Special guardianship orders

Information on special guardianship orders for kinship carers, including how they work and available support.

A special guardianship order (SGO) is a private law order made by the family court. The person or people named on the SGO will become the child’s special guardian.

As a special guardian, you have parental responsibility for the child until they are 18 years old. The child will live with you permanently. You will make both day-to-day decisions about their care and more important decisions about their life.

Although an SGO means the child’s parents will have fewer rights, you will need to keep them informed and get their consent for some important decisions, including:

  • changing the child’s surname
  • changing the child’s religion
  • taking the child abroad for more than 3 months
  • putting the child up for adoption
  • surgery that doesn’t improve the child’s health, such as circumcision, sterilisation or cosmetic surgery

If you cannot get consent, you can ask the court to decide by completing a C2 form.

What is parental responsibility? (GOV.UK)

What is a special guardian? (GOV.UK)

Who can apply for an SGO

Special guardians are normally a child’s relative and often their grandparents. However, you do not have to be related to the child to apply for an SGO and it will depend on your own situation. In some cases, you may need to apply to the family court for permission to apply for an SGO.

You can find the most up-to-date list of who can apply for an SGO on GOV.UK.

Applying to become a special guardian

There are two routes to becoming a special guardian: private law and public law.

Private law is an arrangement between individuals, such as family members, and public law is when children’s services apply to the court for an order to safeguard the welfare of a child in care.

Before you apply for an SGO, it’s important that you get legal advice.

You need to tell children’s services in writing 3 months before the date you want to apply to the court for an SGO.

A social worker will complete an assessment to show that you are able to care for the child. The assessment goes into a lot of detail and includes information about you and your background, the child and any support you think you will need.

The social worker will then write a report, which the family court will use to look at your suitability and the child’s needs before making a final decision.

If you are on a low income or receive government benefits, you may be able to apply to the family court to get help with paying court fees.

Apply for an SGO (GOV.UK)

Find your local family court (GOV.UK)

Help with court fees form (GOV.UK)


Before applying for an SGO, you will need to attend a [NK4] [NK5] [NK6] mediation, information and assessment meeting (MIAM). A mediator may be able to help everyone involved agree on the child’s care arrangements.

You may not need to attend a MIAM if:

  • there are child protection concerns and children’s services are involved
  • the case is urgent
  • the case involves domestic violence.

When you apply for an SGO, a mediator will need to confirm in writing that a MIAM has taken place or you fit one of the descriptions above. You can get legal aid to help pay for the costs of family mediation.

Learn more on the National Family Mediation website

Find your local council (GOV.UK)

Support for special guardians

Children’s services must provide support services for special guardians in their local area, which may include:

  • help with contact time arrangements
  • therapy
  • counselling
  • advice and information
  • access to support groups
  • respite
  • financial support

Children’s services will need to carry out an assessment to look at what support your family needs, including any financial help. However, not all special guardians and the children they care for are entitled to an assessment.

If the child was looked after by children’s services before the SGO was granted (normally a public law arrangement), a social worker will assess your family’s needs to decide what support you should get.

When the assessment is complete, children’s services will send you a letter about the support likely to be offered if an order is granted. If you disagree with the recommended support, you should inform children’s services in writing, detailing your reasons why.

If the child was not looked after (normally a private arrangement), children’s services do not have to complete a support assessment. However, you can still ask for an assessment in writing and children’s services may be able to put a suitable support plan together for you.

All children’s services departments should have a family and friends care policy, which includes the support they offer. You can normally find the policy online or ask children’s services to send it by email or post.

You may also be able to get support through the Adoption Support Fund (GOV UK)

Financial support from children’s services

As a special guardian, you may be able to get financial help from children’s services, such as a special guardian allowance. Children’s services will assess your financial situation, decide what support you should get and review it every year.

You are more likely to be paid an allowance if the child was previously placed with you as a family and friends foster carer (looked-after child). You may not receive the same level of payments which you did as a family and friends foster carer, because allowances are means tested.

Any allowance you do get should be the same or more than the minimum fostering allowance rates set by the government before taking your financial situation into account.

The financial support you can get depends on where you live and the age of the child you are caring for. All children’s services departments should have a family and friends care policy, which describes the support available.

Learn more about financial support for special guardianship orders.

Foster allowance rates (GOV.UK)

Special guardianship statutory guidance (GOV.UK)

Other financial support

In most cases, the child’s parents must provide financial support, though we often find that they are unable or do not want to.

If the child’s parents are in work, you can ask them to provide support on an informal basis. If they refuse, you can ask the Child Maintenance Service (GOV.UK) to get involved, though you will usually have to pay a fee.

If children’s services decide the child is ‘in need’, they may offer family support services under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989, which can include financial help.

Depending on your situation, you may be able to get government benefits, including Universal Credit, Child Benefit, Pension Credit or a Guardian’s Allowance (GOV.UK).

You may get further financial help if you or the child you care for are disabled or have a long-term illness.

Learn more about financial support for special guardianship orders.

Support from Kinship

Here at Kinship, we offer a range of free support for all kinship carers, including workshops, online advice and information, and peer support groups. While we don’t provide specific support for private foster carers, you may find some of our services useful.

Contact our advice service to speak to an adviser or book an appointment.