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”.
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.