What is a Section 20 Agreement?
A ‘Section 20 Agreement’ is when a social worker from a Local Authority asks you to agree to your child going to live with somebody else, usually one of their foster carers. It is called a ‘Section 20 Agreement’ as the law that allows this is Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
The law says that a Local Authority must provide a home for a child who lives in their area if they think the child may not be safe living in their current home.
There are many reasons why a child may not be able to stay at home, for example:
- The person who has been caring for the child cannot provide a suitable home;
- There isn’t anyone who has parental responsibility for the child;
- The child has been abandoned.
A local authority cannot provide a home for a child if anyone with parental responsibility objects and can provide a suitable home.
Any person with parental responsibility for a child may at any time remove the child from the home provided by the local authority under this section.
What signing a Section 20 Agreement means:
By signing a Section 20 Agreement you are agreeing to allow your child live somewhere else, usually in foster care, which is arranged by the social worker. In agreeing to s20 you must agree all the plans for your child including when you will have contact with them.
The social worker might ask you to agree to your child living somewhere else if they are worried about your child and would like to work with you to see if they can help you to care for your child and your child returning home to you.
A Section 20 Agreement does not give the Local Authority Parental Responsibility for your child. This remains with you.
You do have a choice about whether to agree to your child going to live somewhere else. There may however be times when the social worker thinks that unless your child lives somewhere else they will not be safe. If this is the case, and you do not agree, the social worker must ask a Judge to order that your child lives elsewhere. The Judge can make either an Emergency Protection Order or an Interim Care Order. Both of which will give the Local Authority Parental Responsibility for your child and enable them to place your child in another home.
A Section 20 Agreement should be a short term arrangement. It should be used to see if improvements can be made for your child to return to your care and if this is not possible the Local Authority must ask the Court to think about where your child should live in the long term.
If you are asked to sign a Section 20 Agreement the social worker must explain to you what it is and why they think it is necessary. They should also give you time to speak to a solicitor for advice, which we do recommend. If you are in receipt of certain benefits or on a low income you may be entitled to free legal advice.
The Local Authority’s social worker must not put pressure on you to sign the agreement or ask you to sign it if you do not understand what it says or means. You must be given the opportunity to have it translated or read to you in your native language if English is not your first language.
by Harriet Burchett
Harriet is paralegal to Jonquil Houghton
You can contact us on 0207 976 2233 if you would like any further information about the use of s20 agreements.