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Special guardianship

What is special guardianship?

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

The Care and Support 0 to 12 Team has responsibility for assessing and supporting Special Guardians. Written notifications should be sent to the Team Manager of the Care and Support 0 to 12 Team.

Responsibilities of the special guardian

The special guardian will have responsibility for all the day-to-day decisions about caring for the child or young person. This includes taking any other decisions about their upbringing, for example, their education. They 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.

Who can apply?

To be eligible for a special guardianship order one of the following must apply:

  • you are a guardian of the child
  • you are a local council foster carer who the child has lived with for one year immediately preceding the application
  • you hold 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 council, any person who has the consent of the local council
  • you have the consent of all those with parental responsibility for the child 
  • you and the child have the leave of the court to apply
  • you are a relative of the child and the child has lived with the relative for a year preceding the application. This includes a grandparent, sibling, uncle or aunt, by marriage or civil registration or a step parent

Individuals or 2 or more people can make an application. Joint applicants do not need to be married. Special guardians must be age 18 or over. Parents of the child cannot become a special guardian.

What happens next?

Before applying, the applicant must give the court three months notice to make a special guardianship order.

The team manager for the Care and Support 0 to 12 Team will make sure that you are eligible to apply. They will respond in writing accepting your notification or explaining why it can't be accepted. They will also send you:

  • an information form
  • consent forms to allow checks with other agencies
  • a form to complete so they can complete Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks

They will allocate a social worker to complete the assessment which will be required by the court. The assessment will need to be in-depth and will include:

  • statutory checks with other agencies such as health, education and local councils where you have lived
  • Disclosure and Barring Service checks
  • full medicals on the applicant and child
  • views of the child, parents of the child and prospective special guardian
  • information about the child, parents and prospective special guardian
  • written references as the social worker will visit referees
  • 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
  • other orders
  • contact arrangements

You will also need to make an application to the court. Your solicitor can provide information about how to do this or you can find it on the Court Service website.

Contact the Care and Support 0 to 12 Team for more information on special guardianship.

How do I apply for special guardianship?

To apply write to the team manager of the Care and Support 0 to 12 Team. You must give the local council 3 months' notice in writing. Exceptions may apply if:

  • you have the court's permission to make an application
  • there is already an application for an adoption order before the court

We advise you seek independent legal advice from a solicitor with child care experience before applying.

Find out about the support you can get as a special guardian.

What are the alternatives to private fostering?

Sometimes no order is necessary when everyone is in agreement about where the child should live.

Private fostering

If a child is living with a person who is not related for more than 28 days this is called private fostering. Children's Services must be notified of any private fostering arrangements. Find out more about private fostering.

Residence order

The court can grant a residence order when no agreement is made about where the child should live. The person who is granted a residence order obtains parental responsibility for the child.


Adoption provides children and young people with more security and certainty than special guardianship. Birth parents lose parental responsibility following an adoption order being made.

Further advice and support

A solicitor can provide more information and advice, but you may wish to discuss your situation with a social worker in the Care and Support 0 to 12 Team.


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