Council sending section 20 cases to legal planning meetings to ensure compliance

The council said its decision to get extra legal scrutiny on section 20 cases followed critical judgments by Sir James Munby

scrutiny
Photo: Bits and Splits/Fotolia

A council has started sending all section 20 voluntary care cases involving children under 16 to legal planning meetings following critical court judgments made about their use.

Leicester council said this decision was in response to  a 2015 judgment by Family Court president Sir James Munby, which criticised widespread “misuse and abuse” of section 20 arrangements and set out guidance social workers should follow.

It said the move was to “ensure the legality of the placement (in accordance with the judgment) and to outline appropriate plans in relation to the child or children”.

Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 gives councils the power to accommodate a child to safeguard or promote their welfare – but not if a person with parental responsibility who is willing and able to house the child objects. It does not require a court order.

In a recent quality assurance report submitted to the council, the policy of sending cases to legal planning meetings was identified as one of a suite of measures to help improve services and planning for looked-after children in Leicester.

A council spokesperson said the additional oversight meant it could assure itself and the families that it was following good practice. Cases involving children over 16 years old may still go through a legal planning meeting depending on the circumstances, the spokesperson said.

Munby raised concerns that councils were failing to get informed consent from the parents to the arrangement, that consent was not being recorded effectively, that the arrangements went on for far too long and that local authorities were reluctant to return children to parents once consent was withdrawn.

Since the judgment, care applications have hit record highs, and experts have partly attributed this to local authorities re-examining section 20 cases and issuing care proceedings in some of these.

3 Responses to Council sending section 20 cases to legal planning meetings to ensure compliance

  1. Margaret May 3, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    Munby raised concerns that councils were failing to get informed consent from parents to the arrangement, that consent was not being recorded effectively, that the arrangements went on for far too long and the LA were reluctant to return tchildren once consent was withdrawn.

    The answers are in the problem

    Gain informed consent from parents for the arrangement

    Record consent including all relevant documentation

    Keep the arrangements to a minimum keeping the best interest of the child as paramount

    Return children immediately once consent was withdrawn.

    No to easy

    Set up Legal Planning Meeting frightening parents witless and create an unworkable relationship between parents and social Workers – that’s not Social Work that’s Policing. Talk about hitting an acorn with a hammer make that wrecking ball

  2. John pilcher May 3, 2017 at 8:53 pm #

    More costs, more inefiecencey, more delays. Is this just another way of bringing more money into the legal services. How much of the tax payers money is used on legal services. Is it not time that we know were our money is being spent? I wonder what proportion of funding to social services is actually spent on directly opening on providing care?

    How does this comply with the NO ORDER from 1989 Act. ? I’m confused by the whole set up. Are we using family group conferences effectively? Are we removing or planing to remove on the grounds of the children being at risk rather than social engineering. It appears that possibly the easy option is chosen which is not always about the best needs of the child as we are all aware about how the impact of attachment issues if removal is decided and the impact of this is life long.

    There really does need to be a shake up in the whole system.

  3. Hilary Searing May 5, 2017 at 11:52 am #

    I’m confused about thresholds for intervention. ‘Custom and practice’ in many authorities seems to be to use s20 in some cases where there has been abuse of neglect but this does not appear to reach the threshold for ‘significant harm’. If so, it might be sensible to seek the view of the legal department to find out if this is lawful.

    There also seems to be an incorrect assumption that the ‘no order’ principle is an important guide to practice. In fact the ‘no order’ principle (see section 1 (5) Children Act 1989) does not create a presumption one way or the other. It is merely a principle for the court to consider after the threshold criteria have been met and the welfare of the child is under consideration. However, the ‘no order’ principle is often used for reasons of expediency to justify the use of s20 – despite the fact that there may be grounds for commencing legal proceedings .