Section 20 of the Children’s Act 1989 refers to situations in which a local authority can accommodate a child without a court order being in place. Usually the parents or legal guardians of the child must consent to the child being placed in the local authority’s care. Section 20 does not grant the local authority parental responsibility for a child, but it does mean that it is responsible to care for the child whilst it is in place.
Under Section 20, a child could be placed with a family member who is being treated as a foster carer and is receiving financial support for the child. Alternatively, a child could be placed in a residential unit or with a foster carer not known to them. A child who is in the care of the local authority either by virtue of a Section 20 Agreement or a care order will be considered a looked-after child, and regular review meetings should be held by the local authority to discuss the arrangements for the child. The parents and/or legal guardians should be invited to attend these meetings.
The local authority cannot force a parent or legal guardian to agree to a child being placed in accommodation under Section 20. It is also important to note that the agreement can be revoked at any point by the parent or legal guardian. However, should the local authority have significant concerns about the potential risks to a child if they are not removed from a situation, and the parent or legal guardian does not agree to the child being placed in Section 20 accommodation, or they subsequently revoke their agreement, this could trigger the local authority to issue proceedings to seek a court order enabling them to remove the child without permission of the parent or legal guardian.
A parent or legal guardian may be asked to sign a Section 20 Agreement as a temporary solution whilst the local authority undertakes further investigation. For example, if a child has sustained an injury, the local authority may need to undertake further investigation to ensure that it was not a non-accidental injury inflicted on the child by their parent or legal guardian or someone else who has been in contact with them. It may be that, by signing a Section 20 Agreement and allowing the local authority to care for the child whilst the matter is further investigated, the local authority could potentially conclude that there is no need for court proceedings to be initiated. However, if significant concerns are identified during the local authority’s investigations, it is very likely that proceedings would then be issued.
A Section 20 Agreement is not a long-term solution and, in the past, the courts have criticised local authorities for using it inappropriately and allowing a child to drift within the care system without an order in place. It is very important that any parent or legal guardian being asked to sign a Section 20 Agreement is fully aware of the implications and their rights, and it is recommended that legal advice is obtained.
How we can help
If you are asked to agree to a Section 20 Agreement, it is important that you speak to our experts BEFORE signing or agreeing to anything. We can give you advice about your options. Call our dedicated care proceedings and children services helpline on 0161 694 4149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. for your free initial telephone discussion. If you prefer, you can fill in our online form or alternatively, you can email us on email@example.com and we’ll call you back.
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