Special guardianship is a legal option intended to provide permanence for children for whom adoption is not appropriate.

A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) gives the special guardian parental responsibility for that child. Unlike adoption, under a SGO the parents are still legally the child's parents but their parental responsibility is extremely limited.

The intention is for the special guardian to have clear responsibility for all day to day decisions about caring for the child or young person and for taking any other decisions about their upbringing, like their education, without needing to consult birth parents in all but a few circumstances.

The purpose of the order is to give the child the security of a permanent home until the age of 18 and beyond. It differs from adoption in that it is expected that the child will keep links with their parents.

A SGO is flexible and can work in a variety of situations:

  • For older children who do not wish to be legally separated from their birth family, but could benefit from greater legal security and permanence
  • For children in long-term foster care or those who are cared for on a permanent basis by members of their wider family
  • For children who have cultural and religious difficulties with adoption as set out in law.

Who can apply

You can apply to be a Special Guardian either individually or jointly with someone else - or several others. If two of you apply, you don’t need to be married. You can apply to the Court for special guardianship if:

  • You are 18 or over
  • You are the child’s guardian
  • You are a local authority foster carer and the child has lived with you for a year immediately before the application
  • You have a residence order relating to the child, or the consent of everyone a residence order relates to
  • The child has lived with you for three out of the last five years
  • You have the local authority’s consent if the child is in local authority care
  • You have the consent of everyone with parental responsibility for the child
  • You have the Court’s permission to apply.

A Court can also make a SGO during family proceedings which are about a child’s welfare if they think that it is the best solution - the child always comes first.

How to apply

If you want to apply for a SGO, you need to notify the local authority at least three months before you apply to the Court. The only exception to this is if you have the Court’s permission to make an application when there’s already an application for an adoption order. That’s to make sure your competing application doesn’t delay the adoption order hearing.

If the child or the child's family, or your family are not known to the social services department and are not currently receiving services, you will need to seek legal advice and also to find out if you are entitled to receive legal aid to fund your application.

Step by step guide

The local authority must have three months’ written notice from you of your intention to apply to the court. (Unless you have the court’s permission to apply right away because someone else is already applying to adopt the child.)

  • The local authority investigates your suitability to become the child’s Special Guardian
  • An application is made to the Court
  • The local authority submits a report on your suitability
  • The Court considers your application and the local authority’s report and makes a decision.

Download the Special guardianship factsheet

See also

Related websites

Further information about Special Guardianship Orders is available from www.direct.gov.uk and the court service - www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk

Contact us

Adoption and Permanence Team
Merton Civic Centre
London Road
Morden SM4 5DX

Email adoption@merton.gov.uk
Telephone 020 8545 4688