The social worker has informed a mother I am supporting that there is going to be a legal planning meeting. What does that mean?
If Children’s Services are still worried about a child despite a child protection plan being in place, they will call a legal planning meeting. This is when social workers and the council’s lawyers will decide what next steps they should take to take to protect the child. Parents are not invited to attend a legal planning meeting.
Except in an emergency situation, Children’s Services have to show the court how they have worked with a family to resolve concerns before going to court. This could include providing further support to the family and/or exploring alternative care within the family. However they could also apply to court to remove a child from their parent’s care. In either situation, Children’s Services will send the mother (and father) a formal letter informing them of their plans as follows:
- A letter before proceedings – sets out the concerns and what they can do to stop court proceedings from happening; or
- A letter of issue - stating that legal proceedings are being started.
If the mother receives either a letter before proceedings or a letter of issue she should seek urgent legal advice from a solicitor specialising in children’s law. She will not have to pay her solicitor’s costs if she gives them the letter.
For more information about the child protection process see FRG’s advice sheet on child protection procedures.
A mother I am working with has been invited to a pre-proceedings meeting. What should she expect to happen at this meeting?
If Children’s Services send the mother a letter before proceedings they should invite her to attend a pre-proceedings meeting. The child’s father should also be invited. This meeting is a last opportunity for her to discuss with Children’s Services what they still want her to do to be able to care safely for her child to avoid her child being removed from her care. She will normally be given a further 6 weeks after the meeting to make necessary changes to keep her child safe. If the changes are not made within the time period they tell her, Children’s Services will normally apply to court for an order to remove her child.
It is very important that the mother attends this meeting and that she asks a solicitor specialising in children’s law to go to the meeting with her and to prepare what she wants to say beforehand.
She should also discuss with her wider family how they can help her keep her child safe, before she goes to the pre-proceedings meeting. She could ask the social worker to arrange a family group conference so that her family can come together to make a safe plan, including identifying who could care for her child, if she cannot.
She should also let the social worker know that she will come to the meeting.
How can I help a mother if her case is going into care proceedings?
Care proceedings are when Children’s Services apply to the court for a care order. If a care order is made, Children’s Services have the right to remove her child from her care and it also gives them parental responsibility.
If they are starting care proceedings to remove her child, then unless it is an emergency, they should send the mother a letter of issue telling her this. It is important that the mother works closely with a specialist solicitor to prepare her case. She will have a right to free legal aid.
You can help her by supporting her to work effectively with her solicitor, encouraging her to keep a folder with all the information about the case, to make a note of all appointments and telephone calls and keep her own records of contact sessions.
The recommended timescale for completing care proceedings is 26 weeks. The earlier the mother engages and is supported to address any concerns and access the right services for her and her child the better. If you can support her to work with the professionals to address the problems and to liaise closely with her solicitor, you will be helping her during this difficult process.
For more information about the court process please see FRG’s advice sheet on Care (and related) proceedings.