Local Authority support for children and families: Powers and Duties 

Children’s Act 1989  

The Children’s Act 1989 s17-20 gives local authorities the power to intervene in private matters in order to protect and promote the welfare of children within their governed area.  Every local authority is bound by a moral and legal obligation to provide support and assistance to children within their local areas the emphasis on children who are in need of outside protection.

S17 (1) It shall be the general duty of every local authority:

  1. to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and
  2. so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs.

Children in Need

Every local authority must take reasonable steps to identify the extent to which the children in there area are in need.

Under section 17(1) Children’s Act 1989, a child is considered to be a child in need if:

  • S/he is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the help of the services by the local Authority
  • Without the help or provisions of the local authority their development will be significantly or further impaired.
  • S/he is disabled. Disabled for this are being blind, deaf or dumb, suffers a mental condition or is substantially and permanently handicapped.

Powers and Duties of the Local authority

For the purpose of providing care for children in need within a community, the local authority will have specific powers and duties set out under the following schedules.

Schedule 2, Part 1, paragraph 4(1) Children’s Act 1989

Every local authority should take all reasonable steps to ensure and prevent children within their area suffering ill-treatment or neglect.

Schedule 2, Part 1, Paragraph 7

Every local authority shall take reasonable care to reduce the need for care or supervision orders for children within their area.  

Accommodation for children

Every local authority must provide accommodation for any child within its area in need, and appears as a result to require accommodation. This may be as a result of their being no person who has parental responsibility for the child, the child is lost or abandoned or the person with care of the child may not be unable to provide suitable accommodation and care for the child.  

Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who has reached the age of 16, and who’s welfare is likely to be prejudiced or tarnished without the help and support of the3 local authority organisations. 

A local Authority has the ability to provide accommodation for any child within their area who ha someone with parental responsibility for them, however, the person(s) with parental responsibility has difficulty providing accommodation for them and the local authority can safeguard and promote the child welfare by offering accommodation.  

Before providing accommodation under s 20 the courts will take into consideration the welfare principle and consider the child’s feelings and wishes giving regard to the child’s age and understanding of the given situation.

Voluntary provisions for accommodation under s20 Children’s Act 1989  

  • The local authority is not a person who has or can gain parental responsibility over a child.
  • A local authority is unable to provide accommodation under this section for any child if the person who has parental responsibility for him is willing and able to  provide accommodation for him or arrange for accommodation to be provided for him. [S20(7)]  
  • Any person who legally has parental responsibility for a child may remove the child from accommodation provided by the local authority by using s 20(8) Children’s Act 1989
  • S20(7) does not apply to a child of 16 or over who agrees to being provided accommodation for by the local authority.                               
Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.