Should I let them take my children?
There are occasions when a parent might be asked to voluntarily agree to their child being cared for by the Local Authority. But if you are such a parent and a social worker is asking you to let them place your child elsewhere for a while, what do you need to know?
It is important that you know if you have parental responsibility for a child, the Local Authority cannot remove the children against your will, unless they have obtained an order from the Court. This might be an Emergency Protection Order and if there is one of these in place, you cannot stop the Local Authority removing the children.
The Children Act 1989 (section 20) gives a Local Authority the right to care for a child if there is nobody else who can properly care for them. This could be for many different reasons such as a child being lost but could also be if the parents cannot provide good enough care. So sometimes, a Local Authority will suggest that parents allow the Local Authority to take care of their children for a while, often with the intention that a parent has a chance to put right a problem before the children come home. But rather than feeling like this is an opportunity, many parents feel as though they have no choice but to agree.
If you let the Local Authority look after your children for you under s.20, you are delegating your parental responsibility to them. This means that you are asking them to temporarily do your job for you. You can insist that your children come back to your care at any time and, unless they go to Court and get an Order, the Local Authority cannot stop you doing this.
When you are asked to sign the s.20 paperwork, you should first think about whether there is someone else who could look after the children. If you, as a parent with parental responsibility, can make appropriate and safe alternative arrangements for the children, this should be done instead of the Local Authority finding a foster placement. You should not be afraid to take some time to think about your options and ideally, you should try to speak to a solicitor (perhaps on the telephone), before you make any final decisions.
So why might you agree to the children going with the social worker? Don’t forget that one of the Local Authority’s jobs is to help families and provide support to make sure children are safe. You might genuinely feel that you need an opportunity to sort out a problem before the children come back home. You should also consider whether allowing this arrangement to happen would help you prove that you are a good enough parent and could better than forcing the Local Authority to take you to Court. Your solicitor can talk to you about these options and advise you about the best choices for you.
If you agree that the Local Authority can take care of your children for you, it is very important that the arrangement is kept under constant review by the team of social workers. There is very clear official guidance that says that the Local Authority cannot care for the children under s.20 indefinitely and it should only be a short-term solution. Talk to your solicitor if you feel unsure what is happening with your children.
Finally, there is no automatic Legal Aid for parents in this situation. The Care Crisis Review has recently considered s.20 care generally and one of its recommendations is that there should be free legal aid but at the moment, it is subject to both a Means and Merits test and can be difficult to access. You should ask your solicitor for more information about this.
So what should you remember? Firstly, you still have parental responsibility and the decision about whether to agree to s.20 care is yours. Secondly, take time to consider your options, who else could help and whether you need help understanding the paperwork. And thirdly, talk to a solicitor before making a decision so that you can be sure that you are making the right choice for you and your family.