If the Local Authority has sufficient concerns about a child’s welfare they are under a duty to investigate their concerns. If they are considering issuing court proceedings they will try to work with the parents (or those with parental responsibility) to address these concerns. A pre-proceedings meeting can be held for an unborn baby if there are concerns raised during the pregnancy.
If you have received a Pre Proceedings Letter it is vital you obtain independent legal advice and Ringrose Law has a dedicated team who can assist you.
You may already have been to a Child in Need meeting or Child Protection Conference, or you may have had an assessment by a social worker. If they have highlighted significant concerns they may require you to attend a Pre Proceedings (or Public Law Outline) meeting. This can be viewed as a “last chance” to make the necessary changes or the Local Authority may apply to the court for a Supervision Order or Care Order. A Pre proceedings meeting is not required before the Local Authority issue court proceedings if they have serious concerns. They will send you a letter detailing their concerns as well as advising what they will do to assist you in making the changes required.
Who will be at the meeting?
The social worker will be present with a Local Authority Solicitor. It is likely the Social Worker’s team manager will also be present. Everyone with parental responsibility will be invited to the meeting, and can have legal representation. If a child is of a suitable age they may be invited to attend.
Will I be entitled to Legal Aid?
The short answer to this is Yes. Anyone with parental responsibility will be entitled to “Legal Help” to enable them to obtain legal advice and be represented at the meetings. You will need to sign a form confirming your details and that you are either the biological parent, or you have parental responsibility. There is no means testing.
How will the meeting be conducted?
The majority of pre proceedings meetings are being held remotely, either by phone or video due to the current Covid-19 restrictions. They would usually be held in person at a Family Centre or Local Authority building. You will be entitled to speak to your solicitor privately ahead of the meeting, and if necessary during the meeting to obtain legal advice (whether this is in person or by telephone or video).
What will happen at the meeting?
The Local Authority will discuss the concerns they have. They will advise what they expect you to do to address the concerns. They may ask you to engage in a number of things to do so, depending on the concerns they have raised. This includes:-
- A Parenting Assessment
- To work with an Early Help Worker
- A psychological or psychiatric assessment
- Alcohol or drug testing
- Work around domestic abuse
- Regular visits from the Social Worker (announced and/or unannounced).
Your legal representative is there to assist you to come to an agreement over the next steps and if appropriate agree a safety plan.
How many meetings will there be?
The Local Authority will hold an initial meeting to discuss their concerns and will arrange for a review meeting, usually in 6-8 weeks. It is impossible to say exactly how long the process will go on for, as this will depend on the individual case. You will be required to demonstrate you have made sufficient changes for the children to remain in your care, at which point the case is likely to be stepped down to Child Protection or Child in Need. If you do not make the changes required and the Local Authority consider the children have suffered or are likely to suffer significant harm they will issue court proceedings.