We are often asked to advise relatives particularly Grandparents about “Special Guardianship Orders” but what are these orders and why would you need one?
When children are not able to be cared for by their birth parents, they may need to be placed with another family member. This may be because the birth parents have died, or the parents are unwell either physically or mentally, or have issues with substance abuse or alcohol abuse, or there has been domestic abuse in the relationship. Whatever the issues it is sometimes necessary to safeguard the children’s welfare by removing them from their parents care and placing the children with a member of their extended family network.
In many of these cases social services have been involved in making an assessment about the parent’s capacity to provide care. If removal is required, then Social Services will look first at placing the children with members of their extended family.
Social Services will need to carry out a full and detailed assessment of the relative as to their suitability to provide long term care.
The family member will be asked to seek legal advice as to the type of court order that would be appropriate to enable to the child or children to be placed in their care. The range of options open to the court in these circumstances:
- Child Arrangements Order – this says where the child is living, the court can also grant the applicant parental responsibility for the duration of the order.
- Special Guardianship Order – the order confers parental responsibility but is stronger and more permanent than the child arrangements order because the natural parent cannot apply for a child arrangements order without permission from the court.
- A care or Supervision order which confers parental responsibility on the Local Authority. This may be required where the Local Authority need to remain involved.
- Adoption - the court are unlikely to favour this as it severs the relationship between the child and the birth parents and if placement with a family member is being considered, it would not normally be appropriate to sever the tie with the birth parents.
A special guardianship order is an order appointing one or more individuals to be a child's special guardian. It has been described as 'a half-way house' between child arrangement orders and adoption orders. The concept of special guardianship relates to the exercise of parental responsibility.
A Special Guardianship Order gives non-parents a more permanent legal status than they would have if they were named in a child arrangements order as a person with whom the child is to live but does not extinguish the legal relationship between the child and their birth parents as an adoption order would do.
A special guardian has exclusive responsibility for making decisions regarding the day-to-day care and upbringing of the child but this will be subject to consent of all those with parental responsibility required by law on more important issues.
If you require specialist advice about Special Guardianship Orders then please contact a member of our family team.