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Children's Services - To consent or not to consent?

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This is a question which many parents ask me when Children’s Services are involved with their family and when there is a proposal for the child or children to live elsewhere either with family members or in foster care. This can often be suggested by social workers early on in their involvement with a family as a short term solution “whilst problems are addressed” and parents want to know “shall I agree or not?”. (You may hear this referred to as “giving section 20 consent”). Understandably this is a distressing and confusing time for parents and getting the answer to this question right can be crucial in ensuring a positive outcome overall. The answer will be different in each case and it is vital for parents to be properly advised at an early stage.

The President of the Family Division has set out guidelines saying how social workers should should handle such situations and these are;

  • Where possible, the agreement of a parent to a section 20 arrangement should be properly recorded in writing and evidenced by the parent’s signature.
  • The written document should be clear and precise and drafted in simple and straight-forward language that a parent can readily understand.
  • The written document should spell out that the parent can “remove the child” from the local authority accommodation “at any time”.
  • The written document should not seek to impose any fetters (or restrictions) of the parent’s right to withdraw consent.
  • Where the parent is not fluent in English, the written document should be translated into the parent’s own language and the parent should sign the foreign language text, adding, in the parent’s language, words to the effect that ‘I have read this document and I agree to its terms.’

The President was critical of local authorities who use these types of arrangement for too lengthy a period before starting proceedings through the court and there have even been cases where compensation has been awarded against local authorities for misusing such arrangements. Cases like this trouble me. I have been a family lawyer for over 20 years advising and representing both parents and children in such cases and I am dedicated to ensuring that people are treated fairly and properly. Hopefully the above guidelines will help but there is no substitute for getting legal advice at an early stage to ensure that the right procedure is being followed and that no-one is at a disadvantage.

If you or a member of your family is going through a situation like this then please do get in touch so that we can make sure things are “on the right track” at an early stage. Getting things right from the beginning really can make a difference to the end result!