What is a s20 agreement?
Parents can worry about the possibility of social services removing a child from their care. However, unless the police are exercising their short-term and emergency powers to remove a child in cases of an emergency, a social worker would almost always require a court order or a Section 20 agreement if that child was to be placed in Local Authority care.
Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 provides that a Local Authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who appears to them to require accommodation, either because there is no person who has parental responsibility for the child, the child is lost or has been abandoned, or the person who had been caring for the child is prevented from providing the child with suitable accommodation.
There may be cases where a parent or carer is struggling to care for a child and approaches the Local Authority for help and support as there are no family members or other carers available and the child could then be provided with accommodation by the Local Authority.
There can also be other cases where the Local Authority have raised some concerns about the level of care given to a child, and are suggesting that it could be in the child’s best interests to be provided with accommodation by the Local Authority, and this accommodation can even include being placed with other family members as well as being placed with a Local Authority foster carer.
It is a good idea to get advice from a solicitor as to whether to provide a Section 20 agreement. Sometimes parents feel that they have little choice because if they do not agree then the Local Authority suggest that they would go to court and get a court order, but it does not necessarily follow that if the Local Authority made an application to court that a Judge would agree that they should be granted an interim care order and the child removed from their care, and the parent would have the right to challenge the Local Authority and get non-means, non-merits free legal aid for representation in any care proceedings.
There may be cases where it would be more appropriate to give a Section 20 agreement and there may be others in which a parent could disagree with the social worker and argue that the child should remain in their care. It all depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case, which is why it is important to get independent legal advice
The parent has the right to exercise their parental responsibility by agreeing to delegate the exercise of that parental responsibility by having their child accommodated by the Local Authority. Some unmarried fathers, whose name does not appear on the birth certificate, might not actually have parental responsibility and, whilst their view would be important, will have less rights when a Local Authority is seeking to accommodate the child.
Every social worker obtaining agreement from a parent with parental responsibility is under a personal duty to be satisfied that the person giving their agreement has the required understanding and capacity.
It is best practice that there is a written Section 20 agreement which is clear and precise and also makes clear that the parent can remove the child from the Local Authority accommodation at any time, and that there should not be any restrictions on the exercise of the parents’ rights.
The Local Authority cannot accommodate a child if there is a parent with parental responsibility who is willing and able to either accommodate the child or arrange for someone else to do so.
A parent with parental responsibility can remove a child from accommodation arranged by the Local Authority at any time without the need to give notice, although it could well be in the child’s best interests to provide reasonable advance notice about any intention to remove a child
Should I give my agreement?
This depends on the particular circumstances of the case, and we would strongly recommend that you obtain independent legal advice.
Can the Local Authority insist that I give my agreement?
A Local Authority cannot force you to agree, and the delegation of parental responsibility to the Local Authority should not occur as a result of compulsion, and so any agreement has to be real and voluntary.
What if someone else who has parental responsibility gives agreement?
Strictly speaking, the Local Authority only require one person who has private responsibility to give their agreement, but best practice is for that Local Authority to obtain the consent of all persons with parental responsibility as the Local Authority may not provide accommodation for a child if there is a person with parental responsibility who is willing and able to provide accommodation and objects.
How long does it last?
A Section 20 agreement is usually only a relatively short term arrangement, and if matters are not resolved then the Local Authority could consider making an application to court so that consideration can be given as to whether more formal arrangements need to be put in place and whether a court order is required. The agreement can be brought to an end at any time by a person who has parental responsibility who removes the child from accommodation provided by the Local Authority.