A Special Guardian is usually someone with a close relationship to the child, such as a family member, former foster carer or family friend. They need to apply to the court which will consider their suitability and the child's needs, based on a report from the local authority.

Special Guardianship is a formal court order which places a child or young person with someone permanently and gives this person parental responsibility for the child. This could be a grandparent, close relative or a family friend.

Special Guardianship means that the child lives with carers who have parental responsibility for them until they are grown up. If the child was looked after before the Special Guardianship Order was granted, they will no longer be the responsibility of the local authority.

The order usually lasts until the child is 18 years old.

Who can apply to be a Special Guardian?

You can apply for a Special Guardianship Order if:

  • you are a local authority foster carer and the child has lived with you for at least one year preceding the application
  • the child has lived with you for three of the last five years (and the child has not stopped living with you more than three months before the application)
  • you are the guardian of the child (you do not need to be related to the child)
  • you have the consent of those who have parental responsibility for the child
  • you have the consent of the local authority if the child is looked after
  • you have a Child Arrangements Order or a Residence Order in respect of the child and you have the consent of the person in whose favour the Order was made
  • you have permission from the court to make the application

You must be over 18 and must not be the child's birth parent. You can apply jointly with one or more people. Joint applicants do not need to be married. 

Why apply for a Special Guardianship Order?

A Special Guardianship Order has several potentially positive effects:

  • it gives a child the security of a long-term placement
  • the child's birth parents retain shared parental responsibility
  • it gives the Special Guardian day-to-day control (jointly, if there are several Special Guardians)

Unlike adoption, a Special Guardianship Order will not remove parental responsibility from the child's birth parents. This means that the Special Guardian will have responsibility for the day-to-day decisions as well as all the important decisions about the child or young person, but will need to consult the birth parents at times where key decisions are being made such as changing their name, moving overseas or agreeing adoption.

Find out more about Special Guardianship, including the processes involved to apply to the court on the Child Law Advice website.

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Why not also read about kinship care, private fostering or options available for step-parents.