Following a recently published judgement, it has come to light that an alarming amount of children were placed in Section 20 care for disturbingly lengthy periods by a local authority so that they could forgo care proceedings.
“Wrongfully And Abusively”
A judgement has recently been released regarding children who were placed into section 20 care for a significant amount of time by Herefordshire Council.
The presiding judge, Mr Justice Keehan, stated that a total of 14 children in Herefordshire had: “wrongly and abusively been the subject of section 20 accommodation for a wholly inappropriate lengthy period of time and should have been the subject of legal planning meetings or care proceedings at a much earlier time.”
Of these children, one has been in section 20 care his entire life.
Chris Baird, director of children’s well-being at Herefordshire Council, took responsibility for the historic failing in the council’s services. In regards to the section 20 care proceedings which were made in that in that period, he said it was: “The usual practice of this council not to initiate care proceedings where it was the social worker’s perception that the parents’ consent to their child being looked after”.
On the repeated failure by the local authority to identify the issue, Keehan said: “It is extremely concerning that when this local authority recognised, as it did on repeated occasions, that it was not acting in the welfare best interests of either of these children, it did nothing. The complete inertia is inexplicable. Such gross failings by a local authority are intolerable.”
What Is Section 20?
Section 20 refers to the twentieth section of The Children Act 1989. It outlines the local authority’s duty to provide a child with a place to live if they do not presently have one, or if their current home has been deemed unsafe. Section 20 is regarded as a temporary living arrangement for children, and is not considered suitable as a long term solution.
Section 20 care requires the consent of the parents or guardians, but does not require care proceedings to occur. In past years, this course of action has come under repeated criticism for its misuse, and for how easily and readily it can be applied to a child.
“The reason for the local authority not using the care proceedings route lies in overworked social workers with not enough resources. They are trying to save time and money by avoiding undertaking care proceedings.”
“The law needs some serious amendment so that social workers cannot avoid responsibility for their actions by not initiating care proceedings when they are so clearly required. Social workers should have a duty of care to any child they come into contact with.”
“At the very least there should not be a distinction between those cases where there is a care order, and Section 20 cases where the children have not been taken into care, but clearly should be.”
How Can Simpson Millar Help?
With the above judgement, we are likely to see more children who were placed into section 20 care when they should have gone through care proceedings instead come forward. When vulnerable children are not safeguarded correctly by social workers of their local authority, this can unfortunately sometimes lead to the child being placed in an unsuitable environment, or possibly even abused.
While we understand this can be a truly traumatic experience for children, we at Simpson Millar are committed to getting children the compensation they deserve out of historical failings like the one mentioned above.