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Children coming into the care system under voluntary arrangements

Family Rights Group has launched (10.07.2017) the Your Family, Your Voice Alliance Knowledge Inquiry report on section 20 voluntary arrangement for children coming into the care system.

[…] there is no clear national picture of how local authorities go about discharging their duties and exercising their powers under section 20.

The Inquiry has raised questions about the the need for guidance from central Government. Key findings are reported in full on pages 60-61 of the report. The following is a summary:

  • Families often do not understand their rights and options when section 20 voluntary arrangements are first discussed, are put in place or are ongoing.
  • Many parents describe having faced significant pressure from practitioners to allow section 20 voluntary arrangements to be instigated or continued. Younger and care experienced parents appeared particularly vulnerable in this regard.
  • Lack of timely pre-birth planning.
  • Pressure on practitioners to use section 20 voluntary arrangements to avoid the need to begin care proceedings or to avoid use of section 20 family and friends foster care arrangements.
  • Parents and carers being routinely excluded from decision-making or information sharing about their child.
  • Lack of consensus about how far demarcations of age and duration may be relevant to identifying principles for appropriate and inappropriate use of section 20 voluntary arrangements.
  • Limited direction for practitioners in relation to section 20 voluntary arrangements. Statutory guidance is splintered across a range of documents.
  • Local-level family justice guidance intended to clarify expectations and foster good or efficient practice can lead to unintended consequences including some children’s cases being before the court unnecessarily.
  • Family and friends foster carers remain vulnerable to not being recognised as such by local authorities, too often being told that they are caring for the child under a private arrangement even where this is not the case. Some practitioners would welcome further guidance in relation to this specific aspect of section 20 voluntary arrangements.
  • Parents with learning disabilities/difficulties often feel particularly excluded from decision making processes.They have identified measures which would help them to work in partnership with other actors including: involvement of all those relevant to the decision-making; having access to easy read and other tailored materials; and the assistance of an advocate who has specialist knowledge of their child welfare system.
  • Need for greater scrutiny of how section 20 voluntary arrangements are instigated and maintained.
  • Lawyers and advocates working with homeless 16 and 17 years olds emphasise the importance of voluntary arrangements being available for longer term use for their clients. The availability of legal advice and representation as well as professional advocacy support for these young people is crucial.
  • The section 20 and section 31 systems as a means by which to protect and provide for unaccompanied children and young people appear limited, may not be fit for purpose and requires further review. There are particular issues concerning the exercise of parental responsibility and medical and educational consents for these young people.
  • Some local authorities appear to use section 20 voluntary arrangements actively to achieve the placement of children in foster for adoption foster care, notwithstanding Government guidance identifying that to do so is ‘unusual’.
  • The role of short term, respite care provided to struggling families or those facing crisis is a service little used by many local authorities outside of the context of short break overnight accommodation for children with disabilities.
  • The role of short term, respite accommodation for children returning home appears to be little considered as a potentially important support service.

We urge all Independent Reviewing Officers to consider the recommendations, particularly those provided on pages 66-67 of the report concerning:

  • Children and young people returning home from care
  • Young parents
  • Parents with learning disabilities/difficulties

Read the full report at source: Cooperation or coercion? Children coming into the care system under voluntary arrangements

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