Judge issues guidance for social workers when handling section 20 arrangements

A judge has said written consent should be standard practice for social workers, in guidance on how recent judgments should inform their section 20 practice

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Obtaining written consent from parents should be “standard practice” for social workers when organising a section 20 arrangement, a judge has said.

Judge Clifford Bellamy reminded social workers of the importance of gaining of this, in guidance written for the Leicester and Leicestershire Family Justice Board.

Bellamy said the conditions surrounding section 20 arrangements, which parents agree to and therefore do not involve the scrutiny of a judge, “give rise to scope for unfairness in the use of section 20”.

A full practice guide for social workers on section 20 arrangements is available on Community Care Inform Children

The guidance comes months after a judgment by Sir James Munby, which highlighted persistent social work failings and misuse of voluntary section 20 arrangements. Munby issued guidance on the correct use of the arrangement at the time, and Judge Bellamy has expanded on the practical implications for practitioners.

What written consent should look like

After Re N, the sector warned of a shake-up of section 20s and a potential rush on care applications as local authorities looked to re-examine their use of the arrangement. Judge Bellamy said that recent failings had led to local authorities being fined under the Human Rights Act 1998.

He said that, while written consent to section 20 arrangements was not required by law, “in future, obtaining written consent should be regarded as standard practice”.

    Written consent should include:

  • the name or names of the parents giving consent
  • the name and date of birth of the child involved
  • the name and status of the professional obtaining the consent
  • the date, time and place at which the consent form is completed and signed
  • details of the arrangements for parental contact with the children (or a reference to the local authority’s care plan if one has been prepared).

Written consent must also make it clear that a parent can remove the child from accommodation at any time, and it should use simple language. If English is not the parent’s first language, they should be assisted by a qualified interpreter.

Bellamy added: “If written consent is recorded in a handwritten document it is important that the document is legible.”

It was “good practice” for legal advice to be offered to the parents before a child is accommodated under section 20, unless it is not “practicable” to do so, Bellamy said.

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4 Responses to Judge issues guidance for social workers when handling section 20 arrangements

  1. FosterCarer1964 February 17, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    My Wife and I have Fostered a few Section 20’s (or voluntary) and we know a Foster Carer who has also Fostered Section 20’s.
    Our worst Fostering experiences have been with section 20 children and their Families..
    Never again! Not for all the tea in china.. Support was criminal in my view. The Parents turned up at our homes, screaming and shouting.
    On one occasion we’d called the Police and needed to send our own children away to a relative for the weekend. We’d been pressured into allowing the Parents to have our address and phone number. Even if we hadn’t agreed, documents had all our details on them and were given to the Families (We needed to ask recently for our private details be removed from a document that was intended to be shared with an abusive parent but we were typically ignored).
    With the Section 20’s unsupervised family contact was arranged so that a horrible families came to our home each week to pick up the children. Contact was arranged at the weekend so that nobody was working when we needed help (our emergency team was an answering machine). The Families only had weekends available they said.
    Once evidence of abuse begins to emerge about the Families when the children make disclosures, Foster Carers and our own Families are put at risk because the abusers know where we live and what our children look like.
    We’ve had a Parent forcing her way into our home, trying to remove her child from our care. The child was crying and clinging to furniture because he didn’t want to go. The Police came two hours later.
    When I sent the Social Worker an email telling him what had happened to us I was reprimanded for referring to the woman as being a nutter (she was a nutter and I was being polite but it’s not very professional don’t-you-know).

    Our friend was recently subjected to a barrage of abuse by Parents at a review and nobody helped her. It was a section 20 case. She walked out of the review crying. Days earlier the Teenager she had provided a home for had accused her husband of “being scary”. She claimed he’d pointed a knife at her… He was washing dishes and he’s a bodybuilder.. Our friend was asked if the Husband could leave his home until the investigation was completed. She said “no” and insisted the child be moved first. The child was very difficult and thought she knew her rights as did her Parents. Among many accusations our friend was accused by the Parents of “giving their child pocket”. Apparently they didn’t allow it. That should help to put their sanity and parental skills into context but not it would seem for the Social Worker..
    Nobody moved the child as our friend requested many times. On the contrary our friend was made to keep the child longer and longer (made to by threats to have her de-registered). Our friend was accused of not being professional enough and fee-paid Foster Carers can’t afford those threats…

    Section 20 Families can control or change the care order with impunity and in our experience the Social Workers are often too scared of the Family to support us and most often don’t know what they’re doing so dump children with new carers..
    I wouldn’t advise any Foster Carer to become involved with section 20’s even if the pay was fair. Particularly new Foster Carers. Matching doesn’t happen and behaviour problems prevent the child from being moved because nobody will take them.
    Section 20’s leave Foster Carers very vulnerable to false and malicious allegations (as we experienced). Families who use section 20 often know what they’re doing.

  2. FosterCarer1964 February 17, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

    my response to this section 20 piece should have said pocket money. I typed pocket. thank you

  3. Goodness Me! February 23, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

    #FosterCarer1964

    Foster Carers are required to work in partnership with Local Authorities (via their representatives, the Social Workers) and where there is no Parental Responsibility acquired by the Local Authority, to do the same with Parents. This is what the law says. And it is what the research says about what promotes the best outcomes for children.

    Foster Carers are in a role which can be demanding and are paid well for this task. The assessments done to recruit Foster Carers are necessarily lengthy and enormous support is provided to enable them to do this task well. Of course, not all recruitment can separate the wheat from the chaff, but Foster Carers should be under no illusions about what is required of them – and that is to look after – on behalf on the Local Authority – the most vulnerable and needy children in this country and engage with their parents and work alongside professionals.

    It is appalling that a Foster Carer will whine about this on a website – parents BY LAW have a right to know where their children are residing when they have given consent under S20. It is utterly disrespectful to call parents names and also to be so disrespectful to Social Workers who are seeking to work with you.

    To use a website to discourage other Foster Carers looking after children on a S20 is reprehensible. Many of these children are at serious and significant risk and they NEED a loving caring alternative home, albeit temporarily usually. It is one thing to say that you won’t offer a needy child a home just because they are on the wrong sort of order for you – one where you can’t control everything. But I am disgusted that you should suggest to others that they effectively join your exclusive club – regardless of the desperate needs of children.

    I wonder if you would have got through your Foster Carer assessment at the point of recruitment if you had expressed these views honestly and openly.

    By the way, you have never “fostered a few S20’s”. You have fostered children.

  4. FosterCarer1964 March 1, 2016 at 11:52 am #

    Thank you for the much needed confirmation, Goodness Me!.. If by your reply you are confirming what Foster Carers already know i.e. our families and other Fostered Children are not important when placement desk and Social Workers need to find a bed, then you’re right of course.

    I also realise that there are those who would continue to place children with families without sharing known risks or behaviours with the Foster Carer and you believe Foster Carers already know what they were getting into before a child is placed with them. Nobody can possibly know and that’s why Safe-Care plans were introduced.. If you think by putting my experience of Section 20 care orders into writing is wrong and we should do as we’re told, shut up and ignore something we know fails children,- then we’re used to that too.

    I’m sorry if real life experiences bite at your sensitivities. You’ll just have to keep your head in the sand and it will go away. When it doesn’t go-away you can always blame others can’t you. When children are tragically failed the answer seems to be to increase box-ticking and risk aversion and introduce competency tests for those who weren’t involved when there was tragic failure. Box ticking is used to show the service has improved without improving it where it matters. Inflicting their own self importance when real people experience real problems seems unpopular but training and guidance on the ideal-world is very popular. Trouble is, it’s not working to improve outcomes.

    Section 20 Children are being failed too (and by section twenty, I mean Children who are accommodated under section 20 of the 1989 children’s act). Please forgive me for using an abbreviation in the context of a discussion about section 20 care orders.
    How can a child be safe when (as I and friends who foster have experienced) they are still harmed at unsupervised contact and threatened at our door after they make disclosures of abuse..

    If Children under section twenty of the children’s act were being served better and the families valued, a Judge wouldn’t be criticising it. Presumably you’ll let the Judge know they’re also wrong to say anything. Or is it because I’m too low on your scale of importance to be allowed a voice?

    One adult in a Foster Home must be available at all times. They can’t take any other paid work but receive a fee of about £200 each week. Because we get a bit of money as you point out the safety of our families and the safety of Fostered Children is no less important to us. Everyone who works with children is paid (Traffic-Crossing-Wardens, Paediatricians, Social-Workers and Teachers) are they less committed to the needs of children because they are paid? We don’t do it for you or a measly £200 but we do want those who take the money and do a bad job for our Looked After Children to be sacked instead of promoted.
    When we see children being failed aren’t we allowed to let other’s know it’s happening? Not if it hurts someone’s feelings you say.

    I’d like to think there are many good people out there who wouldn’t support the present system if they can see parts of it harms children (regardless of their care status). It’s those conscientious hard working and thinking people who listen when things go wrong who make a difference but those who would rather tell people to shut up rather than open-up about their experiences are the problem for a failing system..

    Recruitment and retention of Foster Carers is a real problem (as is recruitment and retention of Social Workers and Teachers) and it’s not because I put anyone off. Is it?. Can you advocate for your profession? I can advocate for most Foster Carers, Social-Workers and Teachers but can’t advocate for the way any of us are treated for doing something most people believe to be honourable (of course there are those aggressive types who say, “You’re paid so shut up. You know what you’re getting into but they are the ones who keep that bucket of sand close so they can bury their heads whenever there’s a clash between their opinions and real-life.

    If support was good and there was real-life understanding of the needs of children and their homes (Foster Placement), there wouldn’t be a problem.

    The bed in our homes is often more important to Social Workers than the safe-care and safety of those who are put at risk. Shouldn’t you be concerned about that? If you deny my experiences (and the experiences of other Foster Carers) then as per-usual we can agree that it’s business as usual. No change. Our homes shouldn’t be used as a place where some children can still face the harm of a Parent because they are under a section 20 order.

    I’ve cared for 14 children in 10 years of Fostering. My Family have kept those kids safe and provided them a home. I’ve called the Police and sent my own children from their home for their own safety to keep a strangers child safe. We’ve had many things destroyed (like a fridge), damaged (like a car) and stolen but we’ve never claimed so much as a penny in recompense. It’s an honour to look after children who need our help. What spoils it is knowing there are people who feel apathy toward the task of improving anything until there’s a tragedy or a judge says something or because Foster Carers get paid..