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Special Guardianship

Find out what special guardianship means and how you apply.

Special Guardianship offers legal security without requiring the legal severance from the birth family which stems from an adoption order. A special guardianship order gives the special guardian parental responsibility for the child. Unlike adoption, under a special guardianship order the birth parents remain the child's legal parents and retain parental responsibility though their ability to exercise this is extremely limited.

The intention is that the special guardian will have clear responsibility for all the day-to-day decisions about caring for the child or young person and for taking any other decisions about their upbringing, for example their education. A special guardian may exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of others with parental responsibility, such as the parents, and without needing to consult them in all but a few circumstances.

The Court is not able to make a Special Guardianship Order unless the Local Authority has been given three months' notice by the applicant. The Local Authority is then responsible for preparing a detailed report for the court and making a recommendation on whether Special Guardianship is in the child's interests.

In Dorset the Adoption and Kinship Team is responsible for assessing and supporting Special Guardians. Written notifications should be sent to the Team Manager, using the contact details below.

We recommend that people who are considering applying for Special Guardianship seek independent legal advice from a solicitor with child care experience.

If you would like further information regarding Special Guardianship please ring the duty social worker on 01305 228200.

Who can apply?

To apply for a Special Guardianship Order a person has to be 'eligible'. A court may only make a Special Guardianship Order in respect of a child on the application of the following persons:

  • Any guardian of the child
  • A local authority foster carer with whom the child has lived for one year immediately preceding the application
  • Anyone who holds a Residence Order with respect to the child, or who has the consent of all those in whose favour a Residence Order is in force
  • Where the child is in the care of a local authority, any person who has the consent of the local authority
  • Anyone who has the consent of all those with parental responsibility for the child 
  • Any person, including the child, who has the leave of the court to apply
  • A relative of the child if the child has lived with the relative for a year preceding the application [A relative is a child's grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (by full or half blood) or by marriage or civil registration or a step parent].

Applications may be made by an individual or jointly by two or more people. Joint applicants do not need to be married. Special Guardians must be aged 18 or over. Parents of the child cannot become a Special Guardian.

What are the alternatives?

There are several alternatives to Special Guardianship.

Sometimes no order is necessary when everyone is in agreement about where the child should live. However, if a child is living with a person who is not related for more than 28 days this is called Private Fostering and Children's Services must be notified. More information can be found on Dorset County Council's fostering website private fostering.

A Residence Order can be granted by a court when there is not agreement about where the child should live. The person who is granted a Residence Order obtains parental responsibility for the child.

Sometimes children need more security and certainty than Special Guardianship can provide and adoption is an option that can be considered. Birth parents lose parental responsibility following an Adoption Order being made.

The legal situation can be complicated. A solicitor can give you more information and advice and/or you may wish to discuss your situation with a social worker in the Adoption and Kinship Team. A duty worker is available Monday - Thursday 10am - 4pm and Fridays 10am - 1pm on 01305 228200 or you can e-mail us.

What happens next?

The team manager for the Adoption and Kinship team will make sure that you are eligible to apply and will respond in writing accepting your notification or explaining why it cannot be accepted. You will also be sent an information form, consent forms to allow checks with other agencies and a form to complete so that Disclosure and Barring Service checks can be completed. A social worker will be allocated to complete the assessment which will be required by the court.

A Special Guardianship Order is a significant legal order and the court must be satisfied that it is in the child's interests. The assessment the social worker will need to complete is therefore very in-depth and includes:

  • Statutory checks with other agencies such as health, education and local authorities where you have lived
  • Disclosure and Barring Service checks
  • Full medicals on the applicant and child
  • Views of the child
  • Views of parents of the child
  • Views of the prospective Special Guardian
  • Information about the prospective Special Guardian
  • Information about the child
  • Information about the parents
  • Written references - referees will also be visited by the social worker
  • Information about contact
  • A support assessment (in most cases)

When the report is complete the social worker will make a recommendation to the court about the merits of Special Guardianship and other Orders, and contact arrangements.

You will also need to make an application to the court - more information about how to do this can be provided by your solicitor or can be found on the Court Service website (opens in a new window).

For more information on Special Guardianship please contact the Adoption and Kinship Team.

How do I apply?

If you wish to apply for a Special Guardianship order then you must give the local authority three months' notice in writing. The only exception to this is if you have the court's permission to make an application or if there is already an application for an adoption order before the court.

You should write to: The Team Manager, Adoption and Kinship Team, Woodside, Monkton Park, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 9PS.

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