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Section 20 Agreements: Understanding Your Options When Children's Services Are Involved

Child using crayons

What is a Section 20 Agreement? 

Section 20 agreements are used to allow the Local Authority to accommodate a child outside of the care of a person with parental responsibility. This could be for a variety of reasons, however most commonly, section 20 agreements are considered when the child’s carers are unable to properly care for the child, for example due to ill health, if the local authority are concerned about a child’s continued safety in the care of their parent/carer or where the child is unable to continue living at the home of the parent/carer.

Voluntary agreements and your options

A section 20 agreement is not an order, it is a voluntary agreement by which a person with parental responsibility for a child gives consent to the local authority to accommodate the child outside of their care. This could be with another family member who does not hold parental responsibility, with a family friend, or in local authority foster care if no other suitable alternative carers are available.

Understanding your rights when signing a Section 20 Agreement

As outlined above, section 20 agreements are voluntary agreements which require the consent of the person with parental responsibility. This means that you can refuse to sign a section 20 agreement, or you can withdraw your consent at any time once a section 20 agreement has been made. Section 20 does not remove your parental responsibility, and if you withdraw your section 20 consent, or refuse to sign the agreement, the Local Authority do not have the power to remove the child from your care or refuse to return the child to your care unless they obtain a Court Order enabling them to do so.

What to expect when a Section 20 Agreement is in place

If you have been asked to sign a section 20 agreement, the Local Authority should provide you with the reasons why they wish for your child to be accommodated outside of your care. If the Local Authority has concerns about the care your child is being provided with in your care, the Local Authority should set out what they expect you to do in order for the child to be returned to your care, how long they intend the section 20 agreement to be for, the safety plan for the child when they are outside of your care, and what the contact arrangements between you and the child will be whilst they remain outside of your care.

Seeking legal advice: why it’s important

You should seek legal advice before signing a section 20 agreement so that you fully understand what you are being asked to agree to, whether a section 20 agreement is the right course of action for your particular circumstances, or whether negotiations need to be held in respect of the terms of the section 20 agreement, the proposed contact arrangements, the expectations of you, or the proposed placement of the child.

What happens if you refuse or withdraw consent?

If you refuse to sign a section 20 agreement, and the Local Authority have concerns about a child remaining in your care, or if you have signed a section 20 agreement and withdraw your consent without the Local Authority agreeing to the child being returned to your care, the Local Authority could decide to issue Court Proceedings to obtain an order to enable them to keep the child out of your care. It is important that you seek legal advice before making either of these decisions so that you fully understand the consequences of doing so.


Getting help: seeking free legal advice and child care law professionals

If you have been asked to sign a Section 20 agreement, you may be entitled to free independent legal advice under the Legal Help Scheme.

We have a number of experienced child care law professionals across our 4 offices in Nottingham, Mansfield, Derby and Chesterfield, therefore if you require any advice about section 20 agreements or any level of Local Authority involvement with your family, please do not hesitate to contact us so we can endeavour to assist you.


Kristyn Hudson

Assistant solicitor

Kristyn joined Elliot Mather’s Child Care department in September 2021 and is predominantly based at our Nottingham office.

Prior to joining Elliot Mather, she had 3 years’ experience working within both private and public family law. Kristyn has studied Law at Nottingham Trent University and graduated in 2020, she is currently completing her LLM LPC postgraduate qualification at Nottingham Trent University.

Kristyn assists our team of experienced Child Care solicitors, advising and representing children and parents in public law matters, as well as more complex private law matters.




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