What happens before the LA decide to apply for a care order?
The aim is to try and intervene and help families before getting to the stage of making an application to the court.
If the family isn’t responding to your offers, you should work in collaboration with them to assess their needs and identify what assistance they may need. Family group conferences are advised as a good technique to involve more of the family and explore what help they may provide. If things aren’t improving, a “legal planning meeting” should be convened.
What if the situation is urgent?
The Pre-Proceedings stage is only necessary if the problem does not qualify for an Emergency Protection Order. If a situation has been labelled as serious, the LA must request an Emergency Protection Order from the court.
What if the child hasn’t yet been born?
If the baby has not yet been born, no care proceedings can begin. If the LA are concerned about someone pregnant and wish to start care procedures after the birth, the pre-proceedings stage serves as a helpful framework for attempting to establish support and assistance in place to keep the family together. It also allows parents to obtain legal counsel
Letter before proceedings
If the LA feels that a child’s removal is not necessary, they will issue a “letter before proceedings” to the parents. If the LA are concerned that the parents may not comprehend the worries, they must consider what services are available to them, such as an advocate.
Following is a sample correspondence:
- Give a quick rundown of the problem that the LA is concerned about and state it in simple terms.
- a list of everything that has been given in the past;
- This section will explain in detail the specifics of how to prepare for this procedure and what you as a parent should expect.
- Useful tips on how to find legal help and representation.
Parents must engage with the process and get some legal advice.
When parents are not involved, the process will simply go on without them and may result in a legal battle. This will make it much more difficult for the court to believe that the parents don’t understand the issues or don’t take them seriously because they would be afraid of appearing to ignore their child’s situation.
The Pre-Proceedings Meeting
The letter will also request that the parents and anybody else who has parental responsibility for the youngster attend a meeting to discuss any current worries about their child’s well-being.
The goal of the meeting is to reach an agreement on a new child care plan, which should be written down and which will describe exactly what must be accomplished to avoid going to court. Everyone must understand precisely what is required of them and the timelines for executing the strategy.
If things are not improving in six weeks, the court should be involved. This strategy must be re-examined within six weeks to determine whether conditions have improved or if the court is now required to get involved.
A pre-proceedings letter informs parents that they are entitled to free legal assistance and that a solicitor will attend meetings with the LA. The LA should include a list of all specialist family law solicitors in the region with the pre-proceedings letter, but parents are allowed to pick whoever they choose.
Letter of issue
If the LA feel that progress isn’t being made or isn’t happening fast enough to meet the child’s demands, they must submit a request to the court. They will then send the parents a letter informing them that they will be doing this and advising them to obtain immediate legal counsel.
It’s also critical that parents don’t put off seeing their attorneys; without instructions, the attorneys can’t proceed.
Even if a parent does not want to hire a lawyer, you must attend meetings and hearings for decisions to be made without your input.
How effective is the pre-proceedings process?
There has been researching at the University of Bristol and the University of East Anglia in 2013 on how this works and how it affects case diversion.
The following were some of the major takeaways from the study:
- The technique by which prior evidence is utilized varies considerably among local governments. Almost every instance where there was time to utilize the pre-proceedings procedure, around half of all care proceedings were started, according to the research.
- In a third of pre-proceedings cases, the foetus was subjected to preliminary testing. Assessments, services, and/or alternative care were discussed at meetings.
- Social workers and their bosses regarded the procedure as a kinder approach to work with families at risk of care litigation, and they backed its use.
- Parents felt more confident in their legal representation by having the attorney at the pre-proceedings meeting; for some, it aided them in engaging with children’s services and improving care.
- The pre-proceedings procedure did help to avoid court. According to the file sample, about a quarter of cases did not proceed into care proceedings; one-third of these children were safeguarded by family or foster care, and two-thirds by improvements in-home care.
- Pre-proceedings procedures did not result in shorter litigation periods where they were utilized. It appears that the judiciary paid little attention to this study.
- The pre-proceedings procedure put children in care through additional stress. Attempts to utilize the procedure and, often, a lack of recognition that family care was not improving, caused court applications to be delayed.
If you’re looking for legal advice, why not contact Wilson Brown who are experts in child protection law.