship is the best solution to a long-term arrangement for a child when they cannot live with one or both of their parents. It is an Order that was created in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and involves an assessment being made of a proposed carer.
What is a Special Guardianship Order?
There are four main aspects to a Special Guardianship Order. These are:
1. To outline a child or young person’s long-term living arrangement.
2. To allocate Parental Responsibility to the Special Guardian.
3. To help to maintain links between the child and their birth parent(s).
4. To affirm that the Special Guardian will take day-to-day control of the upbringing of the child “to the exclusion of all others with Parental Responsibility except another Special Guardian”.
If you are considering applying for a Special Guardianship Order, you must first notify the Local Authority in writing. The Local Authority then have three months to complete an assessment after which an application can be sent to court.
An application for a Special Guardianship Order can also be made within existing care proceedings.
What are the alternatives to a Special Guardianship Order?
When a child cannot live with their birth parent(s), there are some alternatives to the Special Guardianship Order being made:
Child Arrangements Order
This sets out the child’s living arrangements. This is decided by the court, and the person/people with a Child Arrangements Order is given Parental Responsibility on an equal level to the Parental Responsibility of the parents.
This provides the child with a long-term placement with a foster family, but not a permanent one. This is not necessarily a stable situation for a child and the foster parent does not get Parental Responsibility for the child.
An adoption means that the child or young person is placed into a permanent home. Once the adoption has been granted, Parental Responsibility is taken away from the birth parent(s), and in most cases, all links with the birth parent(s) are lost.
How to apply to be a Special Guardian?
People who are applying for a Special Guardianship Order must be over 18 years old and can be more than one person per child. You do not necessarily need to be married to apply for Special Guardianship together. In addition to this, you may apply for a Special Guardianship Order if:
- You are a foster carer from the Local Authority who has had the child living with you for over one year directly before the application is made
- The child has lived with you for three out of the last five years – and the child has not spent more than three months living separately from you
- You are the child’s guardian
- The Local Authority has granted you the ability to make an application and the child is in the Local Authority’s care
- In respect of this particular child, you have a Residence Order or Child Arrangements Order
- The child has been living with you continuously for one year prior to the application and you are a relative of the child
- The court has granted you permission to apply to be a Special Guardian
What support is available to a Special Guardian?
If you are granted a Special Guardianship Order, extra support can be available to you under the Adoption and Children Act 2002. It should be noted that this support is normally only available to children who were once looked after by a Local Authority after an assessment. If they were not, an application would have to be made for an assessment to determine whether you are eligible for the support.
Some of the support services that are available include:
- Mediation to help with any contact issues
- Access to relevant support groups
- Extra training to help with the needs of the child
- Financial help – Special Guardianship Allowance
- Advice and counselling
- Respite care
To apply for an assessment for support for the child, the Special Guardian, the parent, a child of the Special Guardian, or any other person that the Local Authority deems to be significant may contact the Local Authority to request it. They will then look into your case and send you a response along with their reasons for it.