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What happens if do not want to care for my baby / child anymore?

View profile for Jasmine Lees
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The Local Authority (also known as Social Services) often become involved with families where there are concerns about the care being afforded to any child within a home. However, sometimes the Local Authority are approached by parents who feel that they are unable to care for their child upon their birth or at a later stage in their life. There are a number of reasons why a person may decide that they are unable to care for their child anymore and it is often a difficult decision based on that persons own personal circumstances.

 

Section 20 agreement

If the Local Authority are approached by a parent / guardian who no longer wishes to care for their child, they may assess the situation and see if there are any support or services which can be put in place to assist the family. This is usually the case whereby a child has additional physical or mental health needs or behavioural problems where the family are no longer to cope without support or whereby a parent has significant health needs meaning they are unable to care for their child at that time. They may look into the wider family support network to see if they can offer any assistance and if there are any alternative carers who may be able to care for the child in the long or short term.

If this is not accepted by the parent / guardian, the Local Authority may ask for them to sign a section 20 agreement which is a document which stipulates the parent has agreed for the child to be accommodated by the Local Authority in foster care. This document will set out that the Local Authority are able to place them in a foster placement and seek any emergency medical assistance which is required whilst they are in that placement. A section 20 agreement only needs to be signed by one person with parental responsibility. The parents / guardian will still retain their parental responsibility for that child and the section 20 agreement can be revoked at any time requesting that the child is returned to their care. However, during the Local Authoritys involvement assessments may have taken place to determine the level of risk posed to the child in respect of emotional, physical, sexual harm or risk of neglect and if the Local Authority are not in agreement to the child returning to the parents care, they may issue Care Proceedings for a protective order for the children.

 

Relinquished babies

In terms of new born babies where a parent has made a decision to not care for them throughout their childhood, a parent (usually the mother) may ask for their child to be consensually adopted which is also referred to as the baby being relinquished. In these circumstances, the Local Authority is often informed prior to the birth of the baby and the baby usually goes into a foster placement following birth. A section 20 agreement will need to be signed in the same way as described above and as the mother only holds parental responsibility for the baby prior to their birth being registered, the mother will be asked to sign this. The Local Authority may determine that they need to look for an alternative placement for the child within the family or speak with the biological father of the child to confirm they are in agreement to the consensual adoption.

Issues arise where a mother does not wish for the biological father or her wider family to be informed of the birth of the baby and the subsequent planned adoption. Recent case law has considered this point at length and the case of  A, B and C (Adoption: Notification of Fathers and Relatives) [2020] EWCA Civ 41 determined that there is no single test which should be applied to these cases and the Court must consider all factors of a particular case to include for example, circumstances around the birth, religious reasons and the effect of informing others on the mothers mental health, personal relationships and safety. The Court will need to weigh up all of these issues when determining if any person should be informed about the babys existence and will have the Article 8, Right to Family Life of all parties involved.

How Johnson Astills can help

 

If you have been asked to sign a section 20 document or have taken steps to relinquish your baby then you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. We have experience in assisting parents at all stages of Local Authority involvement. Please contact Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please visit either of the above offices or email us on careteam@johnsonastills.com and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.