Skip to main content


View LCP Procedures View LCP Procedures

1.2.9 Legal Planning Meetings and Care Proceedings in Southwark: Practice Guidance


This comprehensive guidance explains the purpose and process to follow when presenting a case to Legal Planning Meeting and provides links to supporting guidance prepared and agreed by the South London Care Proceedings Project for social work in public law care proceedings.

Last updated by Southwark Legal Operations Group (SLOG) led by the Assistant Director of Safeguarding.

The chapter contains a number of relevant practice guides and links to supporting documents, (see Section 16, Documents Referred to in this Guidance).

This document should be reviewed and updated once the Children and Families Bill has been passed by parliament and a minimum of 12 monthly thereafter.

This chapter was added to the manual in March 2017.


CAPTION: contents list
  Glossary / Abbreviations
1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meeting
2. Arrangements for LPM
3. Written Case Material to be Sent to LPM Administrator
4. Presenting a Case at Panel
5. The Threshold
6. Neglect Cases
7. The Plan - Pre-Proceedings or Immediate Issue?
8. Decisions Made at LPM
9. Pre-birth Cases
10. Components of the Care Plan
  10.1 Placement
  10.2 Assessment
11. Review of PLO Cases
12. Statement and Care Plan Templates
13. Case Planning Meeting
14. Helping Children Understand Care Proceedings
15. Other Materials
16. Documents Referred to in this Guidance
  Appendix 1: Roles and Responsibilities
  Appendix 2: Communicating with Families when Concerns Arise
  Appendix 3: Best Practice Section 20 Accommodation
  Appendix 4: Best Practice Planning for Pre-birth Cases and when Baby is Born

Glossary / Abbreviations

Click here to view Glossary / Abbreviations Table.

1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meeting

The purpose of a legal planning meeting (LPM) is to consider whether the threshold for initiating Care Proceedings is met and if so whether care proceedings should be issued immediately or if the case should enter the pre proceedings process. Both options are part of the PLO (Public Law Outline) which is set out in Practice Direction 12A of the Family Procedure Rules 2010.

Whether the decision is to initiate proceedings or enter pre- proceedings, the LPM will formulate a plan in that context. This will include consideration as to assessments; whether to seek an interim order or key terms to an agreement for working with the family. (See Appendix 1: Roles and Responsibilities) for more information about roles and responsibilities of social work professionals in this process.

LPMs are chaired by the Head of Service and should be attended by the social worker, advanced practitioner and/or practice group lead, a senior lawyer, case manager and a representative from the permanence service. LPMs might also be attended by relevant a specialist representative, for example mental health, youth offending service or Troubled Families. A Child Protection conference chair or Independent Reviewing Officer may also attend on a particular case. 

The LPM is only for new cases being brought by the social work team responsible for the family. The LPM will not undertake reviews of cases in PLO pre-proceedings process; this will become responsibility of the Practice Group Lead for the respective case.

2. Arrangements for LPM

LPMs are usually held every Tuesday (morning) for cases in all services. This includes Assessment & Intervention (A&I) or Safeguarding & Family Support (S&FS), Southwark Family Focus Team (SFFT) Children with Disabilities Team (CWDT) and the Care Service. On a Tuesday following a Bank holiday, the LPM will start at 2pm. The relevant Head of Service is responsible for reviewing and approving cases that are presented to panel before they are placed on the agenda. Once agreed the agenda is prepared by designated (Practice Co-ordinators) (PCs) in S&FS and is sent out (with papers) on Thursday or Friday of the week before the meeting. Urgent LPMs may be arranged outside of the weekly LPM with the approval of the relevant Head of Service.

3. Written Case Material to be Sent to LPM Administrator

In preparing for the LPM, practitioners need to give careful consideration to the material that they present to ensure that the material is relevant and up to date. It is the responsibility of PGL/Head of Service to approve the reports and information that is placed before panel. This paperwork needs to be submitted to the LPM administrator by the Wednesday preceding the LPM.

 This will include:

  1. Completed legal planning meeting request form, to include views of IRO if child looked after;
  2. Genogram - see Guidance on Genograms;
  3. Chronology: this must be up to date - see Guidance on Chronologies;
  4. Most recent Single Assessment, which should incorporate information from MASH, and include relevant results of CAIT police checks;
  5. Most recent report to Child Protection Conference and record, if appropriate or any pre-existing report where child or family was subject of a CP Conference, if relevant;
  6. Any pre-existing Care Plan (in last two years) – Child In Need, CP or Child Looked After if appropriate;
  7. Any relevant Family Group Conference minutes, (see Family Group Conferences Procedure);
  8. Any other recent and relevant reports, e.g. school/health/police/psychological or psychiatric reports;
  9. Consent agreement, if the child/ren are accommodated under Section 20.

4. Presenting a Case at Panel

The presenting social worker will be asked by the Chair what brings them to panel and they should set out the facts of the case in summary form, outlining their concerns and explaining what has been done to work with the child and family. Bear in mind that the meeting will be considering, on the basis of the information provided, whether the threshold for initiating proceedings has been met. It will be important to be clear about the following:

5. The Threshold

The ultimate question, which needs to be answered, will be “is the threshold criteria met and are court proceedings necessary at this stage?” The threshold is set out in section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989:

  1. The child concerned is suffering Significant Harm, or is likely to suffer significant harm; and
  2. The harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to:
    1. The care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give him; or
    2. The child is beyond parental control.

Both (a) and (b) have to be met. 

‘Harm’ concerns ill treatment or the impairment of health or development (including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another), (Domestic Violence and Abuse). 

Ill-treatment includes Sexual and Emotional Abuse. In most cases impairment of health or development is likely to provide the evidence of ‘harm’. Health is defined as physical or mental health; development as physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development. (s.31(9)) Where the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the child’s health or development, this will be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child.

In considering whether the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to the caregiver and is unreasonable, there must be a direct connection between the harm to the child and the care given by the parent/carer. 

In a situation of a child being beyond parental control, it is this that has to be demonstrated not who, if anyone is to blame. In these cases, the Local Authority will need to consider how this will be improved with an order and why an order is necessary to achieve this.

Discussion of the case will identify any evidence gaps that need to be met with further work.

6. Neglect Cases

With cases of Neglect, be prepared with specific details of any health and dental appointments which have been missed and what steps have been taken to follow this up; school attendance percentages and late attendances; description of home conditions, (in particular the child’s bedroom); observations by yourself and/or others of the child’s clothing and presentation. Evidence about the impact on the child or likely impact on the child will be a very important consideration. It is good practice to have had a Family Group Conference to see if family and friends support can be galvanised to address the neglect and to identify potential alternative living arrangements within the network. Neglect is often about the accumulation of low level concerns and these need to be recorded. The importance of a good chronology will be critical. (See Guidance on Chronologies).

7. The Plan - Pre-Proceedings or Immediate Issue?

Following discussion about the concerns and evidence, the Chair will seek to summarise the information shared at the meeting and draw a conclusion on Threshold being met. The chair will then ask the senior lawyer for a legal opinion about whether the threshold is met and then ask you for recommendations about the Care Plan. Social Workers and AP/PGLs will have had discussion prior to LPM about what they have in mind in terms of whether they are recommending that the Local Authority issue an application for either an Interim Supervision Order (ISO) based on a plan for the child to remain with parents or Interim Care Order (ICO) based on a plan to remove a child from parents or whether to enter the pre-proceedings stage of the PLO.

Key to recommendations will be the degree of risk, impact on the child, the level of co-operation from parents and the impact of delay to the child. Proceedings can be avoided if parents are able to demonstrate their willingness to reduce risk/safeguard the child by working with relevant services to improve their parenting capacity and/or agreeing to a protective placement for the child, with relatives, subject to S. 20 and Regulation 24 (assessment and approval of relatives by HOS), or with approved foster carers under Section 20. (See Assessment under Regulation 24 Guidance Notes.)

However, care must be taken with Section 20 arrangements to ensure that there is valid consent in place, (see Appendix 3: Best Practice Section 20 Accommodation) and that such arrangements do not last longer than is necessary, bearing in mind that the child is without independent legal advice during this period.  

Before this meeting, the social work team will need to prepare a draft written agreement which will form the basis of discussion at the meeting. This agreement should go out in draft with the letter inviting the parents to meet. 

8. Decisions Made at LPM

The decision of LPM will be either:

  • Immediate issue;
  • Enter PLO pre-proceedings;
  • Threshold not met and not to enter proceedings;
  • Deferred for further information.

The LPM will also agree to components of the Care Plan. It is important that this is agreed by the Legal Planning Meeting because the Chair will be agreeing not just the components of the plan but also the funding. This does not mean you cannot approach the Head of Service for different funding if things change, but obviously work is reduced if it is all agreed in the first place.

8.1 Immediate Issue 

In recommending that the Local Authority issues care proceedings immediately, case law makes it clear that the court expects a Care Plan which is sufficiently firm and particularised for all concerned to have a clear picture of the likely way ahead for the foreseeable future. The court will want to be satisfied that the Local Authority has tried to help parents address problems in a timely way and that family and friends have been considered as placements before removing a child to stranger foster care, if at all possible. A Family Group Conference held before issuing proceedings is good / standard practice because this can inform the legal Care Plan and is more likely to be attractive to the court than removal to stranger foster care. In the event of a decision to issue care proceedings immediately, a letter to this effect will need to be prepared and sent to parents.

Consult the case manager and allocated lawyer before sending letters to parents which advises them to seek legal advice, so that the parent’s solicitor makes contact with Southwark’s legal team and not directly with the social work team.

If this is the decision the LPM will agree dates for the following:

  1. Date for draft immediate issues letter to be sent to case manager and then legal for checking before sending;
  2. Date for draft statement, including care plan to be sent to case legal (time must be included for manager including case manager) to review and quality assure evidence. Care Plan will need to outline placements proposed and contact arrangements;
  3. Experts to be instructed;
  4. Week for the case to be issued in court, (bear in mind that once issued the court will normally list the first hearing between 12 and 18 working days after the date of issue).

8.2 Enter PLO

Formal pre-proceedings will require a letter before proceedings to be prepared by the social work team setting out the issues to parents/carers in straight forward language and urging them to seek legal advice. That letter is sent with a list of local Child Care Panel solicitors. The letter invites parents, and their legal representative, to attend a meeting with the social worker and lawyer from legal. The meeting should be chaired by the AP or PGL. 

If this is the decision the LPM will agree dates for the following:

  1. Date for the letter before proceedings and draft working together agreement to be drafted checked by the case manager and forwarded to the legal team;
  2.  Date for Pre proceedings meeting between LA and parents and legal representative;
  3. Assessments to be undertaken;
  4. Date for midway review to be fixed (within 6 weeks of LPM). 

See also:

8.3 Deferring Decision

This should only be done for exceptional reasons which will be given by Chair.

9. Pre-birth Cases

In pre-birth cases, going into pre-proceedings before the baby is born provides a means for parents to get early legal advice. This can be very helpful in getting fathers on board, underlining the very serious nature of concerns, galvanising family support or potential family placement for assessment prior to birth. If the decision is made to issue proceedings at birth, it is essential that all the evidence is prepared well in advance of the expected date of delivery (EDD) so that the application can be issued within 24 hours of the child being born. In a decision of the High Court in 2016, the judge was highly critical of a Local Authority for failing to issue proceedings promptly after the child was born. All practitioners should familiarise themselves with the failing that were observed in that case (See Appendix 4: Best Practice Planning for Pre-birth Cases and when Baby is Born). The court was critical of a number of aspects of the pre birth planning, including the Local Authority’s reliance on the hospital being able to hold the child as a reason for not initiating proceedings as soon as the child was born.

See also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure, Pre-birth Planning and Proceedings.

10. Components of the Care Plan

10.1 Placement

If issuing care proceedings, you need to be clear whether you are applying for a Care Order or a Supervision Order, the important difference being does the child’s welfare need the Local Authority to share Parental Responsibility in order to remove the child from their parents? Seeking removal of a child from their parent/s means the evidence must be compelling and in the case of newborn babies, this is particularly emotive. One of the most significant factors will be if the mother has lost previous children through care proceedings, especially if within the last 2 years. Also if a suitable placement has been identified and assessed under Reg 24 (Care Planning, Placement and Review Regulations (2010)) within the child/baby’s extended family, which can facilitate good and frequent contact, this is more likely to be successful.

If you are not seeking removal, then the risks identified in evidence will need to be managed at home and this will have to be spelt out and may beg the question of whether this would mean pre-proceedings is more appropriate.

10.1.1 Residential Assessment Unit

A residential placement has some advantages:

  • Time limited – 6 weeks preferable and usual max of 12 weeks;
  • Professional staff to supervise and manage risk including contact/fathers where there is Domestic Violence and Abuse can potentially be assessed on a day attendance basis while mother and child resident;
  • Parenting assessment completed by placement staff who are used to providing written reports for court;
  • No expectation of social work support to placement staff;
  • Good at swiftly identifying parents who definitely cannot provide good enough parenting;
  • Specialized placements for parents with particular needs e.g. learning difficulties, mental health problems, personality disorder, teenage mothers.

The disadvantages of a residential placement:

  • It can only assess quality of parenting in the context of residential provision so that all residential require a period of further assessment in the community which is a more realistic context;
  • It’s not the best setting for young infants and often disruptive to the education of older children;
  • There must be an exit plan and sometimes residential placements disrupt at the point of negative conclusion, forcing emergency action which is then problematic;
  • Other families with other problems are also in residence which can lead to more problems.

It is important the right unit is used for the particular needs of the case and that placement end dates are timed around court hearings with appropriate exit plans negotiated.

10.1.2 Mother / Parent and Baby Foster Care

The main advantage of mother / parent baby foster care:

  • Likely to have a longer duration than a residential;
  • A family setting is better for babies where the foster carer can take over if necessary;
  • A young, or vulnerable, parent can receive more personal support without distraction of other families;
  • It can provide a stable base of good enough care whilst other assessments are conducted.

The main disadvantages of mother / parent baby foster care:

  • This is a placement but it is not an assessment because a foster carer cannot be expected to assess although they may contribute observations and information to an assessment via written daily logs;
  • Risks need to be manageable within a family setting. It would be unreasonable to expect a foster carer to manage the risks associated with on-going substance misuse, mental ill health or domestic violence;
  • Foster carers are not likely to be in-house, (approved by Southwark Fostering Panel with LB Southwark supervising social workers), and therefore placements will require regular liaison and support with the P & V agency supervising social worker which inevitably means more social work time/collaboration;
  • May mask deficits of parenting capacity;
  • There may be other/competing children or young people in the placement.

It is very important that there is a clear written agreement about expectations and appropriate recording of daily logs.

See also:

10.1.3 Foster Placements for Children

If you are seeking removal and you do not have a kinship option under Reg 24, you will need to identify a foster placement first by referral to Southwark in-house fostering duty. Consider the need for continuity of nursery or education and the contact, which the foster carer will need to support. You will need to provide some details for the initial Care Plan, including whether the children will be placed in foster care together or apart. 

10.1.4 Regulation 24 Emergency Placements with Family and Friends (S.20 or ICO)

Where someone has been identified and assessed within the family network, the HOS for Permanence approves this following completion and this triggers funding and this does not have to be within LPM process. See documents below:

10.2 Assessment

See the guidance below and remember the court will only agree these if necessary. The court is likely to consider that the allocated social worker should be able to undertake parenting assessments, risk assessments and assessments of family and friends for potential Special Guardianship Order (SGO).

You may wish to consider the following:

  • Cognitive and emotional functioning of mother and/or father;
  • Psychiatric assessment of mother and/or father (you may want a psychiatrist who specialises in personality disorder or forensics or substance misuse);
  • Specialist parenting assessment where one or both parents have a learning disability;
  • Child & adolescent psychiatrist;
  • Multi- disciplinary assessment;
  • Family Drug and Alcohol Court;
  • Independent Social work assessment;
  • DNA testing for paternity;
  • Hair strand testing for particular drugs and/or alcohol misuse;
  • Southwark Parenting Assessment.

10.2.1 Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)

Where parenting is affected by drug & alcohol misuse, with approval of LPM, and with parents’ agreement at a meeting with solicitors, they can be approved for referral to FDAC who will take on both the assessment and intervention required. FDAC do not provide placements although they will make a recommendation about separation as part of their initial assessment. They can work pre-birth and recommend separation or not at birth. 

10.2.2 Southwark's Parenting Assessment

The Southwark Parenting Assessment Framework has been designed to assist practitioners when assessing a parent’s ability to meet the needs of a child; to consider the issues known to potentially impact on parenting capacity; and to consider relevant factors when assessing parental capacity to change within a timescale consistent with the child`s developmental needs. The aim is to enable practitioners to feel confident and competent when undertaking parenting assessments. The framework aims to promote the use of a systematic, evidence-based and analytical approach to facilitate the identification of risks, strengths and protective factors to enable practitioners to come to a structured professional judgment about whether a parent has the capacity to meet the needs of a child. 

The Parenting Assessment Framework is suitable for use during pre-proceedings or care proceedings, where the child is at home or placed away from home. A robust and rigorous parenting assessment will contribute to the local authority evidence where a decision is made that it is necessary to issue care proceedings to ensure that a child is safeguarded.

See also, Southwark Parenting Assessment Template and Guidance.

10.2.3 Assessing Family and Friends

Unless there is a clear-cut contender for SGO assessment at the LPM, and even if there is, it is likely that one or more contenders will emerge for assessment as the seriousness of the situation becomes a reality with any meeting involving lawyers and/or going to court. Potentially the allocated social worker can undertake Regulation 24 assessments to serve the purpose of the viability issue, but if there are workload issues or the allocated worker is focusing on the delivery of a parenting assessment – mother, father, individually and together, then you may need to consider seeking agreement for an Independent Social Worker (ISW) to undertake assessment/s of family and friends. It can be helpful if one ISW does all the ‘contenders’ as they will have read the material and can give a good overview of the entire network. ISW involvement is most likely if the social work capacity in the team is limited or there is a need for specialist knowledge/skills (e.g.“PAMS” for parents with learning difficulties or the need for work to be done in another language).

10.2.4 Early Permanence / Adoption

Under the Children & Families Act 2014, local authorities should now consider whether “fostering for adoption” is a suitable option for children coming into care. In the past this has been known as concurrent planning for permanence. It has been very rare because in the past it has involved people who wish to adopt, becoming foster carers and taking foster placements whereby if the child could not return home or go to family members they would then go on to adopt.

These situations are likely to be rare however, in view of the amount of pre-birth work undertaken in Southwark and the number of birth mothers who have lost children to adoption through previous proceedings, there is the prospect of new-born infants being placed with older adopted siblings in the event of an ICO, particularly when no further assessments are envisaged. Any prospect of fostering for adoption should be considered at the very earliest opportunity and referred to Permanence for consideration. (See also, Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters (Early Permanence) Procedure).

Representatives from Permanence service are always available for consultation about Parallel Planning

Permanence panel in Safeguarding and Family Support (SFS) refers to an internal process specific to SFS in tracking cases that are in court, PLO and Section 20.

The Permanence Service offer consultations to safeguarding colleagues to assist and guide practitioners who are considering if adoption is an achievable plan. The permanence offer is now being revised and extended to include advice on long term fostering and Special Guardianship.

The Case Manager for care proceedings will email a notification to the Adoption early tracking team of any child considered at LPM where a decision is made to issue an application and where there is a prospect of adoption as a parallel plan.

See also:

11. Review of PLO Cases

Once an LPM decides that the case goes into the PLO Pre-proceedings process, responsibility for timely review rests with the Practice Group Lead (PGL). It is their responsibility to ensure that the PLO progresses in accordance with the timetable set out at LPM.

Cases should be reviewed after 6 weeks with parents and this should be preceded by a review with the allocated lawyer. The review should consider progress against the plan agreed at panel and WTA should also be reviewed an updated.

If it is considered that either the midway or final review of the PLO process (or any other time) that care proceedings ought to be issued, the PGL should seek legal advice from allocated lawyer and seek agreement of the HoS to initiate proceedings. Subject to agreement of HoS a timetable for timely initiating of proceedings should be agreed with the allocate lawyer.

12. Statement and Care Plan Templates

12.1 Template for Initial Statement and Tips for Writing your Evidence:

Follow the guidance in the template. A separate Care Plan is not required for an initial statement as this is incorporated into the SWET. There may be some circumstances in which separate Care Plans will be required on issue but this should only be after discussion with legal. Make sure you do a spell/grammar check. If you need to refer to information already in the SWET (under a previous heading) refer back to that section by stating something to the effect that: “this has already been covered under Section 2.2”. Be succinct and refer to other documents as appropriate but do not cut and paste from them. Use analysis and do not repeat chronological narrative. Get it proof read by your AP and/or PGL if appropriate before emailing it to the case manager then allocated lawyer for legal overview. For the care plan see guidance within template below and adjust as appropriate for your Care Plan. The guidance notes in this one is for a Care Plan to separate a new born baby and place in foster care.

See also:

12.2 Template for Final Evidence:

Your final statement will need to include an analysis of the advantages and disadvantage of all realistic care plan options including those you are not recommending. This will come in the welfare checklist section. These documents will provide guidance to support your thinking on this:

13. Case Planning Meeting

After the first or second hearing, (once the case has been timetabled to IRH/EFH), the lawyer with conduct of case in proceedings, shall arrange a case planning meeting with the social work team, to include the social worker, AP, case manager and PGL (who will chair), to review the directions made at court. 

The purpose of the review is to ensure that there is a shared understanding of the tasks that need to be completed, by whom and in what time frame, before the IRH/FH. This will help the LA to deliver a higher level of compliance with court orders and completion of more cases within 26 weeks.

What the meeting covers will depend on the orders made at court and the Local Authority’s plans, however it is likely to include much of the following:

  • Reg 24/ viability/SGO assessments, including timely approval of SG support plans (including financial assessments);
  • Need for Family Group Conference;
  • Further efforts to identify/locate father(s);
  • Monitoring of M & B foster placements/residential, (planning for end of residential)- support services to support a return home;
  • Identification and instructions of experts and/or ISWs;
  • Police disclosure;
  • DNA/drug/alcohol testing;
  • Circulation of contact records;
  • Obtaining of medical records;
  • Preparation and timing of application for placement order, including ADM decision;
  • Placement planning and referral to fostering;
  • Together and apart assessment;
  • Immigration issues- obtaining advice or enquiry with Home Office;
  • Liaising with the Housing Authority;
  • Rehabilitation and support services to be put in place;
  • Timetable for preparation of final evidence including allowing time for consideration of expert evidence and review of draft statement and care plan by AP and case manager;
  • Communication between social work team and legal if any slippage in tasks being completed or unexpected developments.

14. Helping Children Understand Care Proceedings

Social workers will need to help children as well as parents and carers understand what is going on at court. You will find helpful material on the RIP website under care proceedings, CAFCASS and also the Family Justice Board and Ministry of Justice.

This link might help you identify some of the things which will need to be explained:

15. Other Materials

The Department of Education published statutory guidance in 2014 concerning court proceedings and pre proceedings for local authorities. This is provides additional information about the role of the local authority. The link to the guidance is here:

There is also guidance on care planning:

16. Documents Referred to in this Guidance

Appendix 1: Roles and Responsibilities

Social Workers and Experienced Social Workers

If you are the lead social worker allocated to children and families subject of pre-proceedings and/or in care proceedings or you have been allocated tasks which involve writing assessments or other documents then you have a professional responsibility to ensure that this work is good quality in terms of social work content, spelling and grammar-checked before you pass it to your Advanced Practitioner for quality assurance.

This needs to be within a reasonable time-frame in order to deal with any amendments and also for the legal adviser to review and advise any recommended amendments before the deadline set by Legal Planning Meeting or Court Order.

Any document which you agree and sign potentially means you will give evidence on behalf of the Local Authority if necessary.

Documents should be written by the person best placed to give the information and support the content in court especially for assessments and statements where primary evidence is presented.

You also have a responsibility to quality assure supporting evidence, for example notes of supervised contact if these are to be filed in evidence or otherwise relied upon and you are offering analysis based on such records.

Even experienced social workers welcome a “fresh pair of eyes” on written work to produce more succinct and analytical work, Advanced Practitioners should quality assure work before it is submitted to the legal adviser.

If you are undertaking written work for court for the first time then the quality assurance processes provide rich learning and development for the future.

Do not upload drafts to electronic records in Mosaic/Carestore. During 2016 Practice coordinators will be given access to and trained on using the court bundling “data room” and will upload bundles filed in proceedings before each hearing and at the end of proceedings. They will delete earlier versions of the bundle when uploading a newer version.

Advanced Practitioners

It is your role to proof-read material from social workers and make sure that the content is professionally sound, succinct and of acceptable standard. It is part of your role in the professional development of less experienced social workers to provide feedback and acknowledge good work and support the development of better work where necessary.   

As soon as dates for issuing proceedings are agreed at LPM or the court makes orders for the filing of evidence, you should agree with the social worker and legal adviser a timetable for the evidence to be completed. This needs to factor in when the draft evidence will be received from the social worker, when you will review and check it and when it will be sent to legal, allowing the legal adviser time to review and for it to be signed off, in order to meet the filing date fixed by the court.

You should agree any changes with the social worker in whose name the documents are written. On no account should you sign documents and submit them in the name of others without them agreeing the content and accepting amendments where necessary as their own. You should confirm with the legal adviser that you have read and approved documents.

In cases where the plan is for adoption, additional planning is required to ensure that all the necessary reports are prepared and approved in order that a placement application can be issued on the date ordered by the court.

Presenting a Case at Panel

It is important the social worker and AP (or PGL – see below) have a discussion prior to the LPM about what is going to be presented to the LPM and agree on the recommendations they will be making and the Care plan they are proposing. The LPM is a forum to endorse the social work recommendations, and not a forum for supervision or protracted case discussion. PGL’s also have a role to play if the case is complex or AP and SW need additional input. Group Supervisions can be a key forum where the presentation for LPM can be considered. The Care Proceedings Case manager could also be invited to these group supervisions to contribute to the discussion and formulation of plans.

Practice Group Leads

In the absence or unavailability of the appropriate Advanced Practitioner, PGLs will undertake the required quality assurance on their behalf. Where the Advanced Practitioner has lead responsibility for the social work, the PGL will be responsible for quality assurance of work.

It is the responsibility of the PGL to have oversight of all the cases in their Set that are in Pre-proceedings and Care Proceedings. They will be supported by the Care proceedings case manager in tracking these cases. PGLs must also ensure that decisions made at LPM are implemented within the timescales agreed, or that any delay is monitored and minimised. PGLs must also ensure that Court deadlines are met and that the quality of evidence submitted is of a high standard. PGLs are responsible for chairing the initial Pre-proceedings meetings.

Legal Adviser

Following the Legal Planning Meeting decision to enter the PLO at pre proceedings or to issue proceedings, a legal adviser will be allocated. The legal advisor’s role is to provide a legal opinion on threshold, draft the application, threshold document and other case management documents when initiating an application for care or supervision order. The legal adviser will also make sure that a case is legally sound as they will be familiar with case law, technicalities and complexities for example:

  • Mental capacity;
  • Human rights;
  • International elements;
  • Final evidence requirements where adoption is the plan.

As well as providing legal support on a case by case basis, the lawyer is also concerned to make sure that the interface with other parties and the court is well conducted and that the reputation of the Council is maintained. 

Legal advice is charged, by the hour, to social care and whilst generally this works well, it is not appropriate for lawyers to be used for basic proof-reading, grammar and typographical input for social workers. They will point out where evidence is lacking, contradictory or problematic. Feedback will be constructive to both acknowledge good work and support development. This includes feedback from advocates and counsel after court hearings.

The legal adviser will be dealing with a number of matters just as social workers do and therefore they also need work submitted before deadlines in order to manage workload, liaise with parties and undertake work to ensure smooth running of the case in court.

All practitioners involved need to remember the following:

  • Diarise work flowing from Legal planning meetings and then court directions to allow time to write statements and meet deadlines;
  • Discuss any workload issues with your line manager to avoid problems snowballing;
  • Inform the legal advisor immediately of any possible to delay or problem with deadlines. The court has to be notified of any slippage in the timetable for filing and it must be notified before that deadline has passed;
  • The way a case is presented affects your professional credibility and that of the council in court;
  • Actively front-load work as far as you can to make sure fullest involvement of both parents as far as possible, thorough investigation of family support including potential placements with family and friends, rigorous assessment, early work where adoption is a possibility – seek advice from permanence social worker;
  • Observe a Legal Planning Meeting before presenting a case yourself;
  • Observe a hearing where evidence is being given before you have to do this yourself;
  • Review written evidence on other children where there has been positive feedback, e.g. initial statement, final statement, care plan for adoption and Placement Order Report.

Appendix 2: Communicating with Families when Concerns Arise

Communicating with Families when Concerns Escalate

Communication with families should have been clear and consistent. Any parents where English is a second language should be provided with translations of written letters and documents and meetings should be conducted with an interpreter. Parents with learning difficulties should have an advocate if possible. A parent who is deaf or hearing impaired and using sign language should have a sign language interpreter. Any potential problems about a parent not having the capacity to instruct a solicitor because of mental ill health or learning difficulties should be flagged up within the assessment and this will be discussed in the LPM to consider in relation to the plan. Families can be signposted to independent advocacy from the Family Rights Group.

Take special care with parents who are minors themselves (Under 18s) and if they are also in care, ensure they are signposted to advocacy via Children’s Rights Officer.

See DfE/DHSC Good Practice Guidance on Working with Parents with a Learning Disability 2007. This document has been updated and published by Bristol University in conjunction with Working Together with Parents Network. The original guidance has been incorporated and updated to reflect good practice and the current law:

Updated Good Practice Guide on Working with Parents with a Learning Disability - published by Bristol University (2007).

Appendix 3: Best Practice Section 20 Accommodation

Section 20 Accommodation

In 2015/6 several judgments have been handed down by the courts criticising local authorities for the way in which section 20 has been used. Many of these cases have resulted in local authorities having to pay substantial damages to the parents and children as well as all the parties’ costs of the care proceedings. This can run in to thousands of pounds depending on the facts of the case.

In summary the criticism has been that section 20 has been misused in the following ways:

  • Accommodating children under s.20 agreements for unacceptably long periods of time before issuing proceedings;
  • Obtaining consent to s.20 accommodation from parents lacking capacity;
  • Placing parents under undue pressure to consent to s.20 accommodation;
  • Failing to explain properly to parents the meaning of s.20 and their rights under this provision;
  • Misunderstanding what s.20 requires by way of parental consent;
  • Exceeding and abusing the limitations of powers under s.20;
  • Reluctance to return the child to the parents immediately upon a withdrawal of parental consent.

The President of the Family Division gave the following guidance in relation to what should be considered by the local authority when entering into a section 20 agreement with a parents or person with PR [1]:

  • In cases where the parent is not fluent in English it is vital to ensure that the parent has a proper understanding of what precisely they are being asked to agree to;
  • Wherever possible the agreement of a parent to the accommodation of their child under section 20 should be properly recorded in writing and evidenced by the parent's signature;
  • The written document should be clear and precise, drafted in simple and straightforward language that the particular parent can readily understand;
  • The written document should spell out that the parent can "remove the child" from the local authority accommodation "at any time";
  • Where the parent is not fluent in English, the written document should be translated into the parent's own language and the parent should sign the foreign language text, adding, in the parent's language, words to the effect that 'I have read this document and I agree to its terms.

[1] Re N (Children) (Adoption: Jurisdiction) (2015) EWCA Civ 1112 from paragraph 157-171

He also emphasised that social workers are under a personal duty to be satisfied that the person giving consent does not lack capacity to do so.

Key learning form the cases:

On your files:

  • Good practice to ensure consent to S20 is in writing;
  • Good practice to ensure written record of the discussion leading to S20.

How to use S20 correctly in safeguarding situations:

  • Short-term measure;
  • Should not cause delay to care planning;
  • Not to preclude the issuing of care proceedings other than for a short time to safeguard the child.

Taking all this into account an template agreement for obtaining consent to the child being accommodated has been created and must be used. On each occasion a child is accommodated this form should be completed, discussed and signed by the parent and social worker. A copy should be given to the parent(s) and a copy saved on the file. The file should also be updated to confirm the written record of how the accommodation came about. IROs will check that the form has been completed at reviews and ensuring that the consent remains valid.

Section 20 Agreement Consent to section 20 accommodation form is here.

In addition to completing the agreement the social worker must complete a form certifying that when obtaining consent to section 20, they have satisfied themselves that the parent: has capacity to consent; understood what they were agreeing to (including consideration of necessity for translation of the agreement); that provision of accommodation is necessary and that the parent fully understood the range of options available at the time – including the right to refuse agreement to section 20.

Section 20 Consent Certification Form for social worker to complete is here.

Also see guidance from ADCS/CAFCASS:

Appendix 4: Best Practice Planning for Pre-birth Cases and when Baby is Born

Mr Justice Keehan confirms the best practice for Local Authorities in issuing Care Proceedings and seeking Orders in respect of new born babies and states the basic but fundamental steps that should be taken [2]:

  1. The birth plan should have been rigorously adhered to by all social work practitioners and managers and by the local authority's legal department;
  2. A risk assessment of the mother and the father should have been commenced immediately upon the social workers being made aware of the mother's pregnancy. The assessment should have been completed at least 4 weeks before the mother's expected date for delivery. The assessment should then have been updated to take account of relevant events immediately pre and post delivery which could potentially affect the initial conclusions on risk and care planning for the unborn child;
  3. The assessment should have been disclosed, forthwith upon initial completion, to the parents and, if instructed, to their solicitors to give them an opportunity, if necessary, to challenge the assessment of risk and the proposed care plan;
  4. The social work team should have provided all relevant documentation, necessary for the legal department to issue care proceedings and the application for an interim care order, no less than 7 days before the expected date of delivery. The legal department must issue the application on the day of birth and, in any event, no later than 24 hours after birth (or as the case may be, the date on which the local authority is notified of the birth);
  5. Immediately upon issue, if not before, the local authority's solicitors should have served the applications and supporting documents on the parents and, if instructed, upon their respective solicitors;
  6. Immediately upon issue, the local authority should have sought from the court an initial hearing date, on the best time estimate that its solicitors could have provided.

The guidance from ADCS /CAFCASS on section 20 should also be referred to:

[2] Nottingham City Council v LW and Others (2016) EWHC 11 (Fam) paragraph 33