Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) provide a permanent home for a child who can no longer live with their parents. An SGO formally recognises one or more people as a 'special guardian' of the child.
Although the child maintains links with their birth family their special guardians have the majority of parental responsibility for them. Unlike an adoption order, the child maintains strong ties with their birth family.
This arrangement provides legal security and enables the child to maintain their identity.
Special guardians have almost complete responsibility for caring for the child and can make major decisions about their upbringing without the involvement of the county council.
They also have responsibility for the day-to-day decisions about the care and upbringing of the child or young person. However, they should consult with the birth parents on important decisions, such as which school a child attends.
There are some decisions special guardians cannot make without the birth parent’s consent or permission from a court. They include:
- changing a child’s surname
- removing a child from the United Kingdom for more than three months
- very serious decisions where the law states that the consent of all those with parental responsibility is required, such as circumcision.
2 Who can apply
You must be 18 or over, and meet any of the following criteria, to apply to be a special guardian.
- You have the consent of the birth parents (or those with parental responsibility or the local authority).
- You have been given permission by the courts to apply.
- You are the legal guardian of the child.
- The child has lived with you for three of the last five years.
- You are a West Sussex County Council foster carer and the child has lived with you for a year immediately before the application.
- You have a child arrangement order relating to the child.
- You are already a testamentary guardian for the child.
Special guardians do not need to be married.
You cannot apply to become a special guardian if you are the child's parent or a local authority.
3 How an SGO benefits a child
Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) are permanent orders which allows a child to remain with their special guardians for the remainder of their childhood. Allowing children to stay with people that they have a pre-existing relationship with provides the best opportunity for them to flourish and develop.
The child maintains ties with their birth family while also benefiting from a safe and secure environment.
Other benefits of SGOs include:
- freer decision making by special guardians, allowing for a more spontaneous way of meeting a child’s needs
- children feeling less stigmatised by their circumstances
- embracing religious and cultural differences that may prevent adoption within ethnic communities (for example, Islam prevents a person calling someone else’s child their own)
- helping alleviate the concerns and tensions surrounding the child.
Maintaining links with the child’s birth family
Most children living with special guardians have some contact with their family members. In many cases, special guardians already know the child’s parents and are able to continue the contact arrangements after a special guardianship order is made.
For some children, contact may have to be supervised to keep them safe and a special guardian may need support from West Sussex Council in arranging this.
Some children may only experience indirect contact, such as by letters or phone calls. Other children will benefit from several different types of contact with different family members.
Every child’s needs for contact are unique to them and the social worker who is assessing your suitability to be a special guardian will discuss them with you. We will review the contact arrangements annually to make sure they are still suitable.
4 How to apply
There is a legally agreed approach to applying for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO).
- Contact the MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) team to find out whether or not you are eligible.
- Notify MASH in writing, three months before, of your intention to apply to the court for an SGO - we will assess your suitability to become the child’s special guardian.
- You make an application to the court. If there are already legal proceedings about the child, the court may invite you to join in those proceedings.
- The court asks the local authority to submit a report about your suitability. The report explores your background and other information, the merits of specifically applying for an SGO over other forms of care and the wishes of the child being considered. This report includes the undertaking of mandatory checks and references such as a DBS check and health assessment.
- In some cases birth parents won't agree with the SGO. If this happens you may need a solicitor to help with your application.
- The court considers your application, and our report, and makes a decision.
5 Support and benefits
Assessment for special guardianship support
Throughout your Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) assessment we will discuss your needs for special guardianship support. This will be followed up with a further discussion towards the end of the assessment to finalise the support plan before it is presented to the court.
Special guardians, birth parents and children are all entitled to an assessment for special guardianship support.
West Sussex County Council is committed to supporting special guardians and the child every step of the way. All special guardians will receive an SGO allowance, unless the gross household income is more than £50,000.
In order to calculate the potential SGO weekly allowance a means test financial assessment is undertaken, where the potential special guardian will have to provide evidence of their finances.
The SGO allowance will be subject to annual review, and your allowance may change if your finances change.
Please talk to the Finance Team on 03302 22880, or your assessing social worker, if you have any questions.
Sometimes the need may arise to make changes to the contact arrangements between the child and birth family.
If you have an SGO and there is no contact order, and you would like the child’s contact with the birth family to become supported and/or supervised, you can arrange this through the National Association of Child Contact Centers.
If you would like legal advice you can use the Law Society's database to find a solicitor. You will need a solicitor that is accredited and deals with family law and child care matters.