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2.3.4 Legal Planning Meetings

RELATED CHAPTER

Protocol and Good Practice Model: Disclosure of Information in Cases of Alleged Child Abuse and Linked Criminal and Care Direction Hearings (October 2013)

RELATED GUIDANCE

Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Court Orders and Pre-Proceedings (2014)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in April 2017 to reflect the outcome of a judgment following an application to remove a child at birth. The judge set out what were thought to be ‘basic and good practice steps’ (see Section 2, Considerations).


Contents

  1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings
  2. Considerations
  3. Who can Convene Legal Planning Meetings
  4. Attendance at Legal Planning Meetings
  5. Timing and Duration of Legal Planning Meetings
  6. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings
  7. Review/Subsequent Legal Planning Meetings

    Appendix 1: Legal Planning Meeting - Action to Be Taken Flowchart


1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings

Legal Planning Meetings are an essential part of the process for dealing with public law children's cases under the Public Law Outline.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division in 'The Process of Reform: the revised PLO and the Local Authority', states that a properly organised legal planning meeting is invaluable and can be the key to achieving timely outcomes to Care Proceedings. He also recommends that local authority lawyers be involved, advising and assisting their social work clients, at an early stage.

A Legal Planning Meeting should be held to discuss the way forward in a particular case, where an application for a legal order may be required. This can include:

  • Where parenting is not improving enough to protect the child from significant harm (e.g. when the child protection plan is not effective);
  • Following an application for an Emergency Protection Order when consideration is being given to an application for an Interim Care Order;
  • When it is clear that the protection or welfare of a child cannot be achieved by agreement with the parents, or the security of a legal order is necessary to ensure the viability of a plan for a child, or the existing court order is not providing adequate protection for the child;
  • Where it is thought that a legal order may be required in order to assist in the permanence planning for children, whether that is a return to the family or to achieve permanence elsewhere.

At the meeting, a decision should be made in principle about whether the Threshold Criteria have been met. The local authority should then decide, based on a robust analysis of the level of assessed risk, whether:

  • It is in the best interests of the child to provide a further period of support for the family with the aim of avoiding proceedings; or
  • Whether proceedings should be initiated immediately.

The meeting should also identify any evidence gaps, clarify whether additional assessments will be required, and consider what would be a suitable draft Care Plan for the child.

Note: where children are already Section 20 Accommodated there should be no delay in issuing proceedings where this is required, (see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, Section 20 Accommodation).


2. Considerations

A Legal Planning Meeting is an opportunity to discuss a case fully, and to consult with colleagues to ensure that children are the subject of active case management and that appropriate legal action is taken when required to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child.

The role of the local authority legal adviser is to advise about the legal possibilities for achieving the desired aim and to give a view about the quality of the evidence available.

In order to enable a full discussion to take place, the following must be available:

  • Relevant assessment(s);
  • An up to date Chronology;
  • A Plan or a clear indication that options for a plan have been considered;
  • A Genogram;
  • All relevant reports from other agencies such as health and education;
  • Minutes from previous statutory meetings (e.g. strategy meetings, CP conferences).

The issues to be considered at the meeting will include the following:

  • The identity and location of all persons with PR;
  • Any potential issues/documentation regarding parental capacity to litigate should up flagged up at the meeting;
  • The reasons for the concerns and the evidential basis for establishing significant harm and whether the Threshold Criteria are met;
  • The action/decisions already taken and where the decisions were made e.g. Strategy Discussion/Meeting, Child Protection Conference, Core Group meeting;
  • The evidence already available - i.e. Child and Family Assessment, as well as other medical and other expert involvement, which support the Local Authority’s concerns;
  • What evidence is outstanding/needs to be obtained and what are the timescales for this?
  • Whether it may be appropriate to instruct any further expert assessment before the commencement of court proceedings - if so, what are the proposed remit of the instructions and the areas to be addressed, who should the assessment be done by and what are the likely timescales?
  • Have there been previous Court proceedings in relation to the family? If so, what steps are required to obtain the papers in relation to the case from the Court, from the local authority’s own archives or from another local authority?
  • What action the Local Authority should take to safeguard the welfare of the child i.e. follow the Pre-Proceedings process or initiate proceedings? 
  • If Care Proceedings are recommended, the Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline should be followed.
  • In addition consideration should be given to the following:
    • The proposed Care Plan for the child, including the proposed placement and any cultural, language and ethnic issues, the need for a Twin Track Plan, consultation with parents and the wider family, whether any family members are available to care for the child on an interim or permanent basis, if so whether the required checks and assessments have been undertaken, the proposals for contact, the proposed order to be sought;
    • How the proposed Care Plan is to be achieved, including where appropriate arranging a date for the case to be presented to the Agency Decision Maker;
    • Timescale for the application to be made including the preparation of statement (including chronology) and care plan;
    • Whether an immediate issue letter should be sent, and where appropriate, the timing of this.
  • If the Public Law Outline is to be followed, then the following should be considered:
    • Timescale for the Letter Before Proceedings to be sent to parent(s) and anyone else with PR;
    • Timescale for Pre Proceedings Meetings;
    • Timescale for overall Pre Proceedings process to be concluded.
    Note that with pre-birth situations a recent High Court judgment has set out good practice steps to include:
    • A risk assessment of the parent(s) should be undertaken immediately the social workers are made aware of the mother’s pregnancy and should be completed 4 weeks before the mother’s expected delivery date and disclosed to the parent(s) (and their solicitor where relevant);
    • All relevant documentation should be then sent to the Local Authority Legal Adviser to issue proceedings.

(See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure, Pre-Proceedings).


3. Who can Convene Legal Planning Meetings

The decision to convene a Legal Planning Meeting will be made by the Service Manager - the decision will usually be taken following a recommendation from a Child Protection Conference, as a result of a Child in Care Review, a Permanence Planning Meeting, or on the request of a social worker, manager, local authority lawyer, or other agency.

All requests need to be sent to the Team Leader or nominated point of contact at Legal Services on the Legal Planning Meeting Request Form, for allocation of a local authority lawyer.


4. Attendance at Legal Planning Meetings

The meeting should be chaired by the Service Manager for the area, and will usually involve the following:

  • The child's current social worker;
  • Any social work assistant who has been involved with the family;
  • The new proposed team manager and/or social worker where the case is due to transfer; and
  • A local authority legal adviser.

In certain circumstances, it may be appropriate for the beginning of the meeting to include any other professional from other agencies or services that have relevant involvement with the family and whose view would assist in making decisions about the child's legal status; who has first-hand evidence and may be a potential witness, and/or who may be involved in the provision of services integral to the order being sought. The legal planning aspect of the meeting will proceed once the additional professionals have left.

Where the child has been in foster care, the views of the foster carer should be sought by the child's social worker, and taken into consideration in the legal planning meeting. This may include information on the child's progress in their placement and on the impact of contact with their family.


5. Timing and Duration of Legal Planning Meetings

The timing of a Legal Planning Meeting is likely to be determined by the urgency of court proceedings and the need to allow sufficient time for necessary preparation.


6. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings

The meeting should follow the agenda. Where possible, a minute taker should be provided. A Memo following the Legal Planning Meeting will be prepared by the local authority lawyer present at each meeting. They will be sent to the chair of the meeting and should be circulated to all attendees. These are legally privileged and should not be made available to parents or other parties in any potential proceedings without an Order from the Court.


7. Review/Subsequent Legal Planning Meetings

The meeting should consider whether further Legal Planning Meetings are necessary and if so, when. It may be that new information emerges which requires a change of plan for the child. In this even, the Legal Planning Meeting must be reconvened in order to consider the implications for the legal plan.

In certain complex cases, it may be appropriate for a Legal Panning Meeting to be convened during the course of proceedings prior to the filing of final evidence.


Appendix 1: Legal Planning Meeting - Action to Be Taken

Click here to view Appendix 1: Legal Planning Meeting - Action to Be Taken Flowchart.

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