The Transparency Project* has today published guidance** relating to voluntary accommodation of children 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, where their parents consent. Section 20 is not just about housing, but involves taking a child into the care system by agreement rather than by court order. There is thus no judicial scrutiny of what is happening to the child and no court timetable by when final decisions must be made about the child.
The use (and misuse) of section 20 accommodation has been the subject of recent significant judicial criticism and media comment. It is clear that problems arise when children ‘drift’ in the care system under section 20 without proper plans being made for their future, or when parents feel they were under pressure to agree to section 20 accommodation without fully understanding the consequences.
In light of this recent interest in and concern about the use of section 20, The Transparency Project has published guidance about its use. The guidance relates to children under the age of 16.
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.”
The Transparency Project hope that this guidance will be useful for parents, carers and professionals who are unsure about what section 20 accommodation is, when it should be used and what safeguards should be in place to make sure that parents and carers are fully informed.
*The Transparency Project is a charity launched in 2014, whose aims are:
- To advance the education of the public in the subject of family law and its administration, including the family justice system in England and Wales and the work of the family courts, in particular but not exclusively through the provision of balanced, accurate and accessible information about the work of family courts and the facilitating of public discussions and debates which encompass a range of viewpoints.
- To promote the sound administration and development of the law in England and Wales, in particular, family law, by encouraging and contributing to the transparency of processes in the family justice system, contributing to public legal education concerning family law and matters of family justice, enhancing access to justice in matters of family law and by such other means as the trustees may determine.
**The guidance note is general guidance only and must not be treated as legal advice.