Section 20 – Accommodation
If the Local Authority does not feel that the child can remain living with you or your spouse whilst such an assessment is carried out, they may ask you to agree to the child being accommodated under a Section 20 Agreement. The Local Authority may not provide accommodation for the child if anyone with parental responsibility for the child objects.
In such circumstances where a child is accommodated under Section 20, the person with Parental Responsibility (you and/or your spouse) has a right to remove the child at any time, as it is a voluntary agreement. However, where the Local Authority are carrying out investigations, they are likely to bring immediate Court action if either you or your spouse attempt to remove the child against their advice.
Generally, parents are advised to cooperate with the Local Authority. The onus is then on the Local Authority to show that it has done everything reasonable to assist the child and its parents.
Emergency Protection Order
The Local Authority may apply for an Emergency Protection Order where they believe that a child may be at risk. An Emergency Protection Order can authorise the Local Authority to remove a child from where he is (e.g. from his home) to a safe place, or to keep him in a safe place (e.g. hospital). To get such an Order, the Local Authority have to show that there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if he is not removed to accommodation provided by and on behalf of the Local Authority, or does not remain where he is. It may also apply for an EPO on the grounds that the enquiries the Local Authority are trying to make are being frustrated, e.g. access to the child is being unreasonably refused.
The Local Authority may apply for a Care Order and this is:
- Placing the child with respect to whom the application is made in the care of the designated Local Authority. B.
- Putting him under the supervision of the designated Local Authority.
When the Local Authority makes an application for a Care or Supervision Order, the mother is a party to the proceedings, as is a father who has Parental Responsibility, or anyone with a Residence Order in respect of the child. Fathers without Parental Responsibility will be notified about the Court proceedings and can apply to be joined to the proceedings. Sometimes other family members, who have been involved with the children, can also apply to be joined as party to the proceedings, if the Court agrees to this.
The child has their own Solicitor who is appointed from a special panel of Solicitors who represent children (the Children Panel). The Court will also direct a Guardian to represent the child’s interests. The role of the Guardian is set out in more detail below.
The Local Authority will usually apply for an Interim Care Order at the first hearing. Both you, the Guardian and the children’s solicitor can make representations about this. If you do not consent to the Interim Care Order, there may have to be a contested hearing in order for the Court to decide whether or not there should be an Interim Care Order. The advice given as to whether or not to consent to an Interim Care Order varies in every case depending on the individual circumstances.
The average duration of a care case is approximately 26 weeks, but this depends on the individual circumstances of each case and in some cases can be less or in excess of this. There will be a succession of hearings between the first hearing and the final hearing, known as interim hearings. At the outset of proceedings, the Court will lay down a procedural timetable setting out when parties should file statements and when and what reports are needed. The purpose of the interim hearings is to ensure that work that is required to be done before the final hearing is completed, and to deal with any other issues as they arise.
The Threshold Criteria
The Court cannot make a final Care or Supervision Order unless it is satisfied that:
- The Children are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and (b)
- That the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to:
- The care given to the child is not what it would be reasonable to expect the parent to give him or (ii)
- The Children are beyond parental control.
If the Court decides to make a Care Order at the Final Hearing, then a Care Order remains in force until a child is 18.