LEGAL EAGLE: Explaining why you could be asked to enter a Section 20

If your child’s social worker asks you to sign a Section 20, they are referring to the Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

"A Section 20 does not have a time limit but this is not a long-term solution."
"A Section 20 does not have a time limit but this is not a long-term solution."

This agreement allows the local authority to remove a child and place them in foster care without the need for a court order.

The local authority can only remove your child from your care in certain circumstances. The reasons to enter a Section 20 agreement are as follows:-

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The local authority is worried about your child’s safety; if you are unable to look after your child for any reason, or the local authority can meet the needs of your child and at that time, you are not able to. A Section 20 is a voluntary agreement which means you can withdraw your consent at any time, if this happens, the local authority must return your child to you as soon as possible.

The agreement should not be obtained unless you have fully understood the consequences of giving consent and the range of choices available and what may happen if you refuse. It is vital that you seek legal advice immediately upon being asked to sign a Section 20 as a legal professional will be able to best advise you on your options.

The accommodation is usually a foster care placement or a children’s home. However, the local authority has a duty to place your child with other family members or friends if this is possible rather than remove them altogether.

A Section 20 does not have a time limit but this is not a long-term solution, your child should not be in a Section 20 accommodation for any longer than necessary.

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You can refuse to enter a Section 20 agreement but the local authority may ask the police to exercise their powers of protection.

This means they can remove your child and place them in suitable accommodation for a period of up to 72 hours.

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After that the local authority must either apply to the court for an order allowing them to keep the children or return them to you.

This is only used when there are serious concerns about your children, and you do not agree voluntarily for the local authority to step in.

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If the care order is agreed the local authority will share the parental responsibility of your child with you, whereas signing a Section 20 does not allow the local authority to share parental responsibility.

If you have been asked to sign a Section 20 it is important that you understand what is being asked of you and that you have been given all the relevant information.