What is a section 20 agreement?
A section 20 agreement (also known as a voluntary agreement) is when you agree for Children’s Services to look after your children for a short period of time.
You cannot be forced to agree to it, and the law says that the social worker must make sure that you fully understand what you are agreeing to.
What are section 20 agreements used for?
Section 20 agreements are used to place children in temporary care when their parents are unable to look after them. They can be useful if, for example, you become ill or one of your children needs more help than you can give.
What will happen if I agree to a section 20?
If you agree your children will be placed in temporary foster care (they will be known as accommodated or looked after).
Do I have to agree to a Section 20 agreement?
No. You do not have to agree just because the social worker says they think this is the right thing to do. If a social worker says they think your child should not stay with you, and asks you whether you agree, you should tell the social worker that you want to take legal advice before you make a decision.
What will happen if I don’t agree to a Section 20 agreement?
If you do not agree then the social worker will have to apply to court for an order to remove your child into care, or involve the police. It is recommended that you take legal advice before deciding whether to agree or not. You can tell the social worker that you would like to take legal advice before agreeing to it.
Although it can feel difficult, scary or confusing to ask for more help, it’s important to get the right information before signing an agreement.
How do I end a Section 20 agreement?
You can ask for a Section 20 agreement to end at any time, but you should get legal advice before doing so. If you choose to end the agreement and Children’s Services are worried about the care your child would receive when they return home, they may ask the police to take the child into protective custody, or they may ask the court to allow them to keep the children in their care.
Voluntary agreements should only be for a short period of time. If your child needs to stay in care longer, Children’s Services should refer the case to a judge so that the issue of where the child is to live can be dealt with as soon as possible. The judge can also make sure that everybody does what they are supposed to do on time.
If your child has been away from your care for some time under a voluntary agreement you should speak to a lawyer about what you should do.
When not to get the court involved
In some situations you might be better off if the court did get involved. This is because:
- The court has the power to make sure that you have contact with your child through contact orders.
- If the court is involved, you are entitled to free legal advice.
- The court will set a strict timetable for a final decision to be made (usually 26 weeks). One of the problems with a section 20 is that they can continue with no deadline.
- The judge can refuse to make care orders or emergency protection orders if they think Children’s Services has got it wrong.
- The court will appoint a Children’s Guardian to make sure that what happens is in the best interest of your child.
Of course the flip side to going to court is that the judge may agree with Children’s Services, so it is always best to seek legal advice before making any decisions.