What is special guardianship?
When a child is involved in care proceedings, it means that the local authority has reason to believe that the child may be at risk of significant harm. Under care proceedings, the child can be removed from their usual home while the courts determine the long term placement needs for the child/ren of the family.
Whether or not you can adopt a child who is involved in care proceedings will depend upon the type of court order that is made, or the decisions of the birth parents. A child can be adopted if the birth parents agree, or if an adoption order is made by the court.
Typically, an alternative order may be made in the first instance, as an adoption order can only be made once a child has lived with a prospective adoptive parent for a minimum of 10 weeks. If the child’s welfare needs are being considered within care proceedings, usually a care order and then a placement order will be made and so it can be quite a long process for the first court proceedings to come to a close. They should last around 26 weeks but in many instances, care proceedings can take much longer and they will only consider adoption as a last resort in those situations.
You should speak to the local authority you are registered with if you want to be matched with any child/ren that are engaged in care proceedings.
Becoming a Legal Guardian
Under an adoption order, you can adopt a child who has been involved in care proceedings. This means that full parental responsibility and parental rights are transferred to you from the birth parents. Once this happens, any child arrangements that have been in place throughout the proceedings for the child/ren to see/ have indirect contact with their birth is usually significantly reduced to just yearly/ twice yearly letterbox contact. You will be informed of the child/ren’s care plan and any future contact expectations as part of your matching process.
If you have a prior relationship with the child/ren, you may want to consider becoming the legal guardian at any earlier stage and sometimes during the care proceedings. This can be under a regulated placement or later, a special guardianship order. A special guardianship order provides parental responsibility to the named guardian only until the child reaches 18 years of age and so, unlike an adoption order, it is not permanent. There will be a support plan drawn up alongside the recommendation for the making of a special guardianship order; including financial support (reviewed every 3 years). A special may be a suitable alternative for children not wishing to be legally separated from their parents and those wanting to build on the level of contact they are having with their parents.
A special guardianship order has some similarities to a child arrangement order; both retain a legal relationship between the child and the birth parents, but a special guardian has overarching parental responsibility and so the birth parents would not be able to interfere in the day to day decision making if any dispute arose as to health, education or religion (for example). The big difference between the child arrangement orders and special guardianship orders is seen in how the actual order can be ended.
A special guardianship order can only be ended by the courts. This decision is usually only made when the courts are satisfied that significant changes have been made by the birth parents, and that the child will no longer be at risk if returning to the home. Anyone seeking to discharge a special guardianship order will need to apply for permission to make that application in the first instance.
However, a child arrangement order can be ended without involvement from the court, with a natural and longstanding variation of the arrangements within the order. This can sometimes result in an outcome that is not in the best interest of the child as there has been no professional oversight into the new arrangements.
Help, Support, and Advice
National Legal Service specialises in this area of family law, offering advice, support, and guidance for those seeking guardianship of children involved in care proceedings. We’re here to support you in putting the needs of the child first, so don’t hesitate to get in touch for more information about court orders or child adoption.