Special Guardianship Orders

Apply to become a Special Guardian and provide a home for a child while they maintain legal ties with their birth family.

1 Overview

Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) provide a permanent home for a child who can no longer live with their parents. 

Carers have the majority of parental responsibility for the child but, unlike an adoption order, the child maintains strong ties with their birth family.

An SGO formally recognises one or more people as a 'special guardian' of a child. They 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 have all the responsibility for the day-to-day decisions about the care and upbringing of the child or young person, but 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. 

How does an SGO benefit the child?

  • The permanence of the placement provides the best opportunity for the child to flourish and develop.
  • The child maintains ties with their birth family whilst benefiting from a safe, secure environment.
  • Freer decision making by the special guardians allows for a more spontaneous way of meeting the child’s needs.
  • A child subject to an SGO can feel less stigmatised by their circumstances.
  • Special guardianship embraces religious and cultural differences that may prevent adoption within ethnic communities. For example, Islam prevents a person from calling someone else’s child their own.
  • Special guardianship can help alleviate the concerns and tensions surrounding the child. 

2 Who can apply

You must be 18 or over to apply to be a special guardian and meet any of the following criteria.

  • 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 Residence Order relating to the child, or the consent of everyone a Residence Order relates to. 

You cannot apply to become a special guardian if you are the child's parent.

3 How to apply

There is a legally agreed approach to applying for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO).

  1. Contact the MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) team to find out whether or not you are eligible.
  2. Notify MASH in writing, three months before, of your intention to apply to the court for an SGO.
  3. We will assess your suitability to become the child’s special guardian.
  4. 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.
  5. The court asks the local authority to submit a report about your suitability. We will submit a report to the court about your suitability. This report explores the background and information on those applying, 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. 
  6. In some cases birth parents may not agree with the SGO. If this happens you may need a solicitor to help with your application.
  7. The court considers your application, and our report, and makes a decision.

4 Support and benefits

As a Special Guardian, you would receive the following benefits.

  • A bespoke and discretionary financial package to meet your particular circumstances and the specific care needs of the child. This would be drawn up in consultation with us and agreed by the court and will be reviewed annually. If the child is not under the care of the authority, the carer may not receive any financial package.
  • Optional professional support, tailored to meet the precise requirements of the child and the Special Guardian(s). This would be reviewed on an ongoing basis. This can include:
    • assessment of need
    • Special Guardian support groups
    • keep training and support groups
    • advice, support and information around contact
    • therapeutic support
    • life story tools and support
    • support for birth parents and birth children of special guardians
    • promoting positive communications and providing mediation
    • access to the Adoption Support Fund.

This support can be offered up to age 18, and if the child remains in full time education may continue to 21.

5 Further information

If you would like more information about becoming a Special Guardian or you are a Special Guardianship holder needing support contact the Special Guardian Support Team: 

If you are currently being assessed to become a Special Guardian please contact the Special Guardian Assessment Team:

Last updated:
15 November 2018

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