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Concerns over the use of consent to remove a baby into local authority care

10 March 2022
5 min read
Volume 31 · Issue 5

Abstract

Richard Griffith, Head of Health Law and Ethics, School of Health and Social Care, Swansea University, examines voluntary removal of a child and how nurses can ensure that mothers are not coerced into the use of this measure

Fears of a reported pandemic crisis of child abuse, neglect and poverty (Pidd and Quach, 2021) have led to renewed concerns over the use of the voluntary placement of babies and children into the care of the local authority under the Children Act 1989, section 20 (and its Wales equivalent under the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014, section 76).

The Children Act 1989, section 20 concerns the duty of a local authority to provide accommodation for children in need. It contains no compulsory provisions and no compulsory curtailment of parental responsibility. Its use is based on partnership and agreement. It cannot therefore be used as a form of disguised compulsion. A person with parental responsibility must agree to the placement for removal under this provision to be lawful.

Although the use of section 20 accommodation can work well and to the benefit of child and parent, the courts have expressed concerns over it use, especially when the child's placement extends to weeks or months while the local authority undertakes its investigations, without the judicial scrutiny that arises when a safeguarding application is made under the Children Act 1989.

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