From time to time some families may need the assistance or intervention of the local authority in respect of their children. In certain circumstances social services may feel that to ensure the safety and well-being of the children removal from the parents is a necessity.
It is common to hear from parents who attend at our office having signed a section 20 agreement but they don’t always fully understand what they have agreed to or their rights going forward.
What Exactly Is A Section 20?
Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 sets out how and when a local authority can accommodate a child within their area. Anyone with Parental Responsibility can agree voluntarily to their child or children being accommodated under section 20.
When a parent has signed the agreement the child or children can be placed in temporary local authority foster care or with a family member.
Whilst the term used is “voluntary accommodation” some parents may feel at times that they have very little choice but to agree when approached by the local authority. What is intended to be a short term agreement can often become much longer than that and parent’s at this time are often without legal representation and/or the financial means to obtain advice. Whilst the child or children are placed the local authority should be carrying out assessments and working with them to address the concerns they have in respect of their care of the child or children.
In the recent case of Herefordshire Council v AB  EWFC 10 Mr Justice Keehan heavily criticised Herefordshire Council for “two of the most egregious abuses of section 20 accommodation” by a local authority. In short the Judge was shocked that the local authority had utilised the agreement of the parents for a period of 8 and 9 years. Whilst this is an extreme example we are often contacted by parents who agree to a short term arrangement before finding themselves several months down the line having only had contact with their children a few times a week.
Should I Agree To Section 20?
It is very important for any parent who is asked to agree to section 20 to obtain legal advice immediately. If a social worker should ask for you to agree to the same you should contact our office to speak to an experienced family lawyer first. Each case is different but taking initial advice is the one constant in all matters.
Section 20 (8) of the Children Act 1989 states that “any person who has parental responsibility for a child may at any time remove the child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority under this section”. In effect this means that if a parent withdraws their consent the child or children must be returned immediately.
If a parent withdraws their consent to section 20 or does not agree to the same then the Local Authority would more than likely refer the matter to court for an interim care order and to seek removal of the child or children from their care.
It is the aim that matters can be resolved without the necessity for court however we have an experienced and dedicated team here at Farleys that can advise you at all stages of this process through to conclusion of proceedings if issued.
To speak to a member of Farleys’ family law team please call 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry online.