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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 should a letter before proceedings include?

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.

Take a look at this diagram to see what the pre-proceedings letter should include:

Click on the dropdowns underneath for more detailed information:

1. Information about getting legal advice

Once a parent or person with parental responsibility receives a pre-proceedings letter, they are entitled to legal aid. It does not matter if they have a hard copy of the letter, or receive it via email.

They can take the letter to a specialist children law solicitor who will grant them legal aid. The solicitor will then be able to attend the pre-proceedings meeting with them. Most letters will include information about local specialist children law solicitors. Parents can choose their solicitor from this list. Or they are entitled to instruct a solicitor they find themselves.

2. Concerns children’s services have and changes they would like parents or carers to make

The letter should set out why children’s services are worried. It may include a timeline of children’s services previous involvement with the child and family.  At the pre-proceedings meeting, the social worker should outline the concerns. But it is important that the letter provides some detail about their concerns in advance. If the letter is not clear parents, carers or their solicitor may want to write to children’s services before the meeting to ask for more information. This will help prepare for the meeting.

3. Plans for a pre-proceedings meeting

The letter before proceedings should invite parents to a pre-proceedings meeting. The letter should be sent in good time. This is important if parents are to have enough notice of the date, time and place of the meeting. They should be given enough time so that they can find a solicitor, get advice and prepare.

The purpose of the pre-proceedings meeting is to agree a plan.

The plan should address the concerns children’s services have. And aim to avoid the need to start care proceedings.

See the Pre-proceedings meeting section for more information and advice.

4. Details of any proposed assessments and support

During the pre-proceedings process, parents may be asked to have a parenting assessment. This will look at how they care (or would care) for their child. It will look into how they manage any difficulties at home. Some parents may be asked to have a psychological assessment. Or to take part in a domestic abuse course.

Whatever is suggested it is important this is set out clearly before the meeting.

Children’s services should confirm:

  • Who they suggest should do the assessment
  • What the assessment will involve
  • When it can start and how long it will take
  • What questions the person doing the assessment will be asked to answer

Parents will then be able to discuss this with their solicitor

Children’s services should state what extra help or support they plan to put in place for the family. And what the aim of this help is.

5. Information about involving wider family and friends

The letter may ask if there is anyone in the child’s family and friends’ network who can provide support. Having some extra help from wider family and friends can be important. And may help to address some of the concerns children’s services have.

The letter may ask if anyone in the wider family and friends’ network could care for the child. This might be in the short term whilst assessment or other work is done. Or it could be in the longer term if the child can’t remain safely in their parents (or carers) care.

For more information about the best way of involving family and friends see How are wider family and friends involved in the pre-proceedings process?

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