Special Guardianship Order (SGO)

Posted on Sunday, 30th Aug, 2015 at 06:28:50 PM
The Children Act 2002 introduced a new legal status for non-parents who are caring for or wish to care for children in a long term, secure placement whilst preserving the legal link with the childs natural birth parents. A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is an order of the court under the Children Act 1989 which grants the holder(s) parental responsibility over a child until they reach the age of 18. This enables the special guardian(s) to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of the child, for example in relation to their education.

The making of a Special Guardianship Order does not extinguish the parental responsibility of the birth parents; however, the special guardian is only required to consult with them in exceptional circumstances. This enables the special guardian to make unilateral decisions in relation to issues such as medical treatment and choice of religion.

There are a number of important decisions that a special guardian cannot make without consultation, namely;
* Changing the childs surname
* Placing the child for adoption
* Granting parental responsibility to a father or step parent
* Granting the child permission to marry
* Consenting to the child being sterilised

An SGO may be sought in relation to both looked after children i.e. those under the care of the Local Authority and non-looked after children; for example, those children in the care of relatives. Special guardianship status is best described as a halfway house between residence and adoption orders in respect of the level of responsibility given to the non-parent carer and the perception of the permanency of the placement; something of particular importance to the child.

An SGO can be made in favour of more than one person and joint applicants do not have to be married. The special guardian must be aged over 18 and must not be the parent of the child concerned.

The following persons are entitled to apply for a SGO:

* any guardian of the child;
* any person in whose favour a residence order is in force;
* a local authority foster parent with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application;
* any person with whom the child has lived for a period of at least 3 out of the last 5 years;
* any person who has obtained consent from:
* those with a Residence Order in their favour in respect of the child concerned;
* the local authority, when the child is looked after; or
* if the child is not looked after, persons with parental responsibility.

All other persons require permission of the court to make an application for an SGO (s 14A(3)(b)). It is essential that the Local Authority concerned are given at least three months written notice of an individuals intention to apply for an SGO in accordance with s14(A)(7).

The Local Authoritys duty to investigate is then engaged and a report must be prepared. If the child is not looked after, the notice will be required to be sent to the Local Authority within which the child normally resides. Once the Local Authority have received notice of intention to apply; they must respond and inform you of any assistance that is available; whether that be financial assistance, help with arranging contact with persons who have an existing relationship with the child or information regarding respite care, mediation and training. The court must have regard to the welfare checklist set out in s1 of the CA 1989 when deciding if an SGO should be made. The interests of the child will be the courts paramount consideration.

An SGO remains in place until the child concerned reaches 18 years of age, whereas an adoption order is lifelong and will remain in place unless the child is adopted by another or the order is set aside in very exceptional circumstances.

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