LEGAL EAGLE: If asked to give consent to a Section 20 seek legal advice immediately

My child’s social worker is asking me to give consent to “Section 20”? What does this mean, and what should I do in this situation?

"If the local authority has immediate, serious concerns regarding the child remaining where they are, they may ask the police to exercise their powers of protection."
"If the local authority has immediate, serious concerns regarding the child remaining where they are, they may ask the police to exercise their powers of protection."

This is referring to Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 – this gives the local authority the power to accommodate a child for a period of time.

You might be asked to give consent to Section 20 in a number of different scenarios – your relationship with your child might have broken down meaning it is no longer appropriate for them to be living with you or the local authority might have concerns about the level of care the child is receiving meaning they believe the child would be at risk of harm if not accommodated somewhere else.

In situations such as these, the local authority may ask you to give your consent to Section 20, meaning you give them consent to accommodate your child somewhere else for a period of time.

This accommodation could be with another family member, with a registered local authority foster carer or in residential placement of some kind, depending on the specific circumstances.

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Section 20 is a voluntary arrangement – if you have given your consent, you are free to withdraw it at any time.

It is also important to know that a child should not be in Section 20 accommodation for any longer than necessary.

A common question is what happens if a parent refuses to give their consent – in this situation, there are a number of potential outcomes. If the local authority has immediate, serious concerns regarding the child remaining where they are, they may ask the police to exercise their powers of protection.

This means they can remove the child and place them in “suitable accommodation” (e.g. foster care, a children’s home etc.) for a period of up to 72 hours.

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Alternatively, if the concerns that the local authority have are serious enough they may apply to the Family Court for an Interim Care Order – this is an order that grants them shared parental responsibility for a child, which allows them to accommodate the child without the need for parental consent.

It is absolutely crucial that if you are asked to give your consent to Section 20 that you seek legal advice immediately.

The exact circumstances of the situation you are in will dictate what the best option for you is, and a legal professional will be best placed to advise you on these options if the situation does arise.