Legal Planning Meetings

1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings

The Legal Planning Meeting is an essential part of the process for dealing with public law children's cases under the Public Law Outline. Its purpose is to consider all the information available and decide if the legal threshold is met to commence pre-proceedings or to issue immediate care proceedings.

A Legal Planning Meeting should be held to discuss the way forward for a particular child/young person and family, where an application for a legal order may be required or where consideration is being given to entering into the Public Law Outline (PLO) pre -proceedings process. This can include:

  • 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/young person 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/young person, or the existing court order is not providing adequate protection for the child/young person;
  • Where it is thought that a legal order may be required in order to assist in the permanence planning for children/young people, whether that is a return to the family or to achieve permanence elsewhere.

Public Law Working Group Best Practice Guidance: Support for and Work With Families Prior to Court Proceedings sets out some (non-exhaustive) examples of some key points at which a family should be considered for presenting at legal planning meeting:

  • Where a pre-birth conference decides a child/young person needs the support of a child protection plan ahead of birth to keep them safe and there is no active involvement from the extended family;
  • Where a child/young person has a child protection plan and the social work team have not been able to find a way to effectively engage parents with the process, and support services, have been persistently inconsistent and ineffective, limiting progress and putting the child/young person at risk of significant harm;
  • Where the child/young person has a child protection plan and there has been no progress and/or the impact of the identified concerns has worsened at the point of the second review conference. Every care should be taken to recognise change takes time, particularly where families are experiencing longstanding challenges;
  • Families that have previously been through the pre-proceeding process and similar concerns re-occur within a 12-month period;
  • Families where the mother or father have had child(ren) removed from their care in the past and there is concern that any presently identified risks cannot be managed with the children/young people remaining in the parents' care;
  • Families where the risks and concerns are sufficiently significant that the matter is highly likely to proceed to court, but allowing time for the PLO pre-proceedings.

At the meeting, a decision should be made in principle about whether the legal threshold for applying for a care order has 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/young person 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/young person.

2. Who can Convene Legal Planning Meetings

A Head of Service should decide if it is appropriate to convene a Legal Planning meeting for a family, with a view to instigating pre-proceedings. Once the Legal Planning Meeting has been held, the social work team will then present the outcome (if PLO/issue care proceedings) to the East and West Practice and Resources Panel.

In reaching that decision, the following points should be considered:

  • What is the lived experience of the child(ren)/young people and how is it impacting on their wellbeing?
  • Is the legal threshold met to commence pre-proceedings or to issue immediate care proceedings?
  • How long has social care been involved with the family? What are the concerns, and the history of such concerns, of the local authority and/or other agencies? Has a Family Group Conference or Family Network Meeting been held? What resources and support from the family has been identified and how is it helping the family?
  • Have any changes been made within the family to mitigate the risk factors?
  • What support services have been offered to the family? Were these the right services and were they offered in a timely and consistent way? Were the family provided with help to access the services and/or overcome barriers to accessing the services?
  • How has the family engaged with these services and what is the impact on the children/young person's wellbeing / outcome of this engagement?
  • What needs to change/happen and what is the plan for the family moving forward?
  • How have social and cultural differences and inequalities been addressed? Have interpreters been consistently used whilst working with the family?

Following consideration of the above points, the Head of Service will then identify, through discussion with the Service Manager, other team colleagues as necessary and through the East and West Practice and Resources Panel, whether further work is required with the family or if a legal planning meeting is needed. At this point, the Service Manager should make a written record (case note on LCS), clearly setting out the reasons for their decision. This will inform the decisions that follow so clear and unambiguous reasoning is important.

3. Considerations

A Legal Planning Meeting is an opportunity to discuss a child/young person and their family fully, and to consult with colleagues to ensure that plans and intervention for children/young people at risk of significant harm have active case management and that appropriate legal action is taken when required to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child/young person.

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:

  • The names of the child(ren)/young people, their parents and any other significant family members or friends who may be able to offer support, in either the short or longer term, (the birth certificate to check father's parental responsibility would be required but not for an urgent legal planning meeting);
  • The key needs of the child(ren)/young people and details of any direct work with them to date;
  • Any relevant child and family assessments completed within the past six months;
  • Genogram (three generational);
  • Chronologies and Historical Information;
  • The most recent child protection conference plan;
  • The most recent child in care review plan;
  • Details of any previous expert assessments (if there have been previous Care Proceedings);
  • An outline of the proposed plan for working with the family.

The Chair's role is to consider all the information and advice available and decide the most effective course of action to promote the safety and wellbeing of the child(ren)/young people.

In coming to a decision, all members of the LPM will identify:

  • The specific issues, risks and mitigating factors of relevance at this time, which will include known historical concerns, such as the areas of parenting, the child/young person's lived experience and support from the wider family which is positive and a protective factor for the child/young person, the capacity of the parent to make and sustain the required changes to their parenting and care of their child/young person, the mental capacity of each parent and any special considerations where it is known or suspected that a parent may lack mental capacity;
  • Continuing support or any additional direct work to be undertaken with the child(ren)/young people during this period;
  • Specify further support the local authority could offer the family to mitigate identified risks;
  • How the local authority will continue to assess the risks and/or track positive changes in this period;
  • Any expert assessments that are required – including who is being assessed, for what purpose, who will undertake this assessment plus the likely duration;
  • Family members who are to be consulted to offer either support or be assessed as alternative carers. The early sharing of necessary information with extended family and the use of a FGC (or similar model developed and used locally) is essential, unless there is good reason why this is impracticable;
  • Make a record that the duration of pre-proceedings process will commence from the date of the first PLO meeting at which the plan will be discussed with the parent(s); and agree the frequency of review meetings;
  • When the pre-proceedings letter will be sent in order to communicate with the family and agree when the pre-proceedings meeting will take place;
  • If appropriate, timetable with the family a return date for LPM at the conclusion of the intervention to consider the assessments and interventions completed in pre-proceedings and make subsequent decisions.

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

  • The reasons for the concerns and the evidential basis for establishing Significant Harm and the legal threshold for applying for an Order;
  • Why Care Proceedings are necessary - what is their aim, objective and purpose?
  • The steps already taken to clarify the issues of concern - i.e. Assessment, as well as other medical and other expert involvement;
  • Whether the requirements of the Pre-Proceedings Checklist set out in the Public Law Outline have been met, including a written notification to the parents about the areas of concern and their right to seek legal advice. See Court Proceedings Procedure and the Public Law Outline Procedure;
  • When will the Assessment and other supporting documentation be available, if not already?

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 as soon as possible to ensure sufficient time for a clear plan to be made, no later than 4 weeks before the mother's expected delivery date and disclosed to the parent(s) (and their solicitor where relevant);
  • At least 4 weeks before the baby is born, a clear plan should be provided by the social work team about what will happen once the baby is born , for example, support for parents to care for the baby or plan to seek removal;
  • All relevant documentation should be then sent to the Local Authority Legal Adviser to issue proceedings.
    (See Court Proceedings Procedure and the Public Law Outline Procedure);
  • The action/decisions already taken and where the decisions were made e.g. Strategy Discussion/Meeting, Child Protection Conference, Core Group meeting;
  • The proposed Care Plan for the child/young person, 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/young person on an interim or permanent basis, if so whether the required checks have been made, the proposals for contact;
  • How the proposed Care Plan is to be achieved, including where appropriate arranging a date for the case to be presented to the Adoption Panel;
  • 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? or another local authority?
  • When will the social worker's Statement of Evidence be ready?

If Care Proceedings are recommended, the Court Proceedings Procedure and the Public Law Outline Procedure should be followed.

Any potential issues/documentation regarding parental capacity to litigate should be flagged up at the meeting.

4. Attendance at Legal Planning Meetings

Attendance should include:

  • Chair: Service Manager
  • Local authority solicitor;
  • Team manager;
  • Social worker;
  • Representatives from other services, such as the placement team, SGO, adoption, parenting assessment team, etc.
  • A minute taker.

Where the child/young person has been in foster care, the views of the foster carer and the IRO for any child/young person in care should be sought by the child/young person's social worker, and taken into consideration in the Legal Planning Meeting. This may include information on the child/young person'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 the child/young person’s situation and imminency of significant harm or risk and the need to allow sufficient time for necessary preparation.

6. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings

The decision and reasoning will be minuted on the legal planning meeting form. It is essential that these minutes are accurate, concise and clear.

Minutes/notes of Legal /Planning Meetings 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 the permission of the Director.

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/young person. In this event, the Legal Planning Meeting must be reconvened in order to consider the implications for the legal plan.