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What is section 20 accommodation and when can it be used?

View profile for Victoria Gethin
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Child arrangements and coronavirus

Earlier this year, Katie Price explained that she was considering making the difficult decision to place her son, Harvey, into residential care due to his complex needs and the dangers of his challenging behaviours to himself and his family. It has now been reported that Katie feels that she has ‘no choice’ but to move Harvey, admitting that she had never accessed respite care before, but that Harvey needs help and support that she is not able to give him at home. Harvey is a 16-year-old male who has autism and Prader-Willi syndrome.

It is unknown yet the exact details of when this move will take place, or the type of accommodation that Harvey will move in to. Due to the sensitive nature and the family's wish for privacy, it may be that these details may never be made public.

It is often the case when a parent feels that they cannot cope and they agree to what is known as section 20 accommodation, which is when they voluntarily share parental responsibility with the local authority so that the local social services are able to provide support and make decisions in the best interests of the child’s welfare. The legislation states that “A local authority may provide accommodation for any person who has reached the age of sixteen but is under twenty-one in any community home which takes children who have reached the age of sixteen if they consider that to do so would safeguard or promote his welfare.” This can enable parents or carers of a child to access respite care if they are unable to manage with their child’s challenging behaviours. This includes but is not limited to a child being placed with local authority foster carers for a period of time. It is important to note that section 20 consent is voluntary and can be removed at any time.

Local authorities can become involved with children in a number of different ways and scenarios. A “child in need” plan can be put in place where a child is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable level of health or development, or whose health and development is likely to be significantly or further impaired, without the provision of services. Where a child is felt to be suffering harm or at risk of harm a local authority may convene Child Protection Conferences which are multi-agency meetings where plans can be put in place with a coordinated approach to protect the child form harm and promote the child’s health, development and welfare. If the local authority are very concerned and they are contemplating issuing care proceedings  then a “PLO (Public Law Outline) meeting” or “pre-proceedings” meeting may be convened during which consideration will be given to what actions need to take place in order to protect the child. If the risk of harm is so great and urgent action is needed the local authority may issue care proceedings and apply for a court order to protect the child.

If you feel that you would benefit from legal advice in relation to voluntary section 20 accommodation of social services involvement, Stephensons has a specialist team of family lawyers with unrivalled experience. If you need to speak to a solicitor about social services involvement, call our family law team today on 01616 966 229.

By Victoria Gethin, head of family law, and Megan Ryan-Loughran, graduate paralegal in the family law team