What is Section 20 of the Children Act 1989?

Posted: 17 October 2023

The Law on Social Services removing children

There are many reasons why the Local Authority, often known as Social Services, may be required to remove a child from their home. Reasons include if they are suffering or have suffered significant harm or are beyond parental control. There may be circumstances where parents are not be available to look after them. This could be due to illness, a short prison sentence, or other short-term circumstances such as visiting abroad for work or family reasons.

A Social Worker may ask you to sign an agreement for your child to be accommodated by the Local Authority. This arrangement is set out under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, so is known as a “Section 20 agreement” or “Section 20 consent”. Accommodated means a child can move into the care system and be placed with alternative family members or in a foster placement.

 What happens after a child is accommodated?

You will keep your Parental Responsibility and continue to make decisions for your child. The Local Authority will not hold Parental Responsibility. However during this time they may conduct further assessments and investigations.

The intention is to work with the Local Authority and allow you some time to make changes to your home life so your child can be safe in your care, sometimes without the need to go to Court.

You should be kept informed about your child’s progress and have a meeting with the social worker to discuss how your child has settled.

There is no guarantee an agreement will stop your case going to Court.

 How to give Section 20 Consent

The Local Authority will ask everyone with Parental Responsibility to sign a Section 20 agreement. If one person does not agree then the Local Authority cannot arrange for the child to be accommodated. Agreements should be given in writing.

It is important to know that this agreement is voluntary.  You should only sign an agreement if you have had some legal advice to understand your options.

You should be informed about:

  • Whether your child will be placed with family members or in foster care.
  • The level of contact between you and your child whilst they are accommodated.
  • How long the Local Authority wish to accommodate your child for, although this may be open-ended.
  • That you can withdraw your consent at any time.
  • Any contract of expectations to accompany the agreement, which will set out what is expected of you and the Local Authority.
 Should you give Section 20 Consent?

You should not sign a Section 20 agreement if you do not understand what it says or if you think anything in the agreement is unreasonable.

Sometimes it is advisable to refuse to sign the Section 20 agreement. If you have been asked to sign a Section 20 agreement, please get in touch. One of our experienced solicitors will be able to advise you further regarding your specific situation.

If you refuse to sign a Section 20

If you do not agree to sign a Section 20, emergency measures can be taken to protect a child. However, the Local Authority cannot remove your child unless one of the following steps are taken:

  • The police exercise powers of protection – known as a Police Protection Order
  • The Local Authority apply to the Court for an Emergency Protection Order
  • The Local Authority apply to the Court for an Interim Care Order

Legal Aid is available to biological parents and those with Parental Responsibility where the Local Authority seek to make an application to the Court.

Revoking Section 20 consent

Anyone with Parental Responsibility may remove their consent to Local Authority accommodation at any time. However, this may force the Local Authority to apply to the court for one of the above orders. In this circumstance, the Court will decide whether the child is returned home to their parents or remain in the Local Authority’s care.

If you are interested in a confidential chat with one of our specialist family law solicitors regarding how they can support you with your children’s matters, or you would like further information on the services we offer, please call 01245 493959 or send an email

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