The nature of special guardianship orders and the rights acquired

Special guardianship orders (SGOs) can be made under a new provision introduced into the framework of the Children Act 1989 through the Adoption and Children Act 2002. The effect of an SGO is that it appoints one or more individuals, who are not parents of the child, to be the child’s special guardian/s. As such that person is granted rights and responsibilities in relation to the child and their upbringing.

The aim of the SGO is to provide a child who is placed with a non-parent with some permanence in his living arrangements. Further, the type of order was created as an alternative to adoption or residence orders.

In practice, those orders are considered particularly suitable where a child has been place with a family member who is not a parent, which may for example result from care proceedings.

The powers under an SGO

In order for the person with an SGO to be the primary carer for the child, he is granted certain powers and responsibilities with the order. A special guardian has parental responsibility (PR) which he can exercise to the exclusion of all other holders of the rights and responsibilities associated with PR.

Nevertheless, there are restrictions in place regarding the exercise of PR and rights under it. For example, the remit of the powers of person with an SGO does not allow them to change a child’s surname. Further, he cannot remove the child from the UK without the permission of either the court or other holders of PR in respect of that child.

Who can apply for an SGO?

The person to be appointed a special guardian needs to be a non-parent of the child in question and must be over 18 years of age. 

The legal framework defines certain categories of people who are entitled to apply for an SGO and those include:

  • Guardian

  • Person who has been granted a residence order

  • Person with whom the child has lived continuously for at least three years

  • If there is a residence order in place any person who has the consent of the person with the residence order

  • If the child is in the care of a local authority any person who has the consent of that local authority

  • Local authority foster parent with whom the child has lived for at least one year prior to making an application 

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For more information on:

  • Local authorities and additional procedures
  • The applications and the courts