Section 20 Explained – What it Means for Your Family
Section 20 Agreements can be given to parents to sign out of office hours, when they don’t have any access to immediate legal advice. Getting legal advice as soon as possible is highly recommended, as the Local Authority and/or Police have the ability to take further action if required.
Our Care Proceedings Solicitors answer common questions about Section 20 below. For free initial legal advice, get in touch.
What does Section 20 Agreement / Accommodation Mean?
Under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, the Local Authority has a duty to provide a child with somewhere to live if the child doesn't have a home or a home which is deemed unsafe. This duty can arise from various reasons, for example, the child has been lost or abandoned.
If the Local Authority asks the parents to sign a Section 20, this will mean that the parents are agreeing for their child to live elsewhere for a period of time. Often, this is in foster care. During this time, the Local Authority can do the following:
- Conduct further assessments and investigations to decide if they need to issue an application to the Court
- Give the parents time to rest and ‘sort themselves out’. This is known as Respite
- Give the parents time to make changes in order for the child to be returned to them where the parents and the Local Authority are working well together.
The above isn’t an exhaustive list, as the action the Local Authority decides to take will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. It’s important to note that a Section 20 Agreement is not a Court Order, and there is no involvement from the Courts at this stage.
Additionally, signing a Section 20 Agreement doesn’t give the Local Authority Parental Responsibility over the child.
Do I Have to Agree to a Section 20?
No. The purpose of a Section 20 Agreement is that it’s supposed to be just that – an agreement.
You’re entitled to obtain legal advice before entering into a Section 20 to be sure you fully understand the terms and implications. The Local Authority should be able to provide you with a list of local Solicitors that deal with this area of law.
It’s important that you fully understand the implications of the Section 20 Agreement and what the agreement says. For example, if the agreement will be for a specified time period, if there any investigations to be undertaken, or if there will be a pre-proceedings meeting. Parents must have received all of the relevant information before agreeing to sign a section 20 Agreement.
You should be given written confirmation of the agreement, which you’ll be expected to sign. You may also be asked to sign a "Contract of Expectations", which sets out what is expected of both you and the Local Authority during this time. You should again be given time to obtain legal advice before signing this.
What Happens if I Don’t Agree?
If you don’t agree and the Local Authority doesn’t want your child to remain at home with you, then they may decide to take the following action:
- Ask the police to make a Police Protection Order which allows them to accommodate the child for up to 72 hours
- Apply for an Emergency Protection Order, which lasts for a maximum of 8 days, with a possible extension to a maximum of 15 days
- Apply to the Court for an Interim Care Order.
The Local Authority may also look at other options with you, such as whether there are any family members who the child could reside with.
Can I Withdraw My Consent and How?
Under Section 20(8) of the Children Act 1989, a person with Parental Responsibility can withdraw their consent at any time. Parents therefore should be informed that they’re able to do this by the Local Authority. You can withdraw your consent verbally, but it’s better to do this in writing.
If the Local Authority doesn’t want you to return the child to their home, then as above, they may seek a Police Protection Order or alternatively make an application to Court and commence Care Proceedings.
If the Local Authority ignores your attempts to withdraw your consent, or you weren’t informed of your right to withdraw consent to the s.20 agreement, it’s important that you obtain legal advice as soon as possible. The Courts have recently been critical of the Local Authority ignoring requests from parents to withdraw their consent and therefore it’s essential that legal advice is obtained.
What Should I Do Next?
If Social Services are involved with your children and have discussed the possibility of a Section 20 Agreement with you, it’s important to discuss this with a Child Protection Solicitor as soon as you can. If instructed, our Solicitors can liaise with Local Authorities and/or other parties on your behalf.
If you're unsure about any part of the Section 20 agreement, our Child Protection Solicitors can help you.
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