Becoming a special guardian | Oxfordshire County Council

Becoming a special guardian

A court order allowing parental control over a child by someone other than the birth parents.

3 boys hugging

Special guardianship order (SGO)

Special guardianship orders provide a permanent legal care arrangement for children who are cannot be cared for in the long term by their birth parents. It is an alternative to other permanence options such as adoption or long term fostering of a child by a local authority. Unlike adoption, special guardianship does not end the legal relationship between the child and their parents who continue to have parental responsibility and will have to be consulted in certain situations. Also unlike adoption, an SGO can be varied or discharged in some circumstances.

Special guardians

A special guardianship order (SGO) appoints one or more people to be a child's Special Guardian. The SGO gives the special guardians parental responsibility for the child and they take on the legal powers and responsibilities of parenting the child until their 18th birthday. This includes taking most decisions concerning the child's upbringing for example where they live, which school they attend and consent for most medical treatment. .

Who can apply to be a special guardian?

Special Guardians must be at least 18 years old. They can apply as a single person or as a couple. The child's parents cannot apply to become his/her special guardians.

You can be anyone with whom the child has lived for three out of the last five years including grandparents, siblings, other relatives, family friends, etc.

Assessing prospective special guardians

All prospective special guardians must give the local authority three month's written notice of their intention to apply for an SGO. This should go to the local authority where they live unless the child is looked after in which case the notice should go to the local authority responsible for the child.

Once notice is received the local authority prepares a report for the court which will provide information on:

  • The child and their wishes and feelings
  • Their birth family and their views
  • The suitability of the proposed special guardian including a DBS check
  • The plan for contact between the child and their family
  • Any support that has been agreed by the local authority


Health reports on both the special guardians and the child will also be required by the courts.

The role of the local authority

The report for the court will be prepared by a social worker. The social worker will arrange to meet with the prospective special guardians to your suitability to be a special guardian and other related questions.

Support for special guardians

Oxfordshire have a range of support services available to special guardianship families. The local authority which places the child will be responsible for the support needs of the family for three years after the date on which the SGO is made. After that time, the responsibility falls to the local authority where the special guardian lives. 

If the child has previously been looked after, the special guardian is entitled to an assessment on request of their support needs at any time until the child reaches 18. If the child was not looked after, there is no entitlement to assessment but the relevant local authority has discretion.

Oxfordshire's Adoption and Permanence Support Team are dedicated to providing advice, information and support to adoptive and SGO families living in Oxfordshire and they can be contacted through the helpdesk. Where appropriate we will develop personalised support plans and work with you to put these in action. Support plans might include:

  • help with contact between a child, his/her parents or relatives
  • support groups
  • training programmes and workshops
  • therapeutic services for the child
  • financial support for the special guardian

More details can be found on our support page.

Last reviewed
09 August 2016
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