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We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number. Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

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Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

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Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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Special guardianship orders

What is a special guardianship order?

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.

There are some restrictions. For example, special guardians cannot change a child’s surname. They cannot remove a child from the country for more than three months, unless they get written consent of all who have parental responsibility.

When might someone seek a special guardianship order?

There may be different situations where special guardianship is being thought about for a child including:

Care proceedings:

This is a legal process where children’s services apply to the Family Court to become involved in a child’s care. They may do this if they are concerned that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm. Children’s services and the Family Court should look at whether family or friends may be able to take.

Private law proceedings:

Special guardianship can be explored as an option for a child without there being care proceedings. An application can be made for a special guardianship order in private law proceedings. For example, a parent and a relative could decide that it would be best for a child to live long-term with the relative. That relative could then apply for a special guardianship order. This would be known as a private law application as the court proceedings were not started by children’s services.

Who can apply for a special guardianship order?

Someone can apply for a special guardianship order if they are over 18 and are not the child’s parent. The person applying:

  • Does not need to be related to the child
  • Can apply on their own or jointly with another person.

Some people have an automatic right to apply for a special guardianship order. Others need permission from the Family Court first. See our advice sheet 2a) Special guardianship: An introduction (questions 11 & 12) for more information about this.

Who can apply to end a special guardianship order?

A special guardianship order can be bought to an end (‘discharged’). Some people have a right to apply to end the end the order. But some need the permission (‘leave’) of the Family Court including:

  • The child
  • The child’s parents
  • A step-parent with parental responsibility for the child
  • Anyone else who had parental responsibility for the child immediately before the order was made.

Questions about the assessment process, financial support and other support available to special guardians are answered below:

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.

Our Kinship care resources pages for practitioners also include resources that may also be useful to families. This includes:

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