BBC Drama ‘Happy Valley’ & Special Guardianship Orders

Image of child holding hands with presumed parents.

Like the rest of the nation you may have been gripped by the BBC crime drama series, Happy Valley. In her latest blog, Family Law Solicitor, Lauren Sheffield discusses Special Guardianship Orders and Catherine’s relationship with grandson Ryan…..

Over the years we have watched PC Catherine Cawood in her role as Sergeant but also in her role as Ryan’s grandmother and main carer. Sadly, Ryan’s mother committed suicide and his father, Tommy Lee-Royce, a very risky individual and Yorkshire public enemy number one, serving a life prison sentence.

With a deceased mother and a father in prison, Ryan had no parents to care for him. If Ryan had no alternative family members available to care for him, the Local Authority might have considered the only outcome for Ryan would have been adoption, or alternatively he could have spent his childhood in long term foster care.

Thankfully, Ryan’s Grandmother is the Super Granny that is PC Catherine Cawood. From a legal perspective, it is more likely than not, that Ryan remained with his granny subject to a Special Guardianship Order. This would mean that Catherine is Ryan’s Special Guardian. It means that she would have exercised parental responsibility for him, making day to day decisions about his care and more fundamental decisions too.

What Is A Special Guardianship Order? (SGO)

An SGO is an alternative to adoption or long term foster care. It is a court order that enables a child to remain within the birth family subject to an order made by the Family Court which places a child to live with someone, other than the child’s parents, on a long-term basis.

The order gives the carer an enhanced level of parental responsibility which means that they can make decisions about the child’s life without the parent’s consent, including matters relating to contact or which school they should attend. The Special Guardian would have day-to-day control and can exercise their parental responsibility to the exclusion of all others.

As we know from the television drama Catherine stopped Ryan having contact with his father and she was well within her rights to do this. Catherine was also the main contact for Ryan’s school when they wanted to discuss his behaviour or any other matters. She ferociously protected Ryan from harm and decided that keeping him away from his father was right for him and in his best interests. Unfortunately, her overprotective approach led to sparking curiosity in Ryan about his father and in the end he started to visit his father without Catherine’s knowledge or consent. Which, as we know, did put Ryan at risk when his father tried to take him “on the run” with him to Spain. Was Catherine right or wrong to make that decision to stifle contact? In the end we can agree on one thing and it was an excellent story line and too distant from reality.

How Timms Can Help With A Special Guardianship Order

If you would like advice on a special guardianship order or any family law issue, please feel free to contact me on 01283 561531 or via email at Alternatively, visit the  Family Law section of our website

Lauren Sheffield Family Law Solicitor Timms

Lauren Sheffield
March 2023

Blog by Area of Expertise