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What is Special Guardianship?

Special Guardianship offers an option for children who cannot live with their birth parents and need to have permanent care whilst giving the carers parental responsibility for the child. Special Guardianship offers security without absolute severance of the relationship with the birth parents. It gives the child or young person the security of knowing that they are legally part of their carers family.

A Special Guardianship Order discharges any existing care order or related contact order. The special guardian has responsibility for day to day decisions relating to a child's care and upbringing. This order allows a special guardian to remove a child from the UK for up to three months without consent of others with Parental Responsibility or the leave of the court. On making a special guardianship order the court may give leave for the child to be known by a new surname.

When is Special Guardianship used?

If parents cannot meet their children’s needs and keep them safe, the children may be at risk of suffering significant harm.

If a child is at immediate risk of harm, they are removed from the care of their parents by either:

  • the Police: under Police Protection
  • the court: under an Emergency Protection Order- Section 44 of The Children Act 1989
  • the Local Authority: Voluntary Accommodation- Section 20 of the children Act 1989. This is an agreement between the Local Authority and the parents. The child is placed in foster care or with a family member until final decisions are made about their future. Under section 20, parents retain full parental responsibility for the child.

If the Local Authority (Plymouth City Council) does not think it is safe for a child to return home, they may make an application to the court for an Interim Care Order.

Parents will be assessed to determine their capacity to meet their child/children’s needs long-term and their ability to keep them safe; this may include a parenting assessment or psychological/psychiatric assessments.

Parents will also be expected to engage in services and support offered. If the parents are unable to achieve this, there needs to be a plan in place for the child’s future so that he/she can be placed with a permanent family without delay. The Local Authority will help parents to identify possible family members or significant persons who can care for the child/ren long term if they cannot return home.

It is important to note that not all children under Special Guardianship have been in care or ‘looked after’ by the Local Authority or under Children,Young People and Families. A parent may allow a child to live with a family member /friend under Special Guardianship for a number of reasons. For example:

  • if the parent has not bonded with the child.
  • if the parent is in poor health.

What are the alternatives?

There are several alternatives to Special Guardianship.

If there are no suitable family members or significant persons, the child may be placed in long-term foster care.

A Child Arrangement Order can be granted by a court when there is not agreement about where the child should live. The person who is granted a Child Arrangement Order obtains parental responsibility for the child.

Sometimes no order is necessary when everyone is in agreement about where the child should live. However, if a child is living with a person who is not related for more than 28 days this is called Private Fostering and Children’s Services must be notified. More information can be found on Plymouth City Council’s website under private fostering.

Sometimes children need more security and certainty than Special Guardianship can provide, and adoption is an option that can be considered. Birth parents lose parental responsibility following an Adoption Order being made.

The legal situation can be complicated. A solicitor can give you more information and advice and/or you may wish to discuss your situation with a social worker.

What support can I get?

We work with families and carers to help prevent the breakdown of any placement. This may involve work to help a child understand their background, mediation between birth parents and SGO carers to help the child maintain positive links with family, or helping you find other services that might help you.

Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 financial support and other services may be available for the special guardian and the child. However, if a child is not (or was not) looked after by a Local Authority, then there is no entitlement to an assessment for Special Guardianship Support services, although it is possible to make a request for this assessment

Examples of possible services:

  • advice on new or existing contact arrangements
  • advice and information
  • access to support groups
  • therapy services
  • training for the special guardian to meet the needs of the child
  • financial assistance.

Biological parents remain financially responsible in law for their child even when a Special Guardianship Order has been issued and so in most cases they will be under an obligation to pay maintenance for the child’s upbringing.

As a Special Guardian you are entitled to ask the Local Authority for an assessment for financial support, any assessment is means tested and guidance is given in The Special Guardianship Regulations 2005.

If a Special Guardianship allowance has been agreed it is expected that the allowance will help manage the day to day expenses of caring for the child. It is also expected to cover any additional expenses incurred for equipment, activities and travel expenses for contact and other relevant costs associated with raising the child.

The Special Guardianship allowance will be reviewed annually. If you’re financial circumstances change you are expected to notify the Local Authority as soon as possible so that your finances can be reassessed.

The Special Guardianship Team will provide assistance for the purpose of ensuring the continuance of the relationship between the Special Guardian and the child including arranging training for the Special Guardian if needed.

If the child requires any therapeutic needs which were not identified when the Special Guardianship support package was made, the Special Guardian will be expected to initially make contact with Child and Adolescence Mental Health Service, (CAMHS) to explore whether these resources are appropriate.

All Special Guardians are entitled to an assessment of their needs as well as the needs of the child.

How to apply

If you want to apply for a SGO, you need to notify the local authority in writing of your intention to make an application.

  • Assessment - You will be allocated a social worker who will complete an SGO Report and support package for court.
  • Timescales – 3 months from notifying the Local Authority to lodging the application with court

If the child or the child's family, or your family are not known to the Children,Young People & Families Service and are not currently receiving services, you will need to seek legal advice and also to find out if you are entitled to receive legal aid to fund your application.

More information can be provided through the Special Guardianship Team on 01752 308600.