The terms of section 20 of the Children Act 1989 put the onus on the Local Authority to provide accommodation for a child in need in their area who appears to need accommodation because of one or more of the following:
- No person has parental responsibly for them
- They have been lost or been abandoned
- The person who has been caring for the child is prevented permanently or not, from providing him or her with suitable accommodation or care.
Section 20 is often offered as an alternative to the Local Authority applying for a Care Order and asking for the parents to consent to the child living in Local Authority care.
In some recent cases, Local Authorities have been heavily criticised for placing parents under duress in obtaining their agreement to Section 20 accommodation; sometimes not ensuring that parents have the capacity to provide the necessary consent; failing to understand what means valid parental consent and more importantly, failing to inform parents of the meaning of Section 20 and their rights under it.
In a case entitled Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH (2012) it was determined that the social worker must be satisfied that the person giving consent has the capacity to do so. The social worker must also actively address the issue of capacity and take into account all the circumstances prevailing at the time to ensure that that parent understands.
If the social worker has any doubts about capacity they should not attempt to continue to obtain consent.
Even if the social worker is satisfied that the person does have capacity, they must be satisfied that the parent understands the consequences of giving consent, whether the parent understands the full range of choice available and the consequences of refusal to Section 20, as well as giving consent to Section 20.
It is also important that the parent is in full possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent.
The Family Law Company believes it is really important that you take legal advice before you agree to Section 20 consent (which is in effect allowing your child to be cared for by the Local Authority in foster care or with another family member). Legal advice will ensure you completely understand what is happening, that you understand all the options that are available to you, and what the consequences of giving consent are.
If you would like to discuss your own situation with regard to section 20, or any aspect of children and Local Authorities, please contact us on 01392 421777 in Exeter or 01752 674999 in Plymouth and ask for the Care Team.