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Section 20 Agreements – What are they and should I agree to one?

Section 20 agreements allow Social Services to place your child in foster care, or with other members of your family, without the need for a Court Order. There is a lot to think about when considering whether to enter into a Section 20 agreement, so I’ve set out the answers to some of the questions I am regularly asked by parents.

What is Section 20?

Section 20 Children Act 1989 states that “Every Local Authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who appears to them to require accommodation as a result of –

a) There being no person who has parental responsibility for him;
b) His being lost or having been abandoned;
c) The person who has been caring for him being prevented (whether or not permanently and for whatever reason) from providing him with suitable accommodation or care.

In practice this means that if you agree to Section 20 a Local Authority can look after your child without going to Court to obtain an order.

Are there any circumstances when I can’t agree to Section 20?

Agreeing to your child being accommodated by Social Services is an important decision. When a social worker is talking to you about Section 20 they have to consider whether you are able to understand what you agreeing to. They should talk to you about what it will mean if you agree, what your options are and what may happen if you don’t agree. If you have a solicitor the social worker should also encourage you to talk to get legal advice.

The social worker must take into consideration issues such as:

  • Your mental health
  • Whether English is your first language
  • Whether you are under the influence of any form of medication, alcohol, or drugs
  • Whether you have any learning difficulties
  • Whether you have just given birth
  • Whether you are having any form of emotional difficulty

If you have agreed to Section 20 and you did not understand what you were agreeing to you should get legal advice because your agreement might not be valid.

Section 20 should not be used by Local Authorities as a long-term alternative to care proceedings, as the Court should be involved to approve long-term plans for a child.

When should I agree to Section 20?

This depends the circumstances of each individual case, but here are some of the usual reasons for agreeing to Section 20:

  • If you cannot look after your child due to a short term problem such as a hospital admission, and you do not have any suitable family and friends that your child can stay with.
  • So that assessments can be carried out.
  • Because you cannot meet your child’s needs and you need the Local Authority to give your child a home.
  • Because the relationship with your child has broken down.
  • Because you are worried for your child’s safety if they remain in your care for example if they are involved in a gang.

If you agree to Section 20 you should also make sure that the social worker prepares a written agreement for you to sign confirming exactly what you have agreed to.

In some cases, if you do not agree to Section 20, Social Services may apply to the Court for a Care Order. The benefit of Section 20 is that it does not give a Local Authority parental responsibility for your child.

If I make a Section 20 agreement can I change my mind and how long does Section 20 last?

There is no legal time limit on Section 20, but the Courts have started to criticise Local Authorities for allowing Section 20 agreements to go on for too long. Section 20 should only be used for the time needed to allow longer terms decisions about a child’s care to be made.

You can change your mind about Section 20 at any time, and if you withdraw your consent the Local Authority should immediately make arrangements to return your child.