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Alarming reports of councils sidestepping parental consent for Section 20 living arrangements have surfaced after the highest court in the land ruled that failing to get parents’ consent could lead to local authorities being sued for breaches under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides a right to respect for private and family life.
Section 20 agreements allow councils to house children in temporary accommodation when parents are unable to care for their children. The agreements are intended to be short term, and voluntary, meaning that children can leave local authority accommodation under these arrangements at any time and without notice.
Children who are considered Fraser Competent, or mature enough to make decisions, can arrange accommodation under Section 20 agreements without parental involvement. The original thinking behind the policy was to ensure that children who felt unsafe or vulnerable in their home environments could reach out to councils for protection or respite.
This caveat now appears to be being abused by local authorities, who are turning to children to secure these agreements when parents refuse to accept the arrangements offered.
Whilst the Supreme Court made it clear last month that parents must be informed about their rights under Section 20, the judges did not cover the need to fully inform children who personally seek out temporary council accommodation, or are approached by councils looking to create such an agreement, and ensure that they fully understand the terms of the agreement, too.
Comments across closed Facebook groups, and text messages this site received, suggest that the practice of targeting children when parents object to a Section 20 arrangement is not new. Several children also posted about their experiences of being coerced into council accommodation, and adoption proceedings. One child told Researching Reform:
“I wish the court had made sure I understood first what was being asked.. which I didn’t at the time. I have grown up to realise as a young adult that I have missed out on so much. I have lost touch with family members as a result, and this concerns me for my health because I lost one of my parents when they were very young. I would like to be able to understand their medical history to see if I can alleviate my own health worries but have nowhere to start.”
Section 20 arrangements came to the mainstream media’s attention last year after it was revealed that the agreements were being used by councils to remove children from their parents with a view to putting them up for adoption, which is illegal.