Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
Have you been asked if you want your child accommodated/ to live with someone else/to live in in a secure setting with your agreement?
This may apply to parents agreeing to respite care, to young autistic mothers experiencing difficulties adapting to their role as a parent or with poor mental health or other difficulties, to families where relationships between autistic teenager and parent break down and to parents whose child is at risk of entering a secure residential school or other secure setting.
Below are the key points extracted from this document. Please read the full guidance note together with this 2017 Family Rights Group report critical of the way s20 agreements have sometimes been used and the pitfalls associated with them to understand the issues fully. This is particularly important if long-term parenting capacity could be viewed as being / is inadequate.
Please also be mindful that many organisations ( eg TACT, CoramBAAF) have called for free legal aid to be offered to parents asked to agree to s20 arrangements, particularly where their baby or toddler may be placed in a 'foster to adopt' arrangement. In the absence of this, the Family Rights Group may be able to advise on alternatives that may be more appropriate in some circumstances, including Kinship Care.
Key Points:- 1. S 20 does not allow the local authority (LA) to share parental responsibility with parents and parents can remove their children from s.20 accommodation at any time. However see point 3 below. LAs are likely to proceed with the second option if they have concerns. Also it stands to reason that if an autistic teenage child signs the S20 agreement, a parent cannot 'revoke' it.
2. The social worker has a responsibility to make sure that parents are genuinely agreeing to s.20 accommodation. The High Court has ruled that it is illegal for a social worker to turn up at a maternity ward with or without police in tow, and a s20 agreement for a parent to sign, within hours of giving birth. (http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed99434) Any agreement that the parent is asked to sign should be written clearly and should be in simple, unambiguous terms. See this case Williams v The London Borough of Hackney: Guidance for parents and local authorities on the use of s.20 Children Act 1989 that illustrates how things can go wrong when this does not happen.
3. If parents object to s.20 accommodation, there are only two lawful options available to a local authority to remove a child from their care – either asking the police to exercise their powers to remove for a short period of time (up to 72 hours set out in section 46 of the Children Act 1989 ) or by making an application to the court for an Emergency Protection Order or an Interim Care Order (these are temporary orders)
4. If a child goes into foster care/respite care/secure accommodation under s.20, there should be clear plans about the child’s future - if the local authority are worried that the parents can’t look after the child in the long term, they must think about applying to the court for a care order but they can use s.20 to accommodate a child whilst they carry out assessments that are needed before good decisions can be made for the child. See this 2018 case, that concerns some local authorities misuse of s20 causing harm to children. http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/10.html