What should children’s services do before starting care proceedings?
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Children’s services should not issue care proceedings without trying to first work with a family to keep their child safe. And if children’s services do decide to apply to start care proceedings, they will have to show the Family Court what has already been done to support the parents to resolve their concerns.
In an emergency situation, children’s services can go straight to the Family Court to seek urgent orders to protect the child. But this should not be the norm. It should only happen where it is really necessary. See our Urgent protection of children section for more information.
Children’s services should normally take the following steps before issuing an application with the court:
Pre-proceedings is the period of time and process where children’s services consider whether to start care proceedings. To start a pre-proceedings process children’s services must send a child’s parents a letter before proceedings to start the process.
The letter should also be sent to anyone else who has parental responsibility for the child. The letter should include:
- Information about what children’s services are worried about
- Changes they would like the parent or carer to make
- Information about any assessments or courses children’s services think parents should be involved in
- Any support children’s services can put in place
- Invite the parent or carer to a pre-proceedings meeting to discuss those concerns.
It is important for parents to attend the meeting and find a solicitor specialising in children’s law to go with them.
Explore the wider family and friends network
The general legal duties on children’s services mean that they should aim to keep children safe, well cared for and, at home unless this would place them at risk (see section 17 Children Act 1989).
This means that during pre-proceedings children’s services should:
- Look at who in the family and friends’ network can offer support to the child and parents
- And work with the parents and family to explore this
- Look at who may be able to take on the care of the child if they cannot remain safely at home
- Arrange for potential carers to be assessed.
A good way to do all this is with a family group conference. This is a family-led decision-making meeting. It brings together the whole family, and others who are important to the child. Together, at the family group conference, they make a plan for the child. Parents don’t have to wait for children’s services to suggest this. They can ask for a family group conference to take place. See our Family group conference: advice for families page for more information.
During pre-proceedings, children’s services may assess things have improved and the child is safe. In that situation they should explain in writing that there is no need for care proceedings. Ongoing support may be provided. If they remain worried the child is not safe at home, children’s services will hold a legal planning meeting to then decide whether to start care proceedings.
Hold a legal planning meeting
This is a meeting held between the social work team and their legal department. They discuss whether children’s services should apply to start care proceedings. The social workers and lawyers will need to decide what action they should take in the child’s best interests. To do this they should look at all the information available about the child’s situation.
The options that are usually discussed at a legal planning meeting include:
- For the pre-proceedings process to continue with the parents having more time to make any changes. This should include thinking about what further support the child or family may need
- Look further at whether there is someone else within the family and friends network who could care for the child. This could be on a short-term basis so the parents can have some time, for example, to engage with help they may need. Or may be part of looking at a longer-term alternative plan for the child
- Whether to start care proceedings straight away.
Letter of issue
If children’s services decide to start care proceedings they must promptly send the parents a letter of issue. This tells the parents what is happening. It should advise the parents to seek legal advice. And explain what will happen next.
Parents and those with parental responsibility for the child subject to care proceedings will not have to pay solicitor’s fees if they show this letter of issue to a solicitor.
See our Pre proceedings page for more detailed information and advice about the pre-proceedings process.