A report by the Family Rights Group published today highlights the use of Section 20 in practice with children & families. This was published alongside an article about 'stealth adoption', relating to fostering for adoption.
In our work with migrant families, we regularly come across Section 20. Quite often though, we are not talking about babies like the article focuses on and arguably, the forces at play may be different. Despite this, the practice we all too often see around the use of Section 20 is very negative and not at all practice that is in the best interests of children. Highlighting several situations, in our experience Section 20 is often used to:
- Threaten and bully families with NRPF in an attempt to stop a claim for destitution support.
- Inappropriately suggest that the only way to exercise a Section 17 duty towards children is to use Section 20, as they are unable to provide support for them to live at home.
- Using Section 20 as an intimidation tactic in order to gain immigration 'compliance'.
- Suggest Section 20 as a way of avoiding a very tough and personal assessment that focuses on resources and means of parents as opposed to best interests of children.
Project 17, who we work with on several cases involving families with NRPF, recently talked to children about their experiences of children's social care. The threat of removal weighed heavy in the discussions. It is clear that the use of Section 20 in our field of work is often done with little to no consideration of children's needs, used inappropriately in order to gain 'compliance' and offered under the misnomer that it is the only way to fulfil a Section 17 duty.
We fully support the idea that strong checks and measures and free and full legal advice should be made available to all families, with or without recourse with whom Section 20 is discussed as a course of action by Children's Social Care. The lack of advice and support around the course of action has long standing consequences for children and families. It is important that families receive independent and impartial advice on the true nature of the decision and future consequences.
It is a wide ranging power that if left unchecked, is wide open to routine abuse and something we already see systemically in the treatment of migrant families with NRPF when presenting to statutory social work teams. This kind of practice further the oppression of migrant families in an already hostile environment, diminishing and failing their rights further.
It is essential that we look at alternative approaches, challenge oppression and ensure consistent, safe and effective practice across all Local Authorities that puts children first. Practice that is radical, democratic and liberating. Practice that enables families to move on from destitution and poverty. Recognising the structural harm of the hostile environment, instead of cause and effect assessment that takes an individualised, immigration first view of children and families.