Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual
Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual

1.4.5 Legal Planning Meetings

AMENDMENT

In May 2017, this chapter was revised to reflect good practice steps in pre-birth situations (as set out in a recent High Court Judgement). Minor revisions were also make throughout the chapter to better reflect Nottingham City practice.


Contents

  1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings
  2. Who can Convene Legal Planning Meetings
  3. Attendance at Legal Planning Meetings
  4. Timing and Duration of Legal Planning Meetings
  5. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings
  6. Outcomes of Legal Planning Meetings
  7. Review/Subsequent Legal Planning Meetings


1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings

When it is clear that the protection or welfare of a child cannot be achieved by agreement with the parents and the security of a legal order may be necessary to ensure the viability of a plan for a child or the existing court order is not providing adequate protection for the child or is no longer required, a Legal Planning Meeting should be convened. Legal planning follows the Public Law Outline framework.

A Legal Planning Meeting may also be convened in circumstances where it is thought that a legal order may be required in order to assist in the permanence planning for children, whether that is a return to the family or to achieve permanence elsewhere.

A Legal Planning Meeting should be convened:

  • When there is an assessment by the Team Manager that a legal order may be necessary;
  • For children who have been subject to child protection plans for over 18 months.

Legal Planning Meetings are an essential part of the process for dealing with public law children’s cases under the Public Law Outline. Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division in ‘The Process of Reform: the revised PLO and the Local Authority’, states that a properly organised legal planning meeting is invaluable and can be the key to achieving timely outcomes to Care Proceedings. He also recommends that local authority lawyers be involved in advising and assisting their social work clients, at an early stage.

A Legal Planning Meeting will be chaired by the Service Manager, and involve the Team Leader from the Children & Adults Legal Team.

Before the LPM the Social Worker and Team Manager should have discussed the case in supervision and be able to identify at the LPM:

  • The significant harm either present or future;
  • The facts in the case that support the existence of the alleged harm;
  • Details of the care plan.

The LPM is an opportunity to discuss a case fully, having consulted with colleagues to ensure that appropriate legal action is taken when required to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child. However, a case should not be brought to LPM simply because it is ‘stuck’ or professionals in other agencies are expressing concerns about a child/ren saying that ‘something must be done.’ These are issues that would be dealt with in supervision or other forums.

The role of the local authority legal adviser is to provide legal advice and guidance on whether a case brought to LPM crosses the threshold criteria, as referred to in Section 31(2) Children Act 1989, the proposed care plan and also around other general legal issues to do with the cases e.g. quality of evidence.

In order to enable a full discussion to take place, the following must be made available to the Service Manager and legal adviser 2 days in advance of the LPM:

  • Relevant assessment/s (Single Assessment);
  • Social work evidence template will be completed for those cases where the team manager and social worker are requesting issuing proceedings without a period of PLO The SWET document incorporates both the genogram and Chronology;
  • A Care Plan which gives a clear indication of what options have been considered and which plan is recommended in terms of securing a safe permanence plan for the child. This should include arrangements for contact;
  • A LPM front sheet.

The issues to be considered at the meeting will include the following:

  • The reasons for the concerns and the evidential basis for establishing Significant Harm and the Threshold Criteria;
  • Why Care Proceedings are necessary - what is their aim, objective and purpose?
  • The steps already taken to clarify the issues of concern - i.e. Single Assessment, as well as other medical and other expert involvement;
  • Whether the requirements of the Pre-Proceedings Checklist set out in the Public Law Outline have been met, including a written notification to the parents about the areas of concern and their right to seek legal advice. See Public Law Outline Procedure;
  • When will the Single Assessment and other supporting documentation be available, if not already?

    Note that with pre-birth situations a recent High Court judgment has set out good practice steps to include:

    • A risk assessment of the parent(s) should be undertaken immediately the social workers are made aware of the mother’s pregnancy and should be completed 4 weeks before the mother’s expected delivery date and disclosed to the parent(s) (and their solicitor where relevant);
    • All relevant documentation should be then sent to the Local Authority Legal Adviser to issue proceedings.

(see Part 1.4 of this manual, Court Proceedings).

  • The action/decisions already taken and where the decisions were made e.g. Strategy Discussion/Meeting, Child Protection Conference, Core Group meeting;
  • The proposed Care Plan for the child, including the proposed placement and any cultural, language and ethnic issues, consultation with parents and the wider family, whether any family members are available to care for the child on an interim or permanent basis, if so whether the required checks have been made, the proposals for contact;
  • How the proposed Care Plan is to be achieved;
  • Whether it may be appropriate to instruct any further expert assessment before the commencement of court proceedings (these should only consider those which can be resourced internally i.e. CAMHS undertaking an assessment on a child- if so, what are the proposed remit of the instructions and the areas to be addressed, who should the assessment be done by and what are the likely timescales?
  • Have there been previous Court proceedings in relation to the family? If so, what steps are required to obtain the papers in relation to the case from the Court? or another local authority?
  • When will the social worker's Statement of Evidence and other supporting court documentation be ready?

If Care Proceedings are recommended, the Court Proceedings Procedure should be followed.

Note: where children are already Section 20 Accommodated there should be no delay in issuing proceedings where this is required, (see The Accommodation and De Accommodation of Children and Young People Procedure).


2. Who can Convene Legal Planning Meetings

The decision to convene a Legal Planning Meeting will be made by the social worker's line manager usually following discussion with the allocated Social Worker in supervision. The decision can also follow a recommendation from a Child Protection Conference, as a result of a Looked After Review.


3. Attendance at Legal Planning Meetings

The following can be invited to attend a Legal Planning Meeting: the child's social worker; the social worker's line manager; any other Local Authority professional who may be involved in the provision of services integral to the order being sought. For example, Family Support Worker.


4. Timing and Duration of Legal Planning Meetings

LPM's take place twice a month with North and South Service Managers and once a month with the Service Manager for the Disabled Children’s Teams. Each case is booked in for a time slot of 45 minutes and there is availability for up to 5 cases to be heard per session.


5. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings

Notes of Legal Planning Meetings should be circulated to all attendees. These are legally privileged and should not be made available to parents or other parties in any potential proceedings without the permission of the Service Manager and legal adviser. Social Workers should ensure that these notes together with all legal advice are not disclosed to third parties who may have a right to view the social care files. For example, the Children’s Guardian.


6. Outcomes of Legal Planning Meetings

One of the following outcomes will be made at the LPM:

  1. The threshold criteria is not met and therefore proceedings will not be issued. An action plan will be agreed on further assessment/evidence required with a recommendation to book the case in for a further LPM once the action plan has been achieved and the Social Worker and Team Manager remain of the view that the case meets the threshold criteria; or
  2. The threshold criteria is crossed, but there is time to work with the family in order to avoid care proceedings and the welfare of the child/ren allows this, then the case will follow the pre-proceedings route. A Letter before Proceedings will be sent to the family from the Team Manger inviting the family to a Family Meeting to explore further support and action by the family. Legal advisers can be present; or
  3. The threshold criteria is crossed, but there are immediate protection or immediate issues that require the case to bypass pre-proceedings family meeting and issue care proceedings.


7. Review/Subsequent Legal Planning Meetings

The meeting should consider whether further Legal Planning Meetings are necessary and if so, when.

End