Legal Planning Meetings
This agreed protocol sets out the working relationship between social workers in children and families teams and legal team and procedures to be followed when seeking legal advice in relation to a child. Concerns regarding non-compliance should be escalated at the earliest opportunity and resolution should be sought within the shortest timescale possible to ensure the set objectives are met. Disagreements/ non-compliance issues should be resolved at the lowest possible stage, however if a child is thought to be at risk or there is likelihood of reputational risk to the London Borough of Havering any concerns should be escalated immediately to the relevant group managers and heads of service/s at the earliest opportunity.
2. Referral to Legal Services
Matters relating to child protection - application for care orders, etc.
The underlying principles governing applications for care and supervision orders are contained in the Public Law Outline (PLO). The purpose of the PLO is to streamline the court timetable in care proceedings, with the aim of reducing unnecessary delay in resolving issues and ensuring cases are progressed swiftly through the system.
The statutory powers for the local authority to take steps to protect children are contained with the Children Act 1989 and are applications for:
- A care or supervision order (Section 31);
- An emergency protection order (Section 44);
- A secure accommodation (Section 25);
- A child assessment order (Section 43);
In summary, as soon as an application for any of the orders listed above is contemplated, legal advice must be sought at the earliest opportunity. The approval to seek legal advice must be sought from the relevant group manager/Head of service of the referring team. Any subsequent correspondence with the allocated lawyer/s most either be to seek legal advice or provide instructions on matters.
All referrals to the legal team must be made by way of a commissioning/referral form following approval from Head of Service/group manager the referral form provides a brief background to the family situation and the precipitating events for seeking legal advice. The target is for cases to be presented to LPM panel, however it is accepted that there will be occasions, such as when emergency protection, secure accommodation or short notice interim care orders are contemplated when urgent advice is required by the allocated case managers and social workers.
In terms of adoption cases, following the making of a placement order, the local authority has the power to place the child with prospective adopters, who are entitled to apply for an adoption order once the child has been placed with them for ten weeks. As soon as the prospective adopters have issued an application, the court will notify the applicant’s supervising social worker. If legal involvement is required, a commission form should be sent to the principle lawyer. The decision as to whether or not the cost of the adoption application and the prospective adopters legal representation should be met by the local authority is for the relevant head of service for adoption and fostering to make. The relevant adoption and fostering manger/s are to seek approval.
Special Guardianship orders
A special guardianship order is a private law order and can be made in two ways. The first method is by way of a written notice to the local authority of an intention to apply for such order. Following receipt, within three months the local authority is required to prepare a report that covers matters prescribed by the court. The second is where the court itself considers making of an SGO and once directed the local authority must prepare a report.
Upon receipt of notice or court directive, it must be referred to the adoption and fostering team without delay. If the team wishes to obtain legal advice, with approval from relevant head it will liaise with the legal team.
In the event that advice of a general nature is required, approval is to be sought from the relevant group manager/team manager an email clearly setting out the nature of the query and attaching all relevant information/ documents should be sent out to the principle lawyer, the title of the email should make it clear the nature of the advice being sought.
- Where social workers receive correspondence direct form solicitors in private practice during ongoing court proceedings, such correspondence is to be forwarded with instructions to the legal team. In relation to the s37 and s7 report a head of service authorisation to be sought before escalation to legal team.
Where routine correspondence is received by social workers and there are no court proceedings in existence but the information raises legal issues, it should be referred with instructions to legal team. In the absence of any legal issues, the allocated managers may reply directly seeking advice from legal team if necessary.
3. Legal Planning Meeting (LPM) Process
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, advising and assisting their social work clients, at an early stage.
LPM is held to discuss the way forward in a particular case, where an application for a legal order may be required in instances when safeguarding concerns have escalated to the extent that is felt the threshold for applying for a care or supervision order under s31 of the Children Act 1989 may have been reached, 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 and when it is clear that the protection or welfare of a child/ren cannot be achieved by agreement with the parents, or the existing court order is not providing adequate protection for the child.
LPMs are attended by the allocated social worker and their team manager and or group manager; they are chaired by heads of service/s. The primary purpose of the first stage LPM is to consider whether grounds exist to commence proceedings and, if so whether an application should be issued or whether PLO route should be followed. It is an opportunity to discuss a case fully, and to consult with colleagues to ensure that children are subject of active case management and that appropriate legal action is taken when required to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child/ren.
At the LPMs, the role of the local authority legal adviser is to advise about the legal possibilities for achieving the desired aim and to give a view about the quality of the evidence available.
In order to enable a full discussion to take place, the following must be available to the LPM panel:
- Relevant assessment/document/s; An up to date Chronology;
- A Plan or a clear indication that options for a plan have been considered;
- A Genogram;
- 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. Assessment, as well as other medical and other expert involvement;
- Copies of any assessments parenting/psychological/psychiatric/risk;
- When will the 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);
If the PLO route is followed it is the responsibility of the social worker his/her team manager to draft the letter before proceedings to the parents. The purpose of the letter, which must be agreed with the allocated lawyer before dispatch, is to enable the parents and their solicitor to meet social care team to outline the concerns and to agree the steps that need to be taken to avoid the need to issue proceedings.
If agreed approach is reached, a review PLO case discussion meeting will be held no later than six weeks by the relevant group manager/s at which progress will be measured and 12 weeks PLO review by the head of service.
In the event that the legal advice is that threshold criteria for issuing proceedings is met and is endorsed by the head of service, the allocated social worker is expected to commence drafting of the statement and collation of any other supporting documentation that is to be filled at the same time as proceedings are issued. It is essential that set timescales are adhered to. Within two working days, the social worker submits his/her statement in day 5, manager sends the report to the relevant group manager for review and signature, group manager asks the social worker to make any necessary amendments and signs off proposed care plan. Day 7 social worker submits statement to legal services; legal rep will check the documents and return for clarifications, amendments or corrections. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, documents should not be sent to legal services until approved by team/ group manager. The allocated legal notifies relevant group manager if any evidence is not yet been received. All final statement and care plans to be ratified by the relevant head of service before submission to legal team.
Legal Planning Meetings are held every week on a Thursday at Mercury House at 2pm.
- Following approval from the relevant group managers, the Social Worker to email Legal Planning Meeting Coordinator to book a slot at the meeting;
- Social Worker to complete documentation templates and Chronology and forward together with any Assessments to Legal Planning Meeting Coordinator three working days prior to the meeting;
- Legal Planning Meeting to forward Paperwork to Chair and other Panel Members;
- Social Worker to attend with Team Manager/group manager to present the case both to have detailed knowledge of the case history and presenting circumstances;
- Legal Planning Meeting Coordinator to type up the notes and actions agreed at the meeting;
- Notes of the meeting are forwarded to Chair for approval and then uploaded on the Case File in documents;
- Legal Planning Meeting spreadsheet for Legal to be updated (Copy of the draft Minutes to be forwarded to Legal);
- Court Tracker to be updated in order that cases can be monitored;
- Dates for Review Legal Planning Meetings are set at the Initial Legal Planning Meeting.
|Chair||Head/s of Service|
|Legal Representative||Legal Representative by Rota|
|Panel||Group manager/s, Legal Representative and Care Proceedings Case Manager|
|Legal Planning Meeting Coordinator||Marilyn Howell / Nominated Person|
5. PLO Review / Agreement to Issue Meeting
- Social Worker requests Review Meeting 12 weeks after it was agreed for case to enter PLO. Cases where the decision was made that the Case enters immediate Care Proceedings will be called when there has been a delay in issuing The Social Worker will be required to provide an explanation as to why there has been a delay;
- Review Facilitator forwards Documentation Template populated with the Actions for the previous meeting. Social Worker will provide an update;
- Social Worker completes relevant Sections and forward to Team Manager to check and add comments;
- Paperwork is forwarded to Review Facilitator no later than 3 working days prior to the Review Meeting (All Review Meetings will take place at alternate Thursdays to the Initial LPM);
- Team Manager and Social Worker to attend meeting. There will be no Legal Representative in attendance;
- Decisions will be recorded on the document by Note Taker and forwarded to Chair for Agreement. Once agreed the minutes will be uploaded into the case file documents and Social Worker and Manager will be notified.