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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number. Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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What happens at a pre-proceedings meeting?

At the beginning of the meeting, the social worker should talk through the concerns children’s services have.

There will then be time for the parents, with the support of their solicitor, to respond. And for a plan to be drawn up with the social worker.

This will include:

  • Discussing and responding to the concerns
  • Explaining what support the family would find helpful from children’s services or other agencies
  • Describing any extra help they feel the child might need
  • Asking children’s services to make a referral for a family group conference. This will help explore what help and support wider family and friends can provide

Click on the dropdowns below for more information about assessments and written agreements.:


Children’s services will outline any assessments or work that they would like the parents to do.

They should be clear about:

  • Who they would like to do any assessments
  • The time frame for assessments and any work should be set.

The solicitors may discuss sending a letter of instruction. The letter is a set of instructions for a person who is being asked to carry out an assessment.  This could be a social worker doing a parenting assessment. It could be a letter for a psychiatrist is a parent’s mental health needs assessing.

A letter of instruction explains:

  • Background information including the things that children’s services are worried about
  • Why an assessment is needed
  • What questions the person doing the assessment is being asked to answer
  • When the assessment needs to be carried out.

Written agreements

Children’s services may ask the parents to sign up to a written agreement. This should set out the things the parents and children’s services have said they will or will not do.  What is included will depend on the situation and the precise concerns.

Examples of what written agreements may include are that:

  • The parents agree not drink alcohol when their child is in their care
  • The parents agree to take part in a parenting assessment
  • Children’s services will put in place a particular kind of help or support by a certain date. Such as a family support worker.

Children’s services should always explain what will happen if the agreement is not kept to.  If the parent does not keep to certain parts of the agreement, it may mean that children’s services look to start care proceedings. If a parent cannot keep to a certain point in the agreement, then they should discuss this with their solicitor.

It is helpful if children’s services give share a copy of the written agreement with parents before the pre-proceedings meeting.

If a written agreement is only shared in the meeting, parents should have time to read and discuss it with their solicitor. There should be a break in the meeting so this can happen.

There may be things that need to be added or changed in the agreement.  If more time is needed then sometimes the agreement can be signed later on after the meeting.  A parent should not sign a written agreement without reading it carefully, and taking legal advice on it.

The end of the meeting

At the end of the meeting, children’s services should agree a date for a review meeting.

This may be about six to eight weeks later. But the date may also depend on how long assessments or other work will take.

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