Sometimes children’s services will ask parents whether they will agree for their children going to live with someone else, for example, a family member, a foster carer or in a children’s home. This is known as voluntary accommodation. This will usually only happen when the social worker is very concerned about the immediate risk to the children, or if the child is an older child and is refusing to go home.
If a social worker has asked you about agreeing to your child living elsewhere they will ask you to sign an agreement, called a s20 agreement. This is a massive decision for a parent to make and it is important you really understand what you are being asked to sign and what will happen next. Our solicitors can help you urgently if you need advice about whether you should sign a s20 agreement for your child to live with someone else.
What is a Voluntary Agreement?
A voluntary agreement, also called a s20 agreement, is an agreement that allows your children to be ‘looked after’ by the local authority and live with someone else with your consent. The local authority would not be able to get involved in this way without a court order if you didn’t agree. Every local authority in the country has a duty to provide accommodation to any children in need in their area who appear to need accommodation because there’s no one with parental responsibility for them, they don’t have a special guardian, they have been lost or abandoned or the person who is caring for them is prevented from providing them with suitable accommodation. When a child is being looked after by children’s services instead of by their parents they’re known as a ‘looked after’ child.
What happens to my children if I agree to them going into Voluntary Accommodation?
Your children will leave your home and go and live with a friend or family member, a foster carer or a residential home. The social worker should ensure that you still see your children but the contact must be practical, in the children’s best interests and it shouldn’t harm their welfare.
I have agreed to my children being Voluntarily Accommodated but the other parent/person with PR doesn’t agree. What will happen?
The social worker will work out who has parental responsibility for the children and make sure that everyone is asked. If you are unsure about parental responsibility please look at our guide. Children can only be accommodated on a voluntary basis if everyone with parental responsibility agrees that should happen. If one parent agrees but the other one doesn’t the children cannot be voluntarily accommodated.
I agreed to my children being Voluntarily Accommodated at the beginning but this has been going on too long. I want my children back
It is really important that s20 Voluntary Agreements are only used in the short term. They don’t have time limits on them but it is important not to leave children in Voluntary Accommodation without a plan about what should happen next. You can change your mind about a s20 Voluntary Agreement at any time and if you no longer agree the Local Authority must return your children as soon as possible although if there are concerns it is likely they will make an urgent application to court.
Does the social worker get the same rights as me if I sign a s20 agreement?
No, the fact a s20 agreement has been signed does not give them parental responsibility. The social worker can only get parental responsibility if a Judge during court proceedings makes a care order.