At What Age Can You Become a Special Guardianship Carer?

In order to become a Special Guardianship carer (SGO) you need to be 18 years of age. This is the minimum legal requirement in order to be able to take on the guardianship of a child in the UK.

When considering age, there are other factors which you need to consider around this which is important to raise.

Is age really a factor when assessing Special Guardianship?

I have assessed at both ends of the spectrum assessing young people aged 18, some in their early twenties right down to completing a positive recommendation for a great-grandmother.

What you need to be clear about is that you cannot discriminate against someone simply because of their age.

The Equality Act 2010 says that you must not be discriminated against because you are (or are not) of a certain age or in a certain age group.

However, when assessing prospective special guardians, there is a legal requirement that you have to be 18 in order to hold the legal order.

This is not discrimination but falls within the law, and the need to be a legal adult in order to hold parental responsibility for a child.

There is no upper age limit for prospective special guardianship applicants, and individual circumstances will need to be considered and would be dependent upon the age of the child at the time of the application.

When completing your SGO assessment, you need to bear in mind the Equality Act.

It is important to note that when assessing kinship placements, that fostering regulations require applicants to be 21, however, can be considered in exceptional circumstances if they are 18.

For example, if a family member puts themselves forward at 18 because a child in the family was going to be adopted, then there is a duty to assess them as this would be considered an exceptional circumstance.

I have had this case scenario with 18-year-olds applying to become special guardians, which has prompted the writing of this post.

I cannot stress enough that you cannot rule out an applicant based on their age.

For example, to simply say they are too young or too old is discriminatory and would not inform any assessment recommendation.

Let’s look at what you need to do when assessing applicants at either end of the spectrum.

Am I Too Young to Become a Special Guardian?

When assessing younger applicants, rather than focusing on their age, it is more important to look at their skills of independence.

How stable are they in their own life?

Are they working?

Where is their income from?

How dependent are they on the adults around them?

Can they care for themselves?

For many 18-year-olds they are starting to live on their own for the first time. This is their first taste of becoming independent and starting to manage their own affairs.

You will need to gain an understanding of their skills of independence.

Can they take care of themselves before they take on the care of a child?

Are they able to run a home on their own? What experience have they had of this? How long have they been doing this?

What about their budgeting skills? Will they be able to buy food before the next new computer game or trainers?

Can they run a household budget? If all they have had to manage before was pocket money, then running a household budget is going to come as a real shock to them.

How will you assess their parenting experience if this is the first time they will be parenting?

In many cases, this may be their first experience of parenting a child on a full-time basis.

They may have been around in the role of brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or cousin but they may not have had the full-time experience as yet. The two are quite different.

All the above factors will be what you need to assess and not their age.

I have assessed a young person in his mid-twenties wishing to care for his younger sibling.

It was a particularly difficult assessment because in all ways he had a very strong emotional connection to his younger sibling.

He was tuned in to her and instinctively knew what she needed.

He seemed to understand what made her sad, what made her happy and he was able to talk to her and vice versa.

But there was one key problem.

He could not provide her with the stability that would be a requirement of any assessment.

He could not meet the basic care needs so essential in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need.

This is often a key factor for younger applicants.

They have never run a home of their own. Which was the case for him.

Often, they have had a troubled background themselves with a lack of stability in their own life through no fault of their own except by what they have been born into or experienced through neglectful parenting.

Now he desperately wanted to take care of his sibling, and in many ways, my heart went out to him.

But the assessment must be factual and what he is realistically able to offer. The assessment also had to consider his support needs and what could be done to help him to take on this role.

If I made a positive recommendation for every case I have assessed based on their love or bond for that child, then most cases would likely need to be positive.

He really wanted to make the changes, but the timescales of Special Guardianship and the care proceedings lasting just 26 weeks, do not help applicants like this. It simply does not give them enough time.

Also, often support is not there for SGO applicants.

He had only just started a new job. I needed to see stability; previous jobs had not lasted more than a few months at a time.

He needed to find accommodation. Not easy to find a landlord willing to give out a tenancy with little to no background history.

Accommodation is a huge area that hinders and holds back applicants. He had signed onto the housing list, but as a single male applicant, unless he was able to gain the care of his sister first, his chances of moving up the list were slim.

He would struggle to create stability for himself, let alone with a younger child in tow.

It was a sad case, as ultimately, he could not create stability within the timescales in his own world first.

It’s not easy when you are starting out, and the world seems to be against you in many areas.

But it was not because he was young that the assessment was negative, but because ultimately, he could not provide for his sibling’s basic needs.  

Side Note about obtaining accommodation as a special guardian.

Accommodation is a huge area that comes up often in special guardianship assessment.

The Courts make it clear to the Local Authority that this should not be a barrier to someone caring for a child and that the Local Authority should assist them in obtaining and supporting this aspect.

This is always a tricky one.

Does the Local Authority set a precedent to pay for private rented accommodation for prospective carers?

If so, will this open a flood gate of people who are coming forward simply to obtain such support without the interests of the child at heart?

Applicants’ motives will always need to be assessed.

The reality is that resources in Local Authorities are often limited.

Each special guardianship assessment, however, still needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis as to what financial support a Local Authority can provide especially when it comes to housing needs.

What Applicants Need to Do about Housing Need

Applicants should always contact housing and place their names on their local council housing list.

The Local Authority social worker can then write a letter of support to help them strengthen their housing application.

I once worked with an applicant wishing to care for his son and stepson. They were placed in temporary accommodation for almost a year.

This consisted of the three of them in one bedroom.

There was nothing I could do at the time other than provide letter of support and confirmation of the SGO assessment taking place.

The SGO applicant, also followed up with housing constantly to obtain accommodation for himself and the boys as he wanted to care for them in the long term. Such was his desire and motivation.

They stayed in temporary Bed & Breakfast accommodation for the duration of the assessment which was completed with a positive outcome dependent on the accommodation factor.

The SGO was issued, and he was later re-housed into a two-bedroomed flat.

All in all, this was a good result for the two boys who were able to remain together and with a carer who was committed and motivated to care for them.

This family was one of the lucky few, and accommodation is a potluck story depending on which part of the country you live in. Read more about housing support.

But let’s get back to what we were discussing.

Am I Too Old to Become a Special Guardian?

On the other end of the scale when assessing grandparents and great-grandparents, it is a different assessment.

After all, they are usually bringing with them many years of experience, are probably retired, more stable, and the factors that concern younger applicants are not the same when assessing older applicants.

Again, you are not assessing their age!!

One of the main aspects at this end of the spectrum would be health needs.

The harder aspect of assessing grandparents is longevity and let’s face it there is no running away from this.

No matter how great the health facilities have become, we are all, in the end, going to die, and the likelihood of this happening increases as we age.

Therefore, the factors that we need to consider, when assessing is not the age of the applicants but the age of the child.

Let me explain this.

It would be difficult to provide a positive assessment of a grandparent aged say 70 who wants to care for a newborn baby.

They may be able to manage in the current, but they would be 88 by the time, that child reaches the age of 18.

Now I know that there are many people still alive at 88 but how many are still caring for a child?

Often, they need care themselves and need help to take care of themselves.

If a child is placed in such a situation, will they become the carer for their grandparent? And is there anything wrong with this? Surely this is the cycle of life?

On saying that, I have completed a positive special guardianship assessment for an older grandparent.

The one that stands out was for a grandmother who was just 64 years who took on the care of her newborn grandchild.

She was in all respects fit and healthy.

She had just been planning her retirement, which she brought forward.

I am certain that she had not planned on caring for a newborn in her retirement, but she knew she would have it no other way.

In this case, she was able to identify a Testamentary Guardian, an adult child who would be able to take over, the care of the child when needed, thereby securing the child’s future within their family.

There are positive endings, and that is why this work is so satisfying, when a child remains within their family there is usually a better outcome for them.

They can grow up knowing who they are and have a stronger sense of belonging and of their own identity.

Remember, you are not assessing age whether this is at the younger end or the older end, you are assessing the prospective applicant’s capacity to meet the needs of the child in the long term.

Special Guardianship Info –  Giving SGO a Voice

Images 123rf: stockbroker

Special Guardianship Info –  Giving SGO a Voice