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Special guardianship

What is a special guardianship?

A special guardianship order secures a child’s long-term home with someone who is not their parent. It lasts until the child turns 18. Special guardians gain an enhanced form of parental responsibility. This means they can use their parental responsibility to the exclusion of others. This is explained in section 14C of the Children Act 1989.

Special guardians should still consult parents and others with parental responsibility about important decisions for the child. But they can make final decisions about most things if needed. But they cannot:

  • Change a child’s surname, or
  • Remove a child from the country for more than three months unless they get the written consent of all others who have parental responsibility.

This page shares some initial information about special guardianship.  We have also developed have developed a series of five advice sheets focussing on special guardianship. This includes ‘DIY’ guides about how to apply for a special guardianship order.  See the further information and advice box at the end of this page for details.

Does an assessment need to be done for someone to become a special guardian?

The Family Court cannot make a special guardianship order unless it has received a report from children’s services. This report would need to confirm the person applying for the order is a suitable to be a special guardian for the child (see section 14A(11) of the Children Act 1989). The Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 set out what should be addressed during the special guardianship assessment. This includes detailed background information about the prospective special guardian, exploration as to the implications for the child of making an order, and consideration of support needs.

What practical support may be available to a special guardian and the child they care for?

There is a general duty on children’s services to arrange for a range of special guardianship support services in the local areas (see section 14F of the Children Act 1989). What services these should be are all set out in government regulations.

They should include:

  • Counselling
  • Advice and information
  • Financial help
  • Help with contact arrangements.

Not all special guardians and children are entitled to have their support needs assessed. Even if they are assessed, it is up to children’s services what support is offered.

What financial help may be available to a special guardian and the child?

Children’s services must assess the need for support services, including financial help, if a child was looked after in the care system immediately before the special guardianship order was/is to be made.  For all other cases, doing an assessment of need for special guardianship support services is discretionary. This means it is up to children’s services whether it is done or not.

Providing financial help is also discretionary. The level of financial support will be means tested. Government statutory guidance and case law (decisions made by senior judges in other cases) says children’s services should have regard to how much fostering allowance would have been paid had the child been fostered. See the Special Guardianship statutory guidance at paragraph 65.

Special guardians do not have to pay tax on special guardianship allowance.  Their special guardianship allowance will not be taken into account when assessing whether they are entitled to means tested benefits.

Detailed information about special guardianship allowance and about welfare benefits is available in our advice sheets. See the Further information and advice box at the end of this page for details.

Can special guardians also get extra help for their child as a child in need?

Yes, if the child is:

  • Assessed as being in need, and
  • In assessed to be in need enough to receive services.

For detailed information and advice about requesting a child in need assessment and support, see our Child in need page.

Is there anything else someone who is raising a child under a special guardianship order may need to know?

Some children being raised by special guardians are eligible to apply for funding for therapeutic support under the Adoption Support Fund. See the Special guardianship and the Adoption Support Fund section on our Kinship carers page.

Children raised by a special guardian are also entitled to extra support with education if they were looked after just before the special guardianship order was made.  They are also entitled to priority school admissions, and their school can claim Pupil Premium Plus. They should be supported by a designated teacher, whose role is to be adequately supported at school. Children who were not looked after immediately before the order was made are not eligible for this support.

Detailed information about practical and financial support for special guardians is available in our special guardianship advice sheet series. See details below.

Further information and advice

We have developed a series of five advice sheets focussing on special guardianship. They are:

  • 2a) Special guardianship: an introduction
  • 2b) Special guardianship: information for parents
  • 2c) DIY special guardianship orders: care proceedings
  • 2d) DIY special guardianship orders: private law proceedings
  • 2e) Practical and financial support for special guardians.

They can all be found on our Advice sheets page.

Special guardians can also find helpful information about the benefits system and the education system in England in our advice sheets:

  • 2i) The Education system in England information for kinship carers
  • 2h) Welfare benefits for kinship carers.

Our Top tips and templates page includes a number of template letters that may be helpful to special guardians:

  • Letter 7 is useful for special guardians who want to request a review, or further assessment, of their special guardianship support
  • Letter 8 will be helpful for special guardians in receipt of income support, who need to challenge children’s services’ decision to deduct child benefit from their special guardianship order allowance
  • Letter 9 is for special guardians who need to complain to children’s services about not being paid an allowance at the National Minimum Fostering Allowance rate.
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