Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual
Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual

5.1.1 The Accommodation and De Accommodation of Children and Young People


This procedure applies to all decisions to Look After children.

It should be read in conjunction with the Court Proceedings Procedure.

See also Public Law Outline Procedure.

Please see also the ADCS/Cafcass Practice Guidance for the Use of Section 20.


In November 2016, this chapter was revised primarily to better reflect the role of the Edge of Care Panel and the requirement to issue a Section 20 letter. A link to the ADCS/Cafcass Practice Guidance in the Use of Section 20 was also added (above).


  1. Introduction and Legislative Framework
  2. Entering Care: Process for Accommodating Child or Young Person
  3. Section 20 Accommodation
  4. Obtaining Parental Consent to Look After a Child
  5. 72 Hour Planning Meeting
  6. Review Process
  7. Exiting Care: Process for De-accommodating Child or Young Person

    Appendix 1: Section 20 of The Children Act 1989

    Appendix 2: Flowchart - Edge of Care Panel

1. Introduction and Legislative Framework

This practice guidance and protocol is published by Nottingham City Children’s Social care. The legislative basis for accommodating children and young people is contained within Section 20 of the Children Act 1989: (see Appendix 1: Section 20 of The Children Act 1989)
1.1 The aim of the practice guidance and protocol is to assist practitioners in Social Care when accommodating children under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Equally guidance is required to assist practitioners in relation to working with children and young people who for whatever reason no longer require accommodation with Nottingham City Social care.
1.2 A number of Serious Case reviews and case file audits have identified the importance of robust assessment underpinning decisions on accommodation and de accommodation, particularly when young people chose to leave care and return home This guidance therefore provides a framework to assist staff in managing the de accommodation process for children and young people.

2. Entering Care: Process for Accommodating Child or Young Person

2.1 Children and young people can enter care through a number of routes. For the purposes of this guidance we are focusing on the Voluntary route into the care of the Local Authority. This means children come into care with the expressed consent of their parent/caregiver (person with Parental Responsibility)or alternatively a young person over the age of 16, can agree and give their own consent to be accommodated even when their parents (those with parental responsibility) do not agree or consent to the accommodation. Children under the age of 16 cannot give their consent and this must be obtained by their parent or person with parental responsibility prior to them coming into the care of the Local Authority. Consent must be sought and the parent must sign the Section 20 paperwork before any admission to care can take place. If a child or young person has been abandoned and there is no one with parental responsibility to offer consent or sign the correct forms, then advice should be obtained from legal services at the earliest opportunity.

It is essential that workers and managers are clear about the reason why a child has been accommodated under Section 20. There are usually 2 key reasons:

  • Child is at risk of significant harm and child protection concerns have led social worker to conclude child needs to come into care in order to be adequately safeguarded. In these instances parents have agreed to consent to voluntary accommodation hence child comes into care under Section 20. (Clearly, if parents do not give their consent to accommodation and the view remains that the child will be at further risk if left in their care, then legal options will need to be explored in order to safeguard the child. Please see policy on court orders (refer to Court Proceedings Procedure) and Emergency Protection Orders (see Applications for Emergency Protection Orders Procedure);
  • Family are under significant stress and parents requesting their child be accommodated under Section 20. There must of course be a clear social work assessment supporting the view that there are no other alternatives to entering the care system and all other options including friends and other family members must have been fully explored. This must include absent birth fathers. In addition a referral must be made to the Targeted Support Team to ensure preventative work has first been carried out to support the family and avoid a reception into care. If there has been no referral to the TST, then agreement cannot be given to accommodate a child/young person.
  • Where the social worker and team manager believe a child should come into care and accommodation under Section 20 is being recommended, this must be referred to the Edge of Care Panel (EOCP).

    This is a multi-agency Panel which sits on a weekly basis and considers all requests for children to be accommodated. The EOC Panel will consider this request and look at the menu of services available which may support the family, avoiding the need for the child to be accommodated. A child should not be accommodated outside of this process unless in an emergency and ALL emergency accommodations cases should then be presented at the next available panel date. The Panel will confirm/ratify this decision and consider the care plan and whether the Section 20 legal status remains appropriate. The exception to this is Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children. These children, by the very nature of their status and the fact there is no one exercising parental responsibility become Looked After. These cases do not need to come to EOC panel.

    The EOC Panel will consider the following:

    1. Is this child currently at risk of accommodation and if so, would the provision of intensive family support services reduce this risk?. In this instance the Panel will consider which support service is the most suitable in supporting this particular family/does it meet their criteria etc. If so, a referral form is completed for that service and arrangements are then made to meet the family and offer the support service;
    2. The child is not currently at risk of accommodation but the family situation may deteriorate without the provision of an intensive family support service. As a result the child may be at risk of accommodation.
2.3 In any event all requests to accommodate a child/young person need to be presented to the Edge Of Care Panel. This excludes those cases where the decision to accommodate has been made via Legal Planning Meetings Procedure or Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers Procedure.

The decision to look after a child will only be made where those making the decision/EOC Panel are satisfied that:

  • Suitable appropriate alternatives have been fully considered;
  • Appropriate consideration has been given to the necessity of Accommodation, the purpose and nature of the proposed placement;
  • Whether the Accommodation provided should be via a Court Order or undertaken with Parental Consent using Section 20 (1989 Act). In considering this the local authority should:
  • Appropriate consultation has taken place.

However, where the circumstances constitute an emergency, opportunities for consultation may be limited e.g. where a parent/carer is not available.

Before a decision is made to look after a child, consideration must be given to making arrangements with other extended family members or friends who might be prepared to care for the child without the need for the child to come into care. In these circumstances, care must be taken where the local authority has been involved in the arrangements for the child to be cared for by relatives; the child may be viewed as within the definition of Looked After and a legal view may be helpful to clarify the status of the child and the placement. In these circumstances, if the child is regarded as looked after and placed with a relative or friend, the Placements with Connected Persons Procedure.
2.5 Once approval has been given, an E01 placement request form must be completed and sent to the Placement team. All requests for placements both internal and external need to follow the process for placement decision making - see Appendix 2: Flowchart - Edge of Care Panel.
2.6 Once a child is accommodated, it is imperative that robust planning is maintained to ensure the plan remains the right one for the child. It is imperative that work continues with the family to seek a return home as soon as possible and where it is safe to do so. The Reviewing Service should be informed immediately in order to ensure the first 20 day Children Looked After Review is held within timescales.

3. Section 20 Accommodation

There are many scenarios in which Section 20 is used positively and these include situations of family support (e.g. Short Term Breaks) (see chapters 3.8.5 -3.8.7) and where parents are unable to care for children, for whatever reason, and there are no agreed alternative family or friends to undertake this.

In Accommodating a child under Section 20, it must always be borne in mind that the local authority does not have Parental Responsibility; only the parents /those carers with Parental Responsibility can make decisions for the child. The parent/carer can remove the child from Accommodation at any time and any such request must be responded to promptly by the local authority, or it must otherwise take action through the court. (See also Ceasing to Look After a Child Procedure).

The parents/carers should be advised of any changes in the child’s circumstances whilst the child is in local authority care.

It is therefore important to ensure that the parents/carers have full information about their continuing responsibilities as well as those of the local authority and that this is enshrined in the Care Plan and a written agreement.

4. Obtaining Parental Consent to Look After a Child

Section 20 agreements are not valid unless the parent giving consent has capacity to do so, the consent is properly informed and fairly obtained. Willingness to consent cannot be inferred from silence, submission or acquiescence - it is a positive action.

Section 20 letter

There is now an expectation when accommodating a child under Section 20, that each and every parent is given a Section 20 Letter. This sets out all of the above and informs the parents of their rights, including their right to withdraw consent.

There are 2 letter templates:

  • One is for parents who are requesting accommodation due to significant risk of breakdown and this relates to family stress rather than child protection concerns;
  • The second should be issued to parents where the Local Authority is seeking to place the child away from home due to child protection concerns and the parents have agreed to accommodation in order to avoid the Local Authority seeking a court order. In these circumstances, the Section 20 status may only be appropriate in the short term whilst court action is being considered and actioned.

Detailed guidance on the obtaining of parental consent was given by the High Court in the case of Re CA (A Baby) (2012):

  • The social worker must first be satisfied that the parent giving consent does not lack the mental Capacity to do so. Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a person is unable to make a decision if s/he is unable:
    • To understand the information relevant to the decision;
    • To retain that information;
    • To use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision; or
    • To communicate his/her decision.
  • If there is doubt about Capacity, no further attempts to obtain consent should be made at that time, and advice should be sought from a manager;
  • If satisfied that the parent has Capacity, the social worker must be satisfied that the consent is fully informed:
    • Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?
    • Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
    • Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?
  • If not satisfied that the consent if fully informed, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought from a manager and legal advice sought if thought necessary;
  • If satisfied that the consent is fully informed, then it is necessary to be satisfied that the giving of such consent and the subsequent removal of the child from the parent is both fair and proportionate:
    • What is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
    • If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?
    • Is it necessary for the safety of the child for her to be removed at this time?
    • Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?

Recording Parental Consent

In Re N (Children) (Adoption: Jurisdiction) [2015] EWCA Civ 1112 good practice the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby sets out his view in respect of good practice in the recording of parental consent to a Section 20 agreement:

  • Wherever possible the agreement of a parent to the accommodation of their child under Section 20 should be properly recorded in writing and evidenced by the parent's signature;
  • The written document should be clear and precise as to it terms, drafted in simple and straight-forward language that the particular parent can readily understand;
  • The written document should spell out, following the language of Section 20(8), that the parent can 'remove the child' from the LA accommodation 'at any time';
  • The written document should not seek to impose any fetters on the exercise of the parent's right under Section 20(8). Where the parent is not fluent in English, the written document should be translated into the parent's own language and the parent should sign the foreign language text, adding, in the parent's language, words to the effect that 'I have read this document and I agree to its terms'.

Use of the Section 20 Letter strengthens the above and the social worker needs to record that the parents have received this letter informing them of their rights

The use of Section 20 prior to Court Proceedings

Section 20 may, in an appropriate case, have a proper role to play as a short-term measure pending the commencement of care proceedings, but the Courts have strongly advised that this should not lead to an unnecessary delay in the issuing of proceedings and cases must not be allowed to drift, (including those cases when children are placed with relatives under a Section 20 agreement). Proceedings still need to be issued in a timely fashion.

Even where a parent/carer’s legal adviser has established an agreement regarding the use of Section 20 prior to either issuing Proceedings or progressing a timely plan and timetable of work for further assessment, these should be carefully adhered to by all parties. Any plan should be based on the child’s welfare needs and avoid delay.

All such agreements should be undertaken in conjunction with the local authority’s Legal Services and include a clear (written) agreement and Care Plan with the outcome considered at a Looked After Children’s Review to which the parents have been invited. This should also include the Section 20 Letter.

Where it is highly likely that proceedings will be required to determine a factual issue, or where complex medical evidence may become involved it is better for proceedings to be issued promptly allowing the court to manage the timetable of the case and the parents to be able to access effective legal advice.

5. 72 Hour Planning Meeting

5.1 An initial planning meeting should be held within 72 hours of the child becoming Looked After whether this is under Section 20 or as a result of a court order/Police Protection/EPO/Care order. This meeting should clarify why the child has entered care under what legal basis and whether it is as a result of child protection concerns or family stress etc.
5.2 This is very important since the 72 hour planning meeting and subsequent reviews need to state what should happen if parents withdraw their consent and request the child’s return. If accommodation is based on child protection issues then an Initial Child Protection Conference should be considered prior to the child’s return home. This is necessary to ensure any concerns are identified and managed by way of a child protection plan. This is critical since a child may be subject to a Section 47 investigation, which was then ended following accommodation. If a child is returning home the Team Manager needs to consider whether the grounds for a Section 47 still exist and if a new Section 47 episode is triggered. Alternatively if the risks are deemed to be too great, making it unsafe for a child to return home, then consideration should be given at this meeting to initiating care proceedings. A legal planning meeting should then be recommended. If the parents are demanding the immediate return of their child and this would place the child at serious risk of significant harm, legal advice should be sought with immediate effect and an application made to the court for an EPO.
5.3 If the child has been accommodated due to family stress this meeting should endeavour to look at what support is required to try and return the child back home to their parents care. Any admission to care on this basis should, where possible only be short term and the chair of the 72 hour planning meeting must ensure deadlines are set seeking reunification with parents, alongside what actions are to be carried out by all the relevant agencies to support the family and facilitate a return home. Contact plans should be recorded. If the child was accommodated on an emergency basis then the case needs to be brought to the EOC Panel to agree the decision to remain in care and any additional support.
5.4 The 72 hour review should also ensure both the PEPS, SDQs and the Looked After Health Medical are initiated. Where young people are placed in external provision it will be necessary to ensure all relevant information is shared with the placement provider to ensure this is monitored and progressed to avoid delay. A risk assessment should also be completed and shared with all relevant parties at this meeting. Again the Chair will need to ensure the 20 day Children Looked After Review has been booked in and that there is an appropriate care plan in place.

6. Review Process

6.1 The first review should be held within 20 days of the start of the accommodation episode. A 3 monthly review should be held after the first review and thereafter every 6 months regardless of the legal status of the placement. (For further information see the Looked After Reviews Procedure.
6.2 All reviews should consider the care plan and whether this remains the most appropriate plan for that child dependent on the circumstances of the case. The Chair should also review the legal basis for the accommodation and whether this should be amended to reflect any changes in the care plan. It may be appropriate to continue with Section 20 accommodation, if, for example parents indicate their consent will be forthcoming and they have no intention of requesting their child returns back to their care. The “No Order Principle” guides decision making in this area, by stating that an order should not be sought where parents give their consent, however this has to be balanced against what is right for the child. If the young person is likely to remain in care long term, the Local Authority should consider whether it is in the child’s best interests to share Parental Responsibility with the birth parents and thus seek a legal court order.
6.3 The review should also focus on the role of parents/carers (those with parental responsibility); ensuring issues of contact with parents and other family members are adequately addressed and monitored in each review. Each review should ensure the child’s wishes and feelings are also adequately addressed. It is imperative that each review questions the ongoing need for accommodation and where appropriate arrangements should be made to facilitate and support a return home/exit from care.

7. Exiting Care: Process for De-accommodating Child or Young Person

7.1 There are a number of routes whereby a child can exit care:
7.2 Parents withdraw consent to Section 20: Where parents request their child be returned to their care and they indicate they will withdraw consent, the child should be returned home unless as stated in Paragraph 4.2 above. Where safeguarding concerns existed prior to admission into care a strategy discussion must be held with the police to clarify whether a Section 47 investigation should be initiated within 24 hours. This will ensure that up to date information is available on the adults and household to inform the risk assessment. If there are no safeguarding concerns and child can return home, a planning meeting should be held to ensure all agencies are aware of the return home and a support package has been agreed and implemented. This meeting should minute reason why child returned home and establish any contingency plan as appropriate. If there are safeguarding concerns which mean a child should not return home at that point please refer to Paragraph 4.2 above.
7.3 Child/young person makes decision to go home outside of care plan: There may be situations when an older child/young person leaves their care home and spends more and more time at the family home. In these situations, including those where older child is saying they are now living at home it will be necessary to visit the child and parents at home to ascertain the situation. The worker will need to establish if the child has returned home and has no intention of returning to their care placement. The worker will need to carry out an initial risk assessment within 24 hours of a young person leaving the care placement in order to establish if it is safe and appropriate for the child/young person to remain living at home. If the assessment concludes there are no safeguarding issues and young person can remain at home then a multi-agency planning meeting should be held as soon as possible in order to formally end the accommodation episode and to record and minute the reasons why it is safe for child to remain in the family home, rather than returning to their care placement. Furthermore a support plan should be agreed and recorded. The meeting which should be chaired by a Team Manager should be held within 5 working days of a return home. This will then be subject to ongoing review within the Child in Need process.
7.4 It is imperative that a visit is made to the child and family within 24 hours of any notification that child/young person may have returned home. The purpose of this visit as detailed above is to assess the child’s safety within the home environment. It is equally important that there is management oversight of this plan and records are inputted immediately to reflect the change in circumstances and to record the risk assessment and agreements reached about a return home and fact the child’s legal status has now changed from accommodation to Child in Need.
7.5 If following completion of risk assessment the worker and manager are concerned about the child/young person’s safety in the family home, then attempts should be made to return the child/young person back to their care placement and to seek ongoing consent from parents/those with Parental Responsibility. However if these negotiations are unsuccessful and safeguarding concerns remain then legal advice should be obtained immediately. Furthermore if there are no grounds for seeking legal action, consideration should be given to initiating a Section 47 child protection investigation and calling for an Initial Child Protection Conference. An interim child protection plan should be drawn up which details how the agencies involved can monitor the situation up until the conference.
7.6 Review decision to end accommodation: This refers to children and a young person where the reviewing process has identified a planned return home is the most appropriate plan. The review has agreement from parents and all the agencies involved. A support plan has been established and a date set for the return home. The review should ensure there is a record of the change in care plan, noting that the child/young person will no longer be a Child Looked After but a child in need at the point at which the child is “de accommodated”. It may also be appropriate for social care to end their involvement and a CAF recommended instead. The review should also identify what support is required and record any contingency plans as necessary.

Appendix 1: Section 20 of The Children Act 1989

Section 20 Provision of accommodation for children: general.

  1. Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who appears to them to require accommodation as a result of —
    1. There being no person who has parental responsibility for him;
    2. His being lost or having been abandoned; or
    3. The person who has been caring for him being prevented (whether or not permanently and for whatever reason) from providing him with suitable accommodation or care.
  2. Where a local authority provide accommodation under Subsection (1) for a child who is ordinarily resident in the area of another local authority, that other local authority may take over the provision of accommodation for the child within —
    1. Three months of being notified in writing that the child is being provided with accommodation; or
    2. Such other longer period as may be prescribed.
  3. Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who has reached the age of sixteen and whose welfare the authority consider is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they do not provide him with accommodation;
  4. A local authority may provide accommodation for any child within their area (even though a person who has parental responsibility for him is able to provide him with accommodation) if they consider that to do so would safeguard or promote the child’s welfare;
  5. A local authority may provide accommodation for any person who has reached the age of sixteen but is under twenty-one in any community home which takes children who have reached the age of sixteen if they consider that to do so would safeguard or promote his welfare;
  6. Before providing accommodation under this Section, a local authority shall, so far as is reasonably practicable and consistent with the child’s welfare —
    1. Ascertain the child’s wishes [F1] and feelings regarding the provision of accommodation; and
    2. Give due consideration (having regard to his age and understanding) to such wishes [F1] and feelings] of the child as they have been able to ascertain.
  7. A local authority may not provide accommodation under this Section for any child if any person who —
    1. Has parental responsibility for him; and
    2. Is willing and able to —
      1. Provide accommodation for him; or
      2. Arrange for accommodation to be provided for him,
  8. Any person who has parental responsibility for a child may at any time remove the child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority under this Section;
  9. Subsections (7) and (8) do not apply while any person —
    1. In whose favour a residence order is in force with respect to the child; [F2]...

      [F3](aa)who is a special guardian of the child; or
    2. Who has care of the child by virtue of an order made in the exercise of the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction with respect to children;

      agrees to the child being looked after in accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority.
  1. Where there is more than one such person as is mentioned in subsection (9), all of them must agree.
  2. Subsections (7) and (8) do not apply where a child who has reached the age of sixteen agrees to being provided with accommodation under this section.

[F1] Words in s. 20(6)(a)(b) inserted (1.3.2005 for E. and 1.4.2006 for W.) by Children Act 2004 (c. 31), s. 53(2); S.I. 2005/394, art. 2(1)(g); S.I. 2006/885, art. 2(2)
[F2] Word in s. 20(9)(a) repealed (30.12.2005) by 2002 c. 38, ss. 139, 148, Sch. 3 para. 59, Sch. 5 (with Sch. 4 paras. 6-8); S.I. 2005/2213, art. 2(o); S.I. 2005/2897, art. 2(b)
[F3] S. 20(9)(aa) inserted (30.12.2005) by 2002 c. 38, ss. 139, 148, Sch. 3 para. 59 (with Sch. 4 paras. 6-8); S.I. 2003/2213, art. 2(o)

Appendix 2: Flowchart - Edge of Care Panel

Click here to view flowchart.