There are many different reasons why family members step in to look after children when their parents are unable to do so.
It has long been considered that adoption within families is inappropriate, as it changes legal relationships and can be extremely confusing for the child. As a result, family placements were, until recently, usually secured by asking the court for a residence order in favour of the carers.
Residence orders allow adults looking after a child to have control over where he or she lives and equal responsibility with the parents. However, another option is now available and is becoming more common, known as special guardianship.
What is special guardianship?
Introduced in December 2005, special guardianship provides a middle ground between adoption and residence orders. It grants parental responsibility but, unlike a residence order, that authority can be exercised to the exclusion of the parents, offering carers full control of day-to-day decision making.
Special guardianship is more secure than a residence order, as the child’s parents do not have an automatic right to ask for it to be discharged. They would need the court’s permission (known as ‘leave’) to do this.
Can I apply to become a special guardian?
Broadly speaking, anyone other than the child’s parents can ask for a special guardianship order. There are rules about who has the right to apply and who needs to obtain leave from the court.
How do I apply to be a special guardian?
Anyone who wishes to apply for this type of order must notify the local authority of their intention. The local authority then has three months to produce a detailed report for the court and once this period has passed, an application can be made.
How will the court decide whether to grant the order?
When considering an application for special guardianship, the court’s focus will be on the child’s best interests. Every order is decided on its own merits.
Will I receive any support from the local authority?
All local authorities are obliged to put support in place for special guardians. As part of its report to the court, the council must consider whether those services are to be provided. This can include financial assistance among other things.