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Special Guardianship

A special guardianship is a court order that gives someone long-term, legal responsibility for a child they already have a relationship with.
Are you worried about the safety or welfare of a child?

If you think a child or young person may be in immediate danger, call 999. Otherwise contact us on 020 8314 6660 or out of hours call 020 8314 6000.

If a child cannot be cared for by their birth parents the court may grant a Special Guardianship Order (SGO), this provides a legally secure placement for a child until they are 18. It is an alternative to adoption, fostering or a Child Arrangements Order.

Special Guardians are individuals, usually with a pre-existing relationship with the child or young person such as a grandparent, a family friend or close relative. Special Guardians are assessed by us to see if this is a suitable arrangement. The assessment is presented to the court for their consideration and decision making. 

Your role as a Special Guardian

You have parental responsibility (above birth parents) to care for a child and make decisions about their upbringing, such as which school they attend and other important choices. However unlike adoption, a Special Guardianship Order will not remove parental responsibility from the child's birth parents, you will need to consult the birth parents at times for key decisions such as changing the child’s name, moving overseas or agreeing adoption.

You can maintain a link between the child and the birth parents and keep them up to date. 

The Special Guardianship Order usually lasts until the child is 18 years old.

How to apply to be a Special Guardian  

To become a special guardian you must apply to the court. You must be at least 18 years old. You can apply as an individual or jointly, joint applicants do not need to be married. We will provide a report to the court about your suitability.

If the child was ‘looked after’ before the order was granted, they will no longer be the responsibility of the local authority.

You might want to seek legal advice before applying for a Special Guardianship Order.

Eligibility to apply for a Special Guardianship Order

  • if the child is looked after by us and you have our consent
  • you are on our approved foster carer list and the child has lived with you for at least a year before applying
  • you have a Child Arrangement Order in place for the child
  • you have lived with the child for three out of the last five years and within three months of application
  • you have the consent of everyone with parental responsibility, this can include step parents and guardians
  • you are the appointed guardian of the child
  • you are a relative and the child has lived with you at least a year before application 

The process

If this child is in care then contact the local authority where the child lives.

The local authority will prepare a report by a social worker, the report will contain information such as the child's feelings and wants, your suitability as a proposed guardian, criminal records and reference checks, the plan for contact between the child and birth parents and an agreed support package. 

The report is sent to the court and a hearing will be arranged. A decision is made by the court based on the report and any evidence heard. 

Other forms of friends and family care arrangements

When children are unable to live with their birth family, arrangements to live with family and friends is always the priority and the first choice that we want to make for children and young people.

In some circumstances, families make their own arrangements and ask someone in their network to step in and offer care, this could be a Kinship Care arrangement. If this is not a close relative and extends beyond 28 days, this then is a private fostering arrangement and the parents, the private foster carer and any other professional who is aware of this situation, must notify us via the MASH service, by emailing mashagency@lewisham.gov.uk or calling 020 8314 8018.

In circumstances where the child cannot return to the birth parent’s care, the current carers can apply for a Special Guardianship Order, or a Child Arrangement Order (CAO) and will be encouraged to do so, if they are suitable to secure these longer-term arrangements, and this is in the best interests of the child or young person.