Hannah Ross, Solicitor from the Stowe office in Leeds joins us on the blog today to look at special guardianship orders? What are they? Why would you need one? And, how do you get one?
Special guardianship orders were introduced in 2005 and are governed by the Children Act 1989. They are often described as a mix of a child arrangement order and an order for adoption.
Why should I choose a special guardianship order?
A special guardianship order application is suitable in circumstances whereby the child has been living with you for a period of time or they have been placed into your care by way of care proceedings.
The order remains in place until the child has reached the age of 18 and although you share parental responsibility with the parents, you are able to make almost all decisions about the child without the parent’s approval.
If the child was already subject to local authority involvement prior to the application for a special guardianship order being made then you may be entitled to additional support from them, this can include a special guardian allowance.
A child arrangements order is very similar, however parental responsibility is shared with the parents and therefore decisions regarding the child will require their agreement. In addition to this, there would be no additional support provided to you by the local authority.
How do I start the process?
Before taking steps towards making an application to Court for a special guardianship order the Local Authority must be given three months’ notice of the intention to apply.
This gives the Local Authority the time to undertake a thorough and detailed assessment of the applicants which goes into detail about the housing arrangements, financial circumstances and the ability to care for the child. If the special guardianship assessment is negative, then the prospects of successfully obtaining a special guardianship order are significantly reduced.
If successful, a special guardianship order application is made to the local Family Court, this can be done within existing proceedings or as its own standalone application. There is often a requirement for the court to grant permission for the application to be made
Who can apply for a special guardianship order?
The law sets out clearly who is entitled to apply for a special guardianship order and they are as follows:
- Any guardian of the child
- Any individual who is named in a child arrangement order as a person who the child is to live with
- A local authority foster parent with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application
- A relative with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application
What will the court consider?
The court, as always will take into consideration what is in the best interests of the child using a welfare checklist which is prevalent in the decision-making process and considers the following:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the court’s decision
- The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the court’s decision
- Any harm the child has suffered or maybe at risk of suffering
- The capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting the child’s needs
- The powers available to the court in the given proceedings
A special guardianship order is a useful tool in ensuring that a child is given a permanent and secure home without losing the crucial link to their birth parents.
The law around special guardianship orders, however, can be complex and difficult to navigate and legal advice is strongly advised.