Reunification for Children Accommodated Under Section 20 (1989 Act)


This chapter acknowledges that most cessation of placements are a result of children returning home to their parents who have been Section 20 accommodated. Most of these are with regard to a parent's illness. Careful planning and specifically assessed and targeted support are likely to ensure the re-unification plan is successful.


Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review


Care Planning Procedure

Looked After Reviews Procedure


This chapter was amended in January 2019 to reflect the Department's current structure and processes and to note the Nominated Officers role and responsibilities (see Section 3, Assessment and Planning).

1. National Context

Children who return home from care are the largest single group of children who cease to be looked after in any one year. Research shows that careful assessment of needs, evidence of improvements in parenting capacity, slow and well managed return home and the provision of services to support children and their families after the return, were associated with a positive experience of reunification which lasted.

In the year ending 31 March 2017, 32% (9,970) of Looked After children returned home to live with their parents or relatives.

2. Definition of Return Home

A child is recorded as returning home from an episode of care if he or she ceases to be looked after by returning to live with parents or another person who has Parental Responsibility. This includes a child who returns to live with their adoptive parents but does not include a child who become the subject of an Adoption Order for the first time, nor a child who becomes the subject of a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order.

3. Assessment and Planning

A plan for reunification must be based on a Single Assessment that includes consideration of the child's needs and the parenting capacity to meet those needs.

When reunification is identified as the plan for a child or young person the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) should be notified and a LAC Review convened to agree a plan for the return home, and to confirm the Child In Need Plan for the child/young person.

The case should also be presented to the Edge of Care Panel to ensure resources available to avoid the need for children to become looked after (e.g. FGCs, MST, Parenting programmes, TF) have been thoroughly deployed prior to the decision has been made or to assist early rehabilitation.

Where the child has been looked after for more than 20 days, the decision to cease looking after the child must not be put into effect until it has been approved by a Nominated Officer.

Where the child is a young person of 16 or 17 years the approval has to be by the Director of Children's Services. The Nominated Officer, or Director, must satisfy themselves that:

  • The child's wishes have been ascertained and considered;
  • The decision to cease looking after the child will safeguard them and promote their welfare - including where appropriate services are accessed;
  • The IRO has been informed; and
  • Where the child is Eligible that:
    • An assessment of needs has been completed with a view to determining what advice, assistance and support it would be appropriate to provide while looking after him and after it ceases to look after him/her.
  • A Pathway Plan has been completed and it will be reviewed regularly;
  • Where the child is still being Looked After, a Personal Adviser has been arranged.

Where a child has been looked after for fewer than 20 days, it is not necessary to seek a Nominated Officer's agreement, but it remains that the decision to cease looking after the child must be in the child's best interests and the arrangements will safeguard the child.

If the child/young person returns home in an unplanned manner a CIN Care Plan meeting should be convened in 5 working days to confirm the transfer of plan from LAC to CIN. This meeting must be chaired by the IRO.

The 'child in need' plan should identify the supports and services which will be needed by the child and family to ensure that the return home is successful. This should take into account the child's needs, the parenting capacity of those with parental responsibility and the wider context of family and environmental factors, reflecting the child's changed status. This CIN care plan should be reviewed in line with the CIN planning process.

On the day that the child returns to live with a person with Parental Responsibility, they cease to be looked after (s20) and the period of care should be ended on the CSC information system.

All key agencies need to be notified of the reunification and that the child is no longer Looked After, e.g. LAC Health Service, Virtual School, ART, etc.

If a young person returning home is an eligible person under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 (Schedule 2 to the 1989 Act) and they have returned home, they will become Relevant and subsequently qualifying. However, if this arrangement breaks down before they turn 18 and the young person ceases to live with the person concerned, they would again become relevant child.