Special Guardianship: What Is It & How To Apply

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 19th January 2024

Applying for special guardianship is a permanent and life-changing decision, but one that can be rewarding for both you and a child or young person. By being accepted as a special guardian, you can provide the right care and love for a child, where they might not have been receiving it by living with their biological parents. 

In this article, we will cover what it means to be a special guardian, including what you would be responsible for; why you should apply if it is right for you and the child; and how to make an application. 

What is a special guardian?

A special guardian is someone who is appointed to take long-term responsibility for the upbringing, care, and welfare of a child. The person who is appointed and with whom the child lives is the special guardian. 

What is a special guardianship order?

A special guardianship order is given where a family court legally places a child in long-term care for someone other than their parent/s. The order is given to provide a more permanent and secure arrangement for a child compared to other types of care, such as foster care. 

A special guardianship order gives the person with whom the child is appointed to live with the legal right and responsibility to care for the child, similar to a parent. The special guardian can make daily decisions for the child and has parental responsibility, meaning they're in charge, except when there's another special guardian.

A special guardianship order intends to give the child stability and a sense of belonging while aiming to keep them connected with their birth parent(s), and retaining family ties. 

If there is any existing care order for the child, this automatically ends when the special guardianship order is made.

Who can become a special guardian?

To become a special guardian, you need to be at least 18 years old and cannot be the child's parent. You can apply with someone else as a joint applicant, and you don't have to be married. 

Some of the situations when you can apply are if:

  • You are a foster carer and you have been the child's foster carer for a year before applying.

  • The child is living with you and has lived with you for three out of the last five years,  without a break longer than three months

  • You are already a child’s legal guardian

  • If the child is in local authority care, and they agree to your application

  • If you already have an existing court order about the child's living arrangements

  • If you're related to the child and they've lived with you for a year before applying

  • If the court permits you to apply

If you're unsure or need help with a special guardianship application process, talk to a legal professional who will be able to guide you through the process. 

Who can’t apply for a special guardianship order?

Certain people can't apply for a special guardianship order. For example, if you are the parent of the child, you cannot apply for a special guardianship order, as it is designed for people other than the child's birth parents.

As per the legal requirements, a child cannot apply for a special guardianship order on their behalf. The application must be made by an eligible adult.

These criteria are in place to maintain the legal framework of special guardianship orders as set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002

Why apply for a special guardianship order?

People often apply for a special guardianship order to give a child a stable home where they don’t currently have one, or when they are concerned about the welfare of achild and adoption is not right for them. 

Applying for a special guardianship order means that you will be responsible for looking after the child until they’re 18, and make all decisions relating to the child, such as medical treatment and schooling without having to discuss your decisions with the biological birth parents.

If you plan on applying for a special guardianship order, you must tell your local authority or council in writing three months before. For a child under the care of a local authority, the notice goes to that authority. After getting the notice, the local authority must provide a report to the court with relevant information.

How to apply for special guardianship

Firstly, it is possible to sort the arrangements out with the child's family without going to court, by using a family mediator.

If you do decide to go to court or cannot sort the arrangements out of court, there's a fee of £232. But if you're on benefits or have a low income, you might be able to get help with the costs.

Before applying to become a special guardian, you need to tell your local council in writing three months in advance. Also, you must inform anyone involved in existing court matters about the child that you want to make an application for. 

To apply to the court, you need to fill out some official forms and send them to your local family court. This includes an Application for an order form (C1), a supporting statement (C13A), and a Family mediation information and assessment meeting form (FM1) to show you tried mediation or had a reason not to.

Make sure to make copies of these forms because you'll need to send them to everyone affected by the application after you apply.

If you want to keep your and the child's contact details private during the court process, you can fill out the Apply to keep your contact details confidential from other parties in family proceedings form (C8) and include it with your application.

What happens after you apply for special guardianship?

After you submit your application, the court will give you a case number and arrange a meeting within 10 days. This meeting, called the 'first directions hearing,' will plan out your case and decide how things will proceed.

You have to attend all hearings unless the court says you don't have to. If you can't make it, get in touch with the court office.

To keep everyone informed, you must tell those with parental responsibility about the hearing details and share copies of your application. If there's a current care order, inform people who had parental responsibility before that order and the court-appointed Cafcass children's guardian.

You also need to let the local council's children's services department know, along with everyone looking after the child, the child's residence if it's a registered children's home or refuge, people the child lived with for at least 3 years before your application, anyone named in a current court order, and those involved in other ongoing proceedings that might be affected.

At the final hearing, where the court reviews all the evidence and sometimes hears from witnesses, they decide if a special guardianship order is best for the child. If approved, the court sends the final order to you, the birth parents, and others involved.

You might be eligible for financial support, called a special guardian allowance, from the local council's children's services department.

What is a first directions hearing?

A first directions hearing is the first meeting the court arranges after you apply for a special guardianship order. In this meeting, the court gives your case a number and plans out what will happen next. They decide on a schedule for your case and figure out how things will be done and all of the arrangements.

The first directions hearing is a crucial starting point, and you must attend unless the court says you don't have to. If you can't make it, make sure to contact the court office promptly.

Will I be assessed for a special guardianship order?

Yes, you will be assessed for a special guardianship order. If you want to become a special guardian, you need to tell children's services in writing three months before officially applying to the court. Children's services will then look into things and create a report for the court to decide if you are a good fit for the role of special guardian.

If the child is under the care of authorities, you need to inform the right local authority. If the child isn't in care, the notification goes to the local authority where the child lives.

After getting the notification, the local authority makes a report for the court to decide if you would be a suitable special guardian.

What are the alternatives to special guardianship?

Exploring alternatives to special guardianship involves considering different legal arrangements. 

Adoption

Adoption gives a child or young person a permanent home. Once an adoption order is granted, the birth parent(s) lose parental responsibility, and in most cases, connections with the birth parent(s) and wider family are severed.

Long-term Fostering

Long-term fostering offers a stable living arrangement for a child who cannot live with their parent(s). However, foster parents do not get parental responsibility, meaning they don’t have any legal basis to make significant decisions regarding the child's care. This arrangement may not always provide the child with a sense of stability and belonging.

Child Arrangements Order

This order from the family court outlines arrangements for where a child is to live. If the order designates a person with whom the child will live, that individual is granted parental responsibility, equivalent to that of a parent in terms of legal standing.

Each alternative has its implications, and the choice depends on the specific circumstances and the best interests of the child or young person involved.

Support for special guardians

According to the Adoption and Children Act 2002, there are provisions for financial support and additional services that as a special guardian you may be able to access, as well as the child, and the parent(s). 

However, if the child was not under the care of a local authority, there is no automatic entitlement to an assessment for special guardianship support services. Nevertheless, it is possible to request an assessment in this situation.

Examples of potential additional services include:

  • Mediation assistance with establishing new or existing contact arrangements

  • Counselling and advice providing guidance and information

  • Support groups access to groups offering support and shared experiences

  • Therapy services to address specific therapeutic needs

  • Training for the special guardian

  • Educational programs to meet the child's requirements

  • Respite care to provide temporary relief for the special guardian

  • Financial assistance support may be available

If a special guardianship order is granted, biological parents remain legally responsible for the financial support of their child. In most cases, they may be required to contribute to the child's upbringing by providing maintenance.

Get special guardianship support with Lawhive

At Lawhive, our family law solicitors are here to help you explore your options in terms of child arrangements, including special guardianship.

For personalised advice and support, contact our legal assessment team for a free case assessment today.

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