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3.1.6 Guidance on the Use of Section 20 Agreements

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure applies to decisions to accommodate children and young people by voluntary agreement under section 20 Children Act 1989.

OTHER RELEVANT CHAPTERS

When considering whether to accommodate a child under section 20 Children Act 1989 the procedures set out in Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure must be followed.

When assessing the needs of disabled children and young people, the procedures set out in the Children Accessing Short Breaks Procedure, must be followed.

This chapter was added in June 2016.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Legal Framework
  3. Parental Responsibility
  4. Consent
  5. The Section 20 Agreement
  6. Decisions to Accommodate a Child under Section 20 Children Act 1989
  7. Placement Identification
  8. Care Planning
  9. Exiting the Arrangement


1. Introduction

Under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, a child or young person may be accommodated by the local authority where there is agreement to this arrangement by those with Parental Responsibility. The child becomes Looked After under a section 20 arrangement.

In advance of the child becoming accommodated, agreement must be sought from those with parental responsibility. Agreement must be sought for the child to be looked after by the local authority and for consent for the local authority to arrange surgical, medical and dental procedures or treatments for the child of young person.

The local authority must consider, where possible, the wishes and feelings of the child, his parents or any person with parental responsibility, and any other person deemed relevant, before providing accommodation (CA 1989 Section 20(6), Section 22(4)(5)).

Section 20 may have a role to play as a short term measure pending the commencement of care proceedings but the local authority must not use Section 20 as a prelude to care proceedings on a long term basis where there are concerns about significant harm for the child.


2. Legal Framework

The legal basis for the provision of accommodation through voluntary agreement is contained in the Children Act 1989.

A local authority must provide accommodation to a child if:

  1. There is no person who has parental responsibility for him;
  2. He is lost or abandoned;
  3. The person who has been caring for him is prevented (either permanently or temporarily) from providing suitable accommodation or care (CA 1989, Section 20(1)).

A local authority may provide accommodation for any child in their area if it would promote and safeguard their welfare (CA 1989 Section 20(4)).

Accommodation can consist of a single episode or a series of episodes in a package of short breaks (respite care). All children looked after for more than 24 hours are said to be accommodated (CA 1989, Section 22(2).


3. Parental Responsibility

When a child is accommodated under section 20 Children Act 1989, those with parental responsibility retain this. The local authority does not acquire parental responsibility under this voluntary arrangement (CA 1989 Section 20).

A local authority must not provide accommodation for a child under 16 if any person with parental responsibility objects and wishes to provide accommodation (CA 1989 Section 20(7)).

A local authority may provide accommodation for a young person over 16 at their own request even where a parent or person with parental responsibility objects (CA 1989 Section 20(11)).


4. Consent

Section 20 agreements are not valid unless the parent giving consent has capacity to do so; the consent is properly informed and fairly obtained. Willingness to consent cannot be inferred from silence, submission or acquiescence - it is a positive action.

Detailed guidance on the obtaining of parental consent was given by the High Court in the case of Re CA (A Baby) (2012):

  • The social worker obtaining such consent is under a personal duty (the outcome of which may not be dictated to them by others such as a manager) to be satisfied that the person giving consent does not lack the capacity to do so.

Good practice would be to confirm in the child’s case records the decision the social worker makes about parental consent and capacity.

  • Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a person is unable to make a decision if s/he is unable:
    • To understand the information relevant to the decision;
    • To retain that information;
    • To use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision; or
    • To communicate his/her decision.
  • If there is doubt about capacity, no further attempts to obtain consent should be made at that time, and advice should be sought from a manager;
  • If satisfied that the parent has capacity, the social worker must be satisfied that the consent is fully informed:
    • Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such consent?
    • Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
    • Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?
  • If not satisfied that the consent if fully informed, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought from a manager and legal advice sought if thought necessary;
  • If satisfied that the consent is fully informed, then it is necessary to be satisfied that the giving of such consent and the subsequent removal of the child from the parent is both fair and proportionate:
    • What is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
    • If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?
    • Is it necessary for the safety of the child for her to be removed at this time?
    • Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?


5. The Section 20 Agreement

The provision of accommodation through voluntary agreement must be based on a written agreement between the local authority and the parents or the young person himself where he is over 16 and the parent objects (CA 1989 Regulations, V4 para2.19).

The agreement of a parent to a section 20 should be properly recorded in writing and evidenced by the signature of those parents or carers with parental responsibility wherever possible.

In Leeds, there is a standard agreement and consent agreement on Mosaic which should be used. This agreement clarifies that this is a voluntary arrangement and that those parent carers with parental responsibility who have signed the agreement can withdraw their consent and remove the child or young person from the local authority accommodation at any time (CA 1989 Section 20(8)).

The agreement does not and must not seek to put any fetters on the parent’s right to remove the child.

Where the parent(s) or those with parental responsibility are not fluent in English, this agreement should be translated into the relevant language. The parent(s) / carer(s) should sign the translated text and state in their own language that:

‘I have read this document and I agree to its terms’.

Once the parent carer has signed the section 20 agreement, this should be scanned and uploaded to the child’s Mosaic record. A copy should be provided to the parent carer with five working days.

For the duration of the section 20 arrangement, those with parental responsibility should be involved in, kept informed of, and consulted about all aspects of the child’s life.

This includes the child’s education including: being invited to attend parent’s evening; being invited to contribute to the development of the personal education plan; and being invited to extracurricular school activities such as performances and sport occasions.

Although the section 20 agreement covers the issues of consent for the local authority to arrange surgical, medical and treatments, those with parental responsibility should be informed about the treatment or procedure. They should also be involved in the Health Needs Assessment.

The parents or carers with parental responsibility must also be kept informed about any other significant changes for the child or young person. This includes (but not exclusively) where a child is away from placement without authorisation or reported missing to the police.

The section 20 agreement should include confirmation of when a copy of the Placement Plan will be provided to the parent carer. The Placement Plan should clarify what has been agreed for contact between the child and the parent carers.


6. Decisions to Accommodate a Child under Section 20 Children Act 1989

When considering whether to accommodate a child under section 20 Children Act 1989 the procedures set out in the Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, Decision to Look After Child must be followed.

This includes that a child may not come into care without the express permission through Decision and Review Panel (DARP) or the area Head of Service in an emergency situation.

The decision to look after a child will only be made where those making the decision are satisfied that appropriate consultation has taken place and consideration has been given to the necessity, purpose and nature of the proposed placement. Where the circumstances constitute an emergency, opportunities for consultation may be limited.

Before a decision is made to look after a child in Leeds a Family Group Conference is usually undertaken. The family may agree a family plan where the child is to be cared for by another member of the family, or a friend. This may prevent the need for the child to come into care.


7. Placement Identification

When seeking a placement, the procedures set out in the Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, Placement Service and Placement Identification must be followed.


8. Care Planning

Once a child is accommodated, it is imperative that robust planning is maintained to ensure the plan remains the right one for the child. The procedures set out in the Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, The Care Plan must be followed

The parent carers with parental responsibility must be invited to the looked after child review. They must be consulted by the Independent Reviewing Officer in advance of the review. If the parent carers are not able to attend the review, consideration should be given to whether the review should be rescheduled.

At the looked after child review, those present should review whether the section 20 agreement is the most appropriate arrangement for the child. 

As with any looked after child reviews, consideration must be given to the care plan and whether this remains the most appropriate plan for the child dependent on the circumstances of the case.

All reviews should consider the care plan and whether this remains the most appropriate plan for that child dependent on the circumstances of the case. The Chair should also review the legal basis for the accommodation and whether this should be amended to reflect any changes in the care plan. It may be appropriate to continue with Section 20 accommodation, if, for example parents indicate their consent will be forthcoming and they have no intention of requesting their child returns back to their care.

The “No Order Principle” guides decision making in this area, by stating that an order should not be sought where parents give their consent, however this has to be balanced against what is right for the child.

If the young person is likely to remain in care long term, the Local Authority should consider whether it is in the child’s best interests to share Parental Responsibility with the birth parents and thus seek a legal court order.

The review should also focus on the role of parents/carers (those with parental responsibility); ensuring issues of contact with parents and other family members are adequately addressed and monitored in each review.

Each review should ensure the child’s wishes and feelings are also adequately addressed.

It is imperative that each review questions the ongoing need for accommodation and where appropriate arrangements should be made to facilitate and support a return home/ exit from care so as to avoid unnecessary delay and uncertainty for the child.

As with all looked after children, a permanence plan must be developed in time for the four month review, for every child where a Section 20 agreement is made, and presented for ratification at Permanence Panel. The case must be reviewed at Permanence Panel within 12 months. This is to review whether the arrangement is still in the interests of the child.


9. Exiting the Arrangement

Circumstances around ceasing, or discharging, a child from being Looked After will vary as much as the original reasons for Accommodating the child, but the discharge of the child from being Looked After should always be undertaken in a timely and planned way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child.

See the Ceasing to Look After a Child Procedure

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