Special Guardianship Orders – Formal practice guidance: One Year on
In June 2020, formal practice guidance finally became available; “Recommendations to achieve best practice in the child protection and family justice systems: Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs)”. This is something that many family law practitioners had been seeking, for a significant time. It is incredibly helpful to have practical guidance to hand now.
What is a Special Guardianship Order (SGO)?
A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is an Order under the Children Act appointing one or more persons as legal guardian of a child. These tend to be family members or family friends caring for a child who is unable to live with their birth parents.
Over the last few years, the family court has made more special guardianship than placement orders. A placement order is a far more draconian order as it allows the local authority to place a child for adoption. Adoption severs all family ties for the child. An SGO can provide a child with a long-term, and hopefully, forever-home, without ending all legal relations with parents/siblings etc.
Special Guardianship Orders and Parental Responsibility
An SGO provides the Special Guardians with Parental Responsibility. The birth parents do not lose theirs if they have it (the birth mother will have this automatically when a child is born, but the birth father may or may not have this). However, the SGO will grant ‘overriding Parental Responsibility’. This means that the Special Guardians have the final decision where there is a conflict with the birth parents. For example, in situations regarding schooling or medical treatment.
Can a Special Guardianship Order be revoked?
An SGO is intended to last throughout the child’s minority. However, if a birth parent makes significant changes, and it is in the child’s best interests to change their living arrangements, the birth parent can ask the court’s permission to make an application to discharge the order. Court proceedings can only begin when permission is granted.
What are the benefits of a Special Guardianship Order?
The major benefit of an SGO is that the link between the child and the birth parents is not severed. Although normally reduced, the child still has face to face contact with their birth family.
What support services are available for a Special Guardian?
The Special Guardians will be assessed to see what support they require to ensure the placement is successful. This includes financial support, which is normally re-assessed yearly. The Special Guardians can attend a one-day course, where they will meet other Special Guardians and receive relevant guidance. There should also be an SGO support plan prepared with the assessment. This set outs what specific support the Local Authority will offer the child, the Special Guardians, and the family.
What does the SGO formal practice guidance recommend?
The guidance introduced in June 2020 makes a number of recommendations including:-
- The SGO report and support plan must comply with the SGO regulations (2005 and amended 2016) and consider all of the points laid out in the law;
- Consideration should be given by local authorities to provide training to prospective SGs, and to take adequate steps by local authorities to prepare them for caring for the child;
- Unless necessary, a supervision order should not need to be made alongside an SGO; and
- Before the making of an SGO, careful consideration needs to be given to contact between the child and birth parents.
Special Guardianship Orders: A Solicitor’s Opinion
In my experience over the last year, points 1, 3, and 4 are being followed generally well by local authorities when completing SGO reports and during proceedings. Whenever a supervision order is seen to be necessary as well as an SGO, the final order will set out the reasons for this. In my experience, this tends to be due to concerns about how contact will proceed when it moves away from professional supervision.
However, I think that much more needs to be done in terms of point 2. Very rarely do I see local authorities offering training and preparation beyond a standard one-day course. This course is available to all prospective SGs (only after a positive SGO report, and often after they are already caring for the child).
Training, preparation and support should be tailored to the needs of the child, prospective SG, and family as a whole. This will surely make any move to a SG placement smoother and more successful in the long term.
Get in touch
Our team of children lawyers are specialists in Special Guardianship Orders. If you have any queries about SGOs, are being assessed as a possible guardian, or wish to challenge your SGO assessment, we would be pleased to help you. Please contact us on 01707 329333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .