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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

New guidance seeks to prevent local authority misuse of care system

New guidance seeks to prevent local authority misuse of care system


Charity aims to address confusion over heavily criticised section 20 powers

The Transparency Project has published new guidance relating to the voluntary accommodation of children following a string of criticism over the misuse of powers by local authorities.

Under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, local authorities may provide accommodation for children who do not have somewhere suitable to live and in circumstances where the parents consent.

The provision, which takes a child into the care system by agreement rather than by court order, bypasses possible judicial scrutiny.

The misuse of section 20 has been heavily criticised by the judiciary and the media as children often 'drift' into the care system without long term plans being made for their future.

In N (Children) (Adoption: Jurisdiction) [2015] EWCA Civ 1112 (November 2015), Sir James Munby condemned a local authority after it failed to act on children stuck in foster care for eight months.

The president of the Family Division further criticised the authority on the issue of parental consent, stating it should always be in writing with the parent's signature despite there being no legal requirement to do so.

Moreover, in Northamptonshire County Council v AS and Others [2015] EWHC 199 Mr Justice Keehan held that the use of section 20 was 'seriously abused by the local authority'.

Keehan J said the section 20 agreement 'deprived the court of the ability to control the planning for the child'.

The new guidance is aimed at those parents, carers, and professionals who are unsure about the implications of section 20 and when it should be used for children under 16 years of age.

Sarah Phillimore, trustee of the project and lead author of the guidance, said: 'The issue of "parental responsibility" and who can make decisions for children under section 20 also has the potential to cause serious difficulties as it seems many parents (and some social workers) are not always clear about the impact of section 20 on their ability to exercise parental responsibility for the children.'