What is a Section 20 agreement?
Under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 every local authority must provide accommodation to any child in need who resides within their area. This includes where there are welfare concerns and it is deemed the person caring for the child is unable, even temporarily, to provide a safe home.
When this happens the Local Authority will look to accommodate the child usually within foster care but cannot do so without a Court Order, a Police Protection Order or without consent of those with parental responsibility for the child.
Sometimes, the Local Authority will ask those with parental responsibility to agree to let their child reside somewhere else in the short term, whilst the local authority investigate the circumstances and in some cases, to afford the parents the time and opportunity to address the concerns.
Should you sign a Section 20 agreement?
A Section 20 agreement should not be entered in to lightly or without first taking legal advice. Those who sign this agreement are consenting to the child being placed out of their care without a set timescale or without the court overseeing the matter.
Difficulties arise when parents feel bullied or rushed in to signing a Section 20 agreement when they may not fully understand what they are signing and the potential implications of it, or indeed they fear if they do not sign it the Local Authority will apply to the court to remove the child.
It is essential that any person who is asked to sign a Section 20 agreement seeks legal advice before doing so. The Local Authority will be very much aware that you have the right to take legal advice and should inform you of that.
You should not sign a Section 20 agreement if you do not fully understand every single part of the agreement, and the consequences for not complying with it. If you are not fluent in English then the written document should be translated for you before you sign it.
Further, a Section 20 agreement should not be signed by any person who may lack capacity to do so under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
What happens after you sign a Section 20 agreement?
Once a Section 20 agreement has been signed a close eye must been kept on the length of time the agreement is in place, it is inexcusable for the Local Authority to allow an agreement of this nature to drift on for a long period of time without a clear plan. Every case should be reviewed regularly with an Independent Reviewing Officer appointed to oversee meetings.
Unless it is deemed not to be in the child’s best interests the Local Authority should promote contact between the child and the parents.
It must be stressed that by agreeing to a Section 20 the parents are not sharing their parental responsibility with the local authority. Indeed a Section 20 is only an agreement; those with parental responsibility can withdraw their consent at any time without notice.
Here at Farleys Solicitors our experienced family law team recognised the urgency and importance of ensuring you are provided with appropriate legal advice. Please contact us immediately if you have or are asked to sign a Section 20 agreement. We have offices in Blackburn, Burnley, Accrington, Preston and Manchester, contact us today for an appointment on 0845 287 0939 or complete our online contact form.