A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is a legal order where the court appoints a carer - usually a relative - as the ‘Special Guardian’ of a child until they turn 18. The Special Guardian then shares parental responsibility for the child with the parents, and can make nearly all the major decisions about the child without having to consult them.
Carers may apply for a Special Guardianship Order after caring for the child for 12 months, or sooner with permission from the court.
You will have to tell the Children’s Services department of your Local Authority you intend to apply for a SGO and go through an assessment process to be sure that an SGO is in the child’s best interests. This process is similar to a foster carer assessment.
In most circumstances you’ll have to attend a mediation, information and assessment meeting (MIAM) to assess whether mediation may be a suitable way of resolving your case before you can apply for a SGO. You can apply through a solicitor, or apply yourself and legal aid may also be available to support with the costs of applying.
Local authorities must have services to support Special Guardians in their area, but this doesn’t mean that every Special Guardian will receive support. Financial support in the form of a Special Guardianship Allowance is not automatic and is means-tested. You will be able to claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit if applicable. Support is more likely to be provided if a child was previously ‘looked after’ by the local authority.
Applying for a Special Guardianship Order is a big decision, and you should never feel under any pressure to apply unless it’s the right thing for you and the child. It’s important to get independent advice before applying so you can be sure you’re making the right choice. Special Guardianship can be a great option for children who can’t live with their parents, as it gives them a stable home and links to their birth family, but every case is different and there are many factors to consider.