An explanation by our Care Solicitors in Middlesbrough;-
What is a Special Guardianship Order?
A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is a way of providing stability for a child who cannot return to live with their birth parents and for whom adoption is not appropriate. It is a legal way of giving the person caring for the child clear, long-term responsibilities for the child's upbringing, and provides a foundation for a permanent relationship to be built between the child and the carer. At the same time it preserves the legal link between the child and their birth parent.
Once an SGO has been made, the Special Guardian will normally be the permanent carer for the child until that child reaches the age of 18.
When might a Special Guardianship Order be suitable?
A Special Guardianship Order may be particularly suitable for:
1. Children in long-term foster care;
2. Children who are cared for on a permanent basis by members of their wider family;
3. Older children who wish to retain a legal link with their birth family, but who would benefit from more permanent care arrangements;
4. Children from families who have cultural or religious difficulties with the legalities of adoption.
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Can I apply for a Special Guardianship Order?
A Special Guardianship Order is made through a formal application to the court. You can apply to become a Special Guardian if you are over 18 and you are:
1. The guardian of a child;
2. A Local Authority foster carer with whom the child has lived for at least one year immediately before the application is made;
3. A relative of the child with whom the child has lived for one year before the application is made;
4. Anyone who holds a Residence Order in respect of the child
5. Anyone who has permission from the Local Authority or; all those with parental responsibility for the child or; the Court.
How do I apply for a Special Guardianship Order?
If you intend to apply for a SGO you must tell the Local Authority in writing at least three months beforehand that you are going to apply for an order.
During this three month period the Local Authority will complete a report for the court. The report assesses the child's needs and considers whether a SGO is the most suitable way to provide a stable home for the child. This includes looking at information and background of the prospective Special Guardian, the views of people involved in the child's life (including the child) and the other options for care that may be available. The report must be completed whether or not the child has been looked after by the Local Authority.
Would I be entitled to any support?
As part of the SGO process, Social Services must consider what support may be needed. This support may be provided to:
1. The child;
2. The Special Guardian;
3. In some situations, the child's parents.
Overall it should help to secure a stable home environment and supportive relationships for the child. Support could be in the form of family services, financial support or a combination of the two.
The court will expect Social Services to look at what support may be needed before the application for an SGO is considered by the court.
If a child has previously been ‘looked after’ by the Local Authority, those involved in the application for Special Guardianship, including the child, the child's parent and the proposed Special Guardian, have a right to request a support assessment. There is no such right when a child has not been ‘looked after’, but Social Services will still consider whether support should be provided in the best interests of the child.
If support is provided, the details will be written down in a Special Guardianship Support Services Plan.
The Local Authority should offer you support; during the process, when the order is granted and after the order is granted (for up to five years).
Who has parental responsibility for the child?
A Special Guardianship Order gives the Special Guardian responsibility for the child. This means that the Special Guardian has day-to-day responsibility for caring for the child and for making decisions about how they are brought up.
Unlike an Adoption Order, an SGO does not mean that parental responsibility stops for the birth parent, or anyone else who has parental responsibility. However everyone other than the Special Guardian has very limited parental responsibility, and there are only a few specific circumstances in which the Special Guardian is obliged to consult them.
Will the child still have contact with their parents?
This will depend on individual circumstances, but in many cases the child will continue to have contact with their parents. Where appropriate the court may make a Contact Order at the same time as the Special Guardianship Order.
What should the Local Authority do?
A member of staff from Social Services will keep in contact with the Special Guardian, usually every six months, to check that everything is going smoothly. This is in addition to any contact through support services provided by the Local Authority.
Your financial support package will be determined on your financial needs and should not change if your circumstances change. This must be agreed when the order is made.
If support services or financial assistance are provided, they will be reviewed at least once a year to ensure that they continue to meet the needs of the child as set out in the Special Guardianship Support Services Plan.
What will I be expected to do?
Special Guardians have very few formal responsibilities. However the law says that you must inform the Local Authority if at any time;-
1. You change your address;
2. The child no longer has a home with you;
3. The child dies;
4. There is any change in your financial circumstances or the financial needs and resources of the child.
Special Guardians who receive financial support must also provide the Local Authority with a written annual statement of circumstances.
How long does a Special Guardianship Order last?
A Special Guardianship Order will come to an end when the child reaches the age of 18. It may end earlier than this if:
1. The child finishes full time education or training and starts work, or;
2. The child qualifies for Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance in their own right, or;
3. The child has some other form of personal income, or;
4. The court discharges the order because of a significant change in circumstances.
We also offer free initial consultations to all potential carers and family members, and will help you to apply for legal aid if you qualify financially. If you don’t, we offer competitive fees.
Legal aid may still be available, especially if Children’s Services are involved.
We would always recommend that you seek legal advice if you are involved in any aspect of the making of a Special Guardianship Order.
As a proposed Guardian, you should get advice to make sure that;-
a. This is the most suitable type of court order for your circumstances;
b. You are receiving the correct support;
c. The right procedures have been followed to prevent any problems with the order being granted. This is especially important if anyone is opposing the order being made.
As a parent – you should obtain advice to make sure you fully understand what it means to you as a parent if you child is made subject to a Special Guardianship order. This does have consequences for a parent and each individual case needs to be treated on its own facts.
As a child – if someone is applying for a Special Guardianship order that relates to you or one of your siblings and you wish to get some advice about what this means then you are entitled to get legal advice. We have a solicitor who is specially qualified to represent children.
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