When children’s services become involved with your child there may be times when you need help from a solicitor.
A solicitor is a legal professional who can give you advice and information about what the law says and what your options are. In some circumstances, the solicitor can come to meetings with you and represent you if there is a court hearing.
On this page you can find information about:
- The role of a solicitor
- When you might need a solicitor
- How to find a solicitor
- What you can expect from your solicitor.
All the information is in the form of Frequent Asked Questions (FAQs). So go to the questions that most closely match your situation to find the information you need.
When will I need a solicitor?You should seek advice from a solicitor if any of these circumstances apply to you:
Children’s services have applied (or are about to apply) to the court for an order about my child
If children’s services have applied (or are about to apply) to the Family Court for any of the following orders, then make sure you have a solicitor:
- Emergency Protection Order
- Child Assessment Order
- Care Order or a Supervision Order.
You will not have to pay for your solicitor.
If you need information about these different types of order, you will find this on the Care proceedings page.
Children’s services have asked me to attend a pre-proceedings (PLO) meeting about my child
You may also hear a pre-proceedings meeting being called a ‘PLO meeting’. PLO stands for the Public Law Outline which sets out the legal process children’s services must follow when considering starting care proceedings.
A pre-proceedings meeting is the place and time for children's services to discuss with you what they think you need to do to keep your child safe and avoid children's services going to court to ask for an order to protect your child (which could include children's services asking the court for permission to remove your child from your care). You should be invited to this meeting in a ‘pre-proceedings letter’ which should also tell you what children’s services are worried about and what changes they would like you, or others, to make. If you receive a pre-proceedings letter you should make sure that you have a solicitor to go with you to the pre-proceedings meeting. You will not have to pay for your solicitor.
Please go to the Children’s services page for more information about pre-proceedings letters and pre-proceedings meetings.
A social worker has asked me to agree to my child going into care
If a social worker asks you to agree to either of the following, then it’s a good idea to tell the social worker you want to get legal advice before making a decision. The social worker may ask you to:
- Agree verbally (or by signing a written agreement) that your child can live in foster care or with another family member (the social worker may have called this a ‘section 20 agreement’ or ‘voluntary accommodation’)
- Agree to your child being cared for by foster carers who are also approved as adopters (this is called ‘foster for adoption’).
Let the social worker know you want to get some legal advice before deciding whether to agree to their plan. And then contact Family Rights Group’s free advice line and speak with a specialist advisor on 0808 801 0366 (open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 3pm, excluding bank holidays) for advice or make contact with a solicitor who specialises in children’s law to see if they are able to offer you some initial advice.
Do I need a solicitor at a child protection conference?You do not ‘need’ a solicitor but you may want to bring one.
Some social workers (and even some solicitors) are mistaken about the role of solicitors at a child protection conference. They wrongly believe that a solicitor cannot attend, or cannot speak if they do come. This is incorrect.
A solicitor is able to speak on your behalf during a child protection conference, as long as they do not start behaving as if they were in court.
To decide whether to ask a solicitor to come to a child protection conference with you it is a good idea to think about these things:
- Can you afford to pay for a solicitor to come to the conference? (Even if you’re entitled to free legal help from a solicitor, this doesn’t normally cover attending the conference but your solicitor might write a letter for you.)
- Does the situation also involve a criminal investigation or complex disputed medical information? Or are you being asked to agree to something that you think is completely unreasonable? If so, then you should think about bringing a solicitor or at least speaking to one
- Call Family Rights Group’s free advice line and speak with a specialist advisor on 0808 801 0366 (open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 3pm, excluding bank holidays).
If you decide not to bring a solicitor (or you’re not able to) then you may want to bring someone else who can help you get your opinions across. For example, a member of your family, a friend or an advocate. You will find more information about taking a supporter or advocate to a child protection conference on our Working with an advocate page.
How do I find a solicitor?It is a good idea to choose a solicitor who specialises in children’s law. These solicitors have Children Law Accreditation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Some children’s services departments will provide parents with a list of solicitors in the local area and you can ask your child’s social worker about this.
To find a solicitor who specialises in childcare law you can contact:
- Solicitors Regulation Authority, Ipsley Court, Redditch, Worcestershire B98 0TD. Tel: 0870 606 2555
Top tips for working with your solicitor
We have 3 top tips to help you make sure that you can work well with your solicitor. These are:
1. Get organised
- Try and keep all written documents together. It is a good idea to have a file to keep these in
- Try to keep all appointments with your solicitor (and with other professionals). Keep a note of any appointments in your telephone or in a diary so that you know when these will take place
- If there is a time or day when you know you usually will not be able to meet with your solicitor (e.g. work, school drop off/pick up) let your solicitor know this so that your appointments with your solicitor can take place around these times if possible
- If there is an emergency and you can’t get to an appointment make sure you let the right people know as soon as possible
- Keep a written note of conversations with the social worker or other professionals involved with your child and family so that you remember what you have talked about and agreed. Read over these notes and share them with your solicitor if it is helpful
- As things happen in your case, write down any questions that you might want to ask next time you speak or meet with your solicitor
- If you have to go to court with your solicitor, it is also a good idea to wear smart comfortable clothes and to get there early so that you have time to talk to your solicitor before the hearing.
2. Know what you can expect from your solicitor
- Your solicitor will act on your behalf in dealing with children’s services and can represent you in court
- If you have questions which are urgent and these are not things your child’s social worker can help you with, then call your solicitor
- If your urgent question is about a legal issue, for example about what your rights or options are, then always contact your solicitor
- Your solicitor should be used to explaining information. If you have not understood something you should tell your solicitor. You can ask for the information to put in a different way
- Your solicitor should pass onto you copies of all documents that children’s services, the court or other lawyers involved in your child’s care have shared (for example, assessment, statements, court orders and judgments, meeting minutes). This is important information that you need to have time to read and get help from your solicitor to understand
- Your solicitor should take your instructions about what your views are. Your solicitor should also give you advice about legal issues
- If your solicitor is not able to come to a court hearing with you, he/she should let you know who will be coming in their place. This could be another solicitor that they work with or a barrister - a lawyer who specialises in representing people at court
- If you have not met the person who is representing you at court, then your solicitor should make sure that this person comes to court early enough so that you have time to speak with them without feeling rushed.
3. Know what to do if you are unhappy with how your solicitor is handling your case
- Talk to your solicitor about your concerns. This gives them a chance to put things right for you
- Think about what positive steps they could take that might help, for example:
- Meeting with you to answer questions about your case
- Updating you more regularly
- Putting their advice in writing to you with a summary of the case and the action they are taking for you
- Explaining whether you will get the chance to give evidence if you want to and if not, why not.
- If you are still unhappy about how your solicitor is handling your case, then you may want to put your concern in writing. You can ask for it to be treated as a complaint. All firms of solicitors must have a complaints procedure. They must give you information about it in their first meeting with you.
- If you are still not satisfied with the way your solicitor is dealing with your case, you can also try to find a different solicitor, but be aware that this can take some time when you are receiving legal aid. You can also complain about your solicitor to the Solicitors Regulation Authority