You see them mentioned from time to time, for example just the other day there was a post here describing how a charity considers that they are overused. But what exactly are special guardianship orders (SGOs)? I thought it might be useful to write a post explaining the basics of these still slightly unusual ‘children’ orders.
SGOs are relatively new. They were introduced on the 30th of December 2005 by section 115 of the Adoption and Children act 2002, which inserted a new section 14A into the Children Act 1989. The idea was to add another option to the types of orders available to the courts for dealing with children needing a new home away from their birth parents. They could be used where existing options such as adoption were not appropriate, for example because it was considered appropriate that links with their birth family not be severed, as they would be by adoption.
An SGO is an order appointing one or more individuals to be a child’s “special guardian” or “special guardians”. The order places the child with the special guardian(s) and gives the special guardian(s) parental responsibility for the child. It enables the special guardian(s) to exercise their parental responsibility to the exclusion of all others with parental responsibility, apart from another special guardian. This means that the special guardian will have responsibility for most decisions relating to the child. Note, however, that unlike adoption an SGO does not take parental responsibility away from the child’s birth parents and there are therefore some occasions when the parents must be consulted, for example in connection with a change of the child’s surname.
And that really demonstrates the point of an SGO. It is a sort of ‘halfway house’ between fostering and adoption. On the one hand it does not break the links between the child and its birth parents as an adoption order will usually do, while on the other hand it gives the special guardian(s) the stability of having parental responsibility, which foster parents do not have.
An SGO is also not the same as a child arrangements order stating that the child shall reside with a person. That person would have to share parental responsibility with the birth parents. Further, the birth parents can apply to discharge a child arrangements order, but may only apply to discharge an SGO with the permission of the court. An SGO also lasts longer than a child arrangements order – a child arrangements order usually expires when the child reaches 16, whereas an SGO usually lasts until the child reaches 18. In short, a special guardian is more secure with an SGO than they would be with a child arrangements order.
As that last paragraph indicates, an SGO is not necessarily a permanent arrangement, in the way that an adoption order is intended to be. An SGO can be varied (changed) or discharged (cancelled) at any time before the child reaches 18.
Anyone can apply to be a special guardian, provided that they are aged 18 or over, are not a parent of the child and fall into one of the following categories:
- They are a guardian of the child; or
- They are a local authority foster carer with whom the child has lived for a period of one year directly before the application; or
- They are named in a child arrangements order as a person with whom the child is to live or they have the consent of each of the persons named in the order as a person with whom the child is to live; or
- They have had the child live with them for three of the last five years, and the child has not ceased living with them more than 3 months before the application; or
- The child is in the care of a local authority and they have the consent of the local authority; or
- They have the consent of all those who have parental responsibility for the child; or
- They are a relative with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application; or
- Anyone else with the permission of the court.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is some concern that SGOs are being made too often. I’m afraid I’m not qualified to comment upon that, but they are, as I’ve said, another option available to the courts, for use in appropriate circumstances.