SGO – Special Guardianship Order
SGO – Special Guardianship Order
A foster carers guide to (SGO) Special Guardianship Order’s
Introduction to (SGO) Special Guardianship Order’s
Many foster carers will be approached about taking their foster children under Special Guardianship Orders. Some carers may want to do an SGO and want to know what it is about and how-to, this introduction and guide are therefore intended to inform as to what an SGO is and the pros and cons of such arrangements for foster carers.
Special Guardianship Orders (SGO’s) was introduced as an amendment to the Children Act 1989 by the Adoption & Children Act 2002, implemented on 30 December 2005 and amended in 2016.
An SGO is a legal order intended to meet the needs of children separated from their birth parents which would offer more security to the children and their carers than provided by long-term fostering, but without severing all legal ties with their birth parents, as is the case with Adoption.
Applying to be a Special Guardian
You must be over 18yrs and not the child’s birth parent, you can make a single or joint application, joint applicants do not need to be married.
If you are a foster carer the child has to have lived with you for at least one year before applying for an SGO.
- You must have the consent of the local authority if the child is looked after. You can apply if you are a relative of the child and the child has resided with you for at least one year immediately pre-dating an application for an SGO.
- You are the guardian of the child (you do not need to be related).
- You have the consent of those who have parental responsibility (PR).
- You have a Child Arrangements Order or a Residence Order and the consent of the person in whose favour the order was made.
- You have the permission of the court to make the application.
There needs to be an application to the court who will then consider the suitability of that person based on the child’s needs, this is done through a report from the local authority.
Special Guardianship is a formal court order and it places the child or young person permanently and gives parental responsibility to someone, this could be a foster carer,
grandparent, close relative or family friend.
Under an SGO the child lives with the carers who have parental responsibility for them until they are 18yrs.
If the child in question was a looked after child before the SGO was granted they will no longer be the responsibility of the local authority.
What are the positives of a Special Guardianship Order?
A Special Guardianship Order has several potentially positive effects:
- It gives a child the security of a long-term placement
- It gives the Special Guardian day to day control in the care and upbringing of the child (jointly, if there are several Special Guardians).
- Although it will not remove parental responsibility (as adoption does) an SGO will give you the responsibility for the day to day decisions as well as all the important decisions about the child or young person, however, you will still need to consult the birth parents at times where key decisions are being made such as changing their name, moving overseas or agreeing to adoption.
Foster carer v Special Guardian pros & cons
What support do Special Guardians receive?
Special Guardians are entitled to a Support Package which should be confirmed in writing as part of the process.
This can include:
- Financial support.
- Access to support groups for special guardians.
- Help with contact arrangements with birth relatives.
- Access to therapy for the child if necessary.
- In some circumstances, respite, training and emotional support.
- If you have previously been a foster carer for the child, you may be able to receive an allowance. (Generally reviewed after 2 years but in other cases can be for a longer period of time).
The financial support may differ from the level it was received as a foster carer and it can be withdrawn by the Local Authority completely.
Financial support will depend on the Local Authority assessment of the child’s needs and your own circumstances, including eligibility for benefits and tax credits. It is sometimes means-tested, and sometimes non-means-tested.
- Special Guardians are also able to apply for child tax credits and claim child benefits.
- Children and young people who are subject to an SGO will not usually have a social worker as they are no longer considered to be in care. (Some see this as an advantage).
- Young people subject to an SGO will not qualify for ‘Staying Put’ once they reach 18.
- Local authorities may pay a special guardianship allowance in respect to a young person over 18 if they are completing a course of full-time education or training.
Foster carers should be made aware of this when applying for SGO by the local authority.
- Can you afford it? You will be on a lower financial package, and this can be subject to review after 2yrs.
- As an SGO you don’t get support from services.
- Many SGO carers say they have found it difficult to source extra support for their children and young people.
- You may have to have contact with the birth family and arrange contact sessions yourself.
- What are the reasons for the SGO and do I feel pressurised into doing it?
- Is it the right option for the child, for me, for my family?
- Can I afford to commit to an SGO and what financial package is available and for how long?
- What contact will I have with birth family and will I be able to manage contact without conflict?
- Have I got the details of the whole support package in writing, including finance so that I can take legal advice on it.
- Will the Local Authority pay my legal fees?
- Do I have all the information I need to be able to make an informed and the right decision?
- Whether the child has brothers and sisters and details of both parents.
- The relationship a child has with other family members and the arrangements for the child to see or keep in touch with different family members.
- Details of the child’s relationship with his/her parents.
- The parent/s’ and the child’s wishes and feelings.
- The prospective Guardian’s family composition and circumstances.
- Parenting capacity of the Guardian.
- Medical information on the child, prospective special guardian and the birth parent(s).
- An assessment of how a Special Guardianship Order would meet a child’s long term interests as compared with other types of order.
- A recommendation regarding contact and Special Guardianship.
- Implications of the making of the Special Guardianship Order for all those involved.
- Financial assistance.
- Assistance with the arrangements for contact between a child, his/her parents and any relatives that the local authority consider being beneficial.
- This assistance can include cash to help with the cost of travel, entertainment, and mediation to help resolve difficulties on contact.
- Respite care.
- Counselling, advice, information and other support services.
- Services to enable children, parents and special guardians to discuss matters, this might include setting up a support group.
- Become a Special Guardian – Government guidance: https://www.gov.uk/apply-special-guardian
- Special Guardianship government statutory guidance: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/656593/Special_guardianship_statutory_guidance.pdf
- Special Guardianship regulations 2005: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/1109/contents/made
- Special Guardianship (amendment) regulations 2016: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2016/111/made
- Family Justice Council (FJC) report on best practice with respect to SGO’s (2020): https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/PLWG-SGO-Final-Report-1.pdf
- Child Law Advice – Special Guardianship: https://childlawadvice.org.uk/information-pages/special-guardianship/
- Special Guardianship support – website: https://www.sgosupport.co.uk
- FosterWiki Parental Responsibility: https://fosterwiki.com/wiki/what-is-parental-responsibility-pr/
Social services will try and offer the lowest financial support package they can as at the end of the day, they’re a business. The LA paid for our lawyer and we managed to secure it till our boy is 18 yrs old and for it to not be means-tested.
Questions to consider before proceeding
If you do decide to go ahead with the SGO your local authority will carry out a full assessment and prepare a report for the court, this will detail the support package that you are being offered.
Once a court order is made it is difficult to get the package reviewed so get independent legal advice to make sure it’s the right decision, your local authority should pay for this advice as its to ensure that you and the young persons’ needs are being met.
The local authority and the court will look at the following key information:
Each local authority must make arrangements for the provision of special guardianship support
services which may include:
Once all this has been taken into consideration, the local authority will carry out an assessment and prepare a Special Guardianship report and support plan, this will then be presented to the court.
What foster carers say
the commitment I would be giving and all the contact I had to organise with their family etc and it would be a lifelong commitment until both children in work. Funnily enough, I have not heard back”
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