Special guardianship

Special Guardianship Orders (SGO)

If a child cannot be cared for by their birth parents, the council has a duty to find permanent care for them.

A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) provides a legally secure placement for a child until they are 18. It is an alternative to adoption, fostering or a Child Arrangements Order.

Your role as a Special Guardian

You have parental responsibility (above birth parents) to care for a child and make decisions about their upbringing, such as which school they attend.

You can maintain a link between the child and their birth parents and keep them informed of any decisions. You only require permission from the birth parents (or the court) for the following:

  • taking the child out of the country for more than three months
  • changing the child’s surname
  • major operations
  • placing the child for adoption.

Who can apply?

You must be at least 18 years old. You can apply as an individual or jointly. You do not need to be married or in a civil partnership. The child's parents cannot apply.

Eligibility criteria

  • You have our consent, if the child is looked after by us.
  • You are a foster carer approved by Tower Hamlets Fostering Service, who the child has lived with for at least a year before applying. The application does not need our support.
  • You hold a Child Arrangements Order for the child.
  • You have lived with the child for three out of the last five years (and within the last three months before applying).
  • You have the consent of everyone with parental responsibility, including parents, step-parents or guardians.
  • You are appointed as a guardian of the child.
  • You are a relative the child has lived with for at least a year before applying.

If you do not meet any of these criteria, you can apply to the court for leave (permission) to apply.

You should seek independent legal advice before applying for a Special Guardianship Order.

The assessment process

If you want to become or have been asked to become a Special Guardian contact your residing local authority. If the child is in care, contact the local authority where the child lives. 

It is important to discuss your motivation to become a Special Guardian and whether it is the right thing to do for you and your family, as well as the child concerned.

The local authority will prepare a report by a social worker who will meet with you. The report will contain information about:

  • the child's wishes and feelings
  • the birth family and their views
  • your suitability as the proposed guardian
  • criminal records, health reports and reference checks
  • the plan for contact between the child and their birth family
  • an agreed support package.

The report will then be sent to court and a hearing arranged. A decision will be made based on the report and the evidence heard.

The court can also give permission for the child's name to be changed or for the child to be taken out of the UK for more than three months.

If you are making a private application to become a Special Guardian, your lawyer will give the local authority three months’ notice to complete the report.

For more detail on our Special Guardianship process please read our procedures.

Support for Special Guardians

A range of support services are provided to our Special Guardians. 

Financial support

Some guardians may receive financial support in the form of an allowance. This is reviewed each year to take into account any change of circumstances.

The council is responsibility for this financial support throughout the time you are caring for the child. We can also support you with access to the Adoption Support Fund for therapeutic services (for children that were previously looked after).

Social work support

Once you have your Guardianship Order, you will be contacted by a support social worker from the team. They will arrange to meet with you to discuss your support needs as set out in your support plan.

Support groups and events

Groups are run to allow guardians to meet and share experiences and to offer advice to each other. Guest speakers also attend to speak on topics of interest to guardians.

Annual events are organised for guardians and their children and includes picnics, parties and fun activities.


We provide a range of training and opportunities to learn. These include

  • First aid
  • Managing difficult behaviours
  • Dealing with drugs and alcohol
  • Managing contact.

Training brochures are sent out each year.

Contact the team

If you have a question about special guardianship, you can contact us:

Permanency, Assessment and Support Team

Tower Hamlets Town Hall
160 Whitechapel Road
E1 1BJ

Tel: 020 7364 1246
Emergency Duty Team: 020 7364 4079.
Email: fostering@towerhamlets.gov.uk

Useful websites

  • Grandparents Plus 
    Support for grandparents (and other relatives) caring for a child who cannot stay with their birth parents.

  • Grandparents Legal Centre    
    Specialist legal advice for grandparents, to resolve difficult situations.

  • Family Rights Groups
    Support for wider family members caring for a child who cannot stay at home, as well as birth parents.

  • Child Law Advice
    Legal advice for wider family and carers, available online and over the phone.

  • Citizens Advice
    Independent advice on housing, benefits, debt and your legal rights.