Special guardianship

Apply to legally take parental responsibility for a child you look after


A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is a legal order applied for and granted by the courts that allows special guardians to offer a permanent home to a child without adopting and gives parental responsibility of the child.

Parental responsibility

Being a special guardian means that you will have overriding parental responsibility for the child, giving you the right to make decisions about the child's care and upbringing.

You don't have to consult the child's birth parents before you make these decisions.  However, you would have to inform the child's parents if you:

  • place the child for adoption
  • change the child's surname
  • take the child out of the UK for more than 3 months

You must also inform the birth parents if the child dies.

When might a special guardianship order be appropriate?

A special guardianship order might be appropriate if:

  • there is a need for a secure placement with alternative carers but does not require a change of identity for the child (for example, name)
  • the child's relation, foster or other carer needs to exercise day to day parental responsibility and is prepared to do so as a lifelong commitment
  • there is no need for continued monitoring and review by the local authority, although support services may still need to be arranged
  • the child has a strong attachment to the alternative carer


Permanence is the long-term plan for the child’s upbringing. It aims to provide a sense of belonging, security and stability from childhood into adulthood. The primary focus of permanency planning is to prevent children staying in care for longer than is necessary. Special Guardianship is one route to permanence. 

A Child Arrangement Order is another route to permanence. It is an order from the court which details the arrangements for a child, including:

  • where they will live
  • who they will live with
  • who they should spend time with
  • who they should have contact with

A Child Arrangements Order is usually used to determine arrangements between parents. It can also be used to order that a child lives with, or has contact with, another person. This could be a family member or friend. 

Other routes to permanence include:

  • staying at home and re-unification
  • connected persons or kinship care
  • long-term foster care
  • adoption