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Pre-proceedings

Pre-proceedings is both a period of time and formal process. It is where children’s services consider whether they need to apply to the Family Court to start care proceedings.

What the law says about pre-proceedings

Where is the law about pre-proceedings found?

The law and guidance about pre-proceedings is found in two main places:

What is the aim of the pre-proceedings process?

The pre-proceedings process aims to:

  • Clearly set out for parents what concerns children’s services have
  • Make clear what changes children’s services would like the parents to make
  • Identify and put in place extra help and services needed to support the family
  • Assess and review the needs of the child and family
  • Explore what help and support wider family and friends can provide
  • Work in partnership with families to avoid the need for care proceedings to be started.

The pre-proceedings process is sometimes described as a last chance for parents to make changes needed.

How the pre-proceedings process begins and letters before proceedings

A letter before proceedings is the letter that children’s services must send to a parent to start a pre-proceedings process. It should also be sent to anyone else who has parental responsibility for the child.

The FAQs below explain what should be in a letter before proceeding and what to do if receiving one:

Pre-proceedings meetings

The aim of a pre-proceedings meeting is to agree a plan. The plan should aim to address the concerns children’s services have. And it should aim to avoid the need to start care proceedings.

The FAQs below explain more:

Reviewing progress during pre-proceedings

These three FAQs explain what may happen after a pre-proceedings meeting:

What happens after a pre-proceedings meeting?

The parents’ solicitor will have taken a note of what was said during the meeting. They might spend some time making any final changes to the written agreement and checking that the parent fully understands what is in it.

The solicitor should then write to the parents after the meeting and:

  • Remind the parent of what happened at the meeting
  • Give the parent advice for the next stage of the pre-proceedings process
  • Include a copy of any written agreement.
  • Include a copy of the letter of instruction to any expert who is doing an assessment as part of the pre-proceedings work.

Involving wider family and friends

If it has been agreed that children’s services will refer the family for a family group conference, then this should be done. And arrangements should be made for the family group conference to take place.

If the family plan made during the family group conference significantly changes any plans discussed during the pre-proceedings meeting, it is important that parents talk to their solicitor about this. It may be that a further pre-proceedings meeting is held sooner than planned.

It is important that parents attend any appointments for assessments that are to take place.  If they cannot, they should tell their solicitor and the social worker.

The pre-proceedings process is a phase of work aimed at avoiding care proceedings. It is sometimes described as a ‘last chance’ for parents to make the changes they need to, otherwise children’s services may need to go to court to start care proceedings. It is therefore very important that parents work with the social worker and keep the appointments they have agreed to. If they have concerns, they should raise these with their solicitor.

How is progress reviewed during the pre-proceedings process?

A date for a review meeting should be agreed at the end of the first pre-proceedings meeting. The parents’ solicitors will attend these meetings as well.

Once assessment reports have been received, the parents should arrange to see their solicitor to go through the report. Parents may find it helpful to note down what they think about what is in the report.  They can then take these notes with them when they meet their solicitor.

The parents should update their solicitor on how helpful they have found any of the support that has been put in place.

What happens next will depend on the situation.  And on the outcome of any assessments. It may be that at the review meeting:

  1. No further action needs to be taken

The parents and family may have been positively assessed. And it is clear they can now safely care for their child. Or extra help and support put in place may have been all that was needed to reduce children’s services’ concerns. The review meeting can be used to discuss whether children’s services want the family to continue to engage them in some way. For example, with the child on a child in need or child protection plan.

  1. Further work needs to be done

The meeting would be used to review the outcome of any assessment and agree next steps. The written agreement might be updated. A date for a further review meeting should be agreed.

  1. Care proceedings are going to be issued

If the outcome of the pre-proceedings process is that the child is still likely to suffer significant harm at home, children’s services may feel that they need to apply to the Family Court to start care proceedings. If this is the case, they should provide the parents with a letter of issue.

What is a letter of issue and when might children’s services send one to a parent or carer?

If children’s services decide to start care proceedings this means

If children’s services have good reason (‘reasonable grounds’) to believe a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer significant harm, they may start care proceedings. This is the process of applying to the Family Court for a care order or supervision order.

When children’s services apply to begin care proceedings what are they asking the Family Court to:

  • Consider a plan to keep a child safe and well cared for immediately
  • Make any court orders needed to help put that initial plan in place
  • Decide who the child should spend time with or be in touch with during the proceedings. This includes who the child should see, how often and other such arrangements. This is often referred to as contact arrangements.
  • Decide what further information is needed to help the court make final decisions about the child’s future care
  • Make final decisions, at the end of the proceedings, about who the child should live with and stay in touch with.

If children’s services have decided to do this, they must send the parents a letter of issue.

This letter will tell the parents that legal proceedings are being issued. That means that children’s services have made an application to the Family Court for a court order.

The letter should encourage the parent to seek legal advice. Parents (and others with parental responsibility) for a child subject to care proceedings will not have to pay for their legal advice. A parent may choose to use the same solicitor who advised them during pre-proceedings. This can be helpful as they have all the background information. Or a parent might choose a different solicitor to represent them. For helpful information about this next stage, see our Care (and related) proceedings page.

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