If Children’s Services become involved in children matters they may request that the child be removed from the family home and ask the parent to sign a ‘section 20 agreement’.
This situation can lead to court proceedings and it is important that you seek legal advice as soon as possible. Zahra Manji at Quality Solicitors Parkinson Wright provide a first free consultation when Children’s Services are involved and can be contacted on 01905 721600.
Section 20 of the Children’s Act 1989 states:
(Subsection 1) ‘Every Local Authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within its area who appears to require accommodation as a result of:
- There being no person who has parental responsibility for the child.
- The child is lost or abandoned, or
- The person who has been caring for the child is prevented (whether or not permanently, and for whatever reasons from providing the child with suitable accommodation or care’.
In addition subsection 4 states: ‘A Local Authority may provide accommodation if they consider it would safeguard or promote the child’s welfare’.
A Local Authority may ask you to agree to your child being removed from your care under a section 20 agreement, for a number of reasons. The following are examples:
- The Social Worker states that she is worried about the parent being able to look after the child. The Social Worker may allege that the parent has problems which impacts their ability to care for the child, for example, drug use, exposure to domestic abuse, actual or potential risk of a child being physically harmed, they say the parents have problems with mental health, they say the home conditions are poor.
- The Social Worker says the child is beyond parental control – for example, the child’s behaviour is too difficult for the parent to manage.
- There is no one to look after the child e.g. the parents cannot be found, or the parents are deceased.
- The Social Worker wants the parent to have a specialist assessment, through a parent and baby placement (where a parent goes with the child to a foster placement or residential placement and shows how they can care for the child).
Again this is not a full list, and your circumstances may differ.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Do I have to agree to my child being removed from my care and the section 20 agreement?
No – In order for a section 20 agreement to be effective, the Local Authority must obtain the consent of everyone who has parental responsibility (there are some circumstances where a Local Authority may not be able to obtain consent – for example not knowing where the parent is). If the Local Authority has not got these consents, they will either have to allow the child to remain at home, or alternatively apply to the court for an order.
Equally, you maybe in a situation where you have agreed to your child being removed from your care, but later change your mind. If you do this, under the Children’s Act 1989, Children’s Services must end the section 20 agreement. They are required to either send the child back to the parent or issue court proceedings.
Are Children’s Services right for wanting to take my child out of my care?
It can be important and appropriate to work with Children’s Services, as they can help you care and protect your children.
However the reasons for removing your children may not be correct. For example, you may disagree with the reasons why the Social Worker says the children should be taken from your care. You may feel that you can appropriately care for your children, if you receive help and support. You may feel that your children want to remain at home, and you do not think the Social worker is listening to them.
If you are worried about the Social Workers reasoning behind wanting your children to be removed from your care, seek legal advice so that you can talk through your concerns, and obtain tailored advice as to what should happen.
Will the Social Worker go to court if I do not agree?
If you do not agree, Children’s Services may or may not go to court.
Children’s Services can make an application to court for a Care Order under section 31 Children’s Act 1989. Alternatively if the situation is urgent, they can apply to the Court for an Emergency Protection Order. The Police can exercise certain powers to remove a child for a short period of time.
Whether or not Children’s Service has grounds to go to court will depend upon the circumstances of your case. You should seek immediate advice from a solicitor if you are in this situation.
If I agree, can the child go to family or friends? Do they have to go into foster care?
The Social Worker must consider whether it is suitable for a child to go to family or appropriate friends before placing a child with a foster carer – a foster carer is essentially a stranger.
Children can be placed with family under section 20 Children’s Act 1989. The family members can be classed and treated in the same way as foster carers?
If I sign anything, is it legally binding?
Section 20 is an ‘agreement’. You can revoke your agreement at any time. Sometimes Children’s Services ask you to give 14 days’ notice if you do wish to change your mind. If this happens, the Local Authority will need to decide whether to send the child home or start court proceedings?
Should I cooperate with the Social Worker, should I go to meetings?
It may be very difficult to work with the Social Worker, particularly if they have taken a view about your child which you do not agree with. However you do have to remember that they will be making recommendations about your child.
You maybe invited to Child In Need meetings, Child Protection meetings or Public Law Outline (PLO) or a pre-proceedings meeting’. You may be required to take a solicitor to such meetings.
If I agree to this, will I lose my children?
Following a child being removed from a parents care, if the parent is asking for the child to be returned, the Social Workers will normally do an assessment. This can take a number of weeks. At the outcome of this assessment, Children’s Services will make recommendations. They may recommend the children go home. They may recommend the children remain with family. They may recommend that they start court proceedings.
If you are faced with this situation, it is important to seek legal advice from the beginning, as your decision making could have long term consequences for the future of your children. Your decision should be informed. Book an appointment with one of our solicitors who will be able to guide you through what can be a very daunting process.
If you would like any information regarding a section 20 agreement or any other care proceeding or special guardianship orders please contact Zahra Manji on 01905 721600.