6.1 Top TIPS: Don’t sign Section 20 or agree anything you don’t really want!

  1. Do not sign: At any point you might be asked to sign a Section 20 (S20) agreement to say you agree for the children to go with a relative or into foster care. DO NOT SIGN. S20 is a voluntary agreement and you have the right to withdraw your consent to it at any time but it is often very difficult to do so. They might ask you to sign a Section 20 because they do not have enough evidence for an Interim Care Order (ICO) and use it as a way to collect evidence, stalling for time! Many mothers who were told to sign and that their children would only be in care for a few days had to fight for years to get them back. 
  2. Make social services go to court to get a court order: If you sign they will use the fact that you ‘consented’ to keep your children from you against your will. If you have already signed a S20 agreement and want your children back, you could go and get them from wherever they are but CS may then say that they are in danger and call the police to prevent you taking them back. They can also go to court for an emergency court order and do not have to inform you that they are doing this. Beware that voluntarily agreeing for your baby to be looked after temporarily by the state can result in adoption ‘by stealth’ fostering may turn to adoption against your will [25]. See useful ruling from the Supreme Court [26]. If your lawyer suggests that you just sign the section 20 then you should question this with them and consider asking for another lawyer. You can say you need time to think about this, in reality you could look for a lawyer who is much more supportive. There may be a lot of pressure for you to come to an agreement with CS in order to cut short the legal proceedings.  Your lawyer might say, for example, that your children will be taken from you anyway and that the best you can expect if they go into foster care is to have contact with them once a month; your lawyer may want you to agree to that. Always ask them to put their advice to you in writing. 
  3. Do not agree with a plan you consider harmful to your child:  Lawyers often tell you that Children’s Services will be more reasonable if you go along with what they want.  That is not our experience.  Once you have agreed to something in court it is very hard to appeal against it later on, even if you get new evidence to support your case.  The fact that you agreed to it in the first place will be used against you when you want to change it. 
  4. You can’t just say that your lawyer told you to agree: Although if you did agree to something on their advice which you later want to take back, you should make a formal complaint to your lawyer about the way they mis/advised you [28].
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