The Pre-Proceedings Meeting is a requirement of the Public Law Outline. The Local Authority is required to inform the parents in plain language of the concerns about their children, and of the fact that Care Proceedings are being contemplated. A Pre-Proceedings Letter in a prescribed format must be sent to the parents, setting out the concerns and informing of them what they need to do to avoid the Local Authority's taking Care Proceedings. The parents will be invited to a meeting to discuss the concerns, and advised to bring a solicitor. They will have legal aid for their solicitor's help at the meeting and for negotiations with the Local Authority before proceedings are issued.
If the parents accept the concerns and are prepared to cooperate, they will be expected to sign up to an Agreement. Compliance with the Agreement will be monitored and a timescale set for review. The Public Law Outline requires that the Local Authority should file a record of important discussions with the parents if and when Care Proceedings are issued. Therefore, the meeting needs to be minuted (not necessarily verbatim, but with an accurate note).
If the parents do not attend, or refuse to cooperate, the Local Authority will then convene a Legal Planning Meeting and start proceedings (see Legal Planning Meetings Procedure).
If agreement is reached at the meeting, but the care of the children fails to improve, the Local Authority will convene a Legal Planning Meeting to initiate Care Proceedings. This should be done before the planned review date if the welfare of the children requires it.
The Statutory Guidance and the Public Law Outline make it clear that the above procedure is NOT appropriate in cases where the concerns about the welfare of the child/ren are too serious for the Local Authority to wait to issue proceedings until all evidence has been collected and a Pre-Proceedings Meeting with parents held (Guidance, 3.27, 3.30, Public Law Outline para 10.3). In such cases (e.g. serious non accidental injury, sexual abuse), the Local Authority will have to make an immediate application for an Interim Care Order, or even for an Emergency Protection Order (without notice if appropriate).
The Pre-Proceedings Letter will be drafted between the Social Worker, Team Manager and Legal Services at a Legal Planning Meeting.
The Pre-Proceedings Letter will be issued by the Team Manager.
The responsible Social Worker will be responsible for convening the meeting, and will liaise with Legal Services about the date, to ensure that a local authority legal representative can attend (if the parents' solicitors attend).
The date, time and place of the meeting will be included in the Pre-Proceedings Letter (see Appendix 2: Pre-Proceedings Standard Letter), which will also enclose a map of the venue, and list of local childcare solicitors.
The Social Worker will prepare a draft Agreement, setting out the expectations of the family, before the meeting. The draft agreement should be referred to Legal Services for checking, and advice sought as necessary, prior to the meeting. The Agreement can be amended, with legal advice available to both the Local Authority and the parents, if appropriate, during the course of the meeting.
The Meeting will take place in a Children's Services or other Council meeting room.
The meeting will be chaired by the Children's Services Team Manager.
The Meeting will be minuted by Children's Services.
The outcome of the meeting must be confirmed orally at the meeting, and in writing immediately afterwards. An outline plan for the child/ren should be included with the letter. Either, if there is agreement at the meeting, the outline plan will confirm the support to be given to the family, with details of the method and date for review of the plan, or, if the parents fail to cooperate, the plan will be an outline care plan.
If the parents:
- Refuse to sign the Agreement;
- Refuse to attend a Pre-Proceedings Meeting; or
- Fail to attend the Pre-Proceedings Meeting, a Legal Planning Meeting will be held immediately to prepare proceedings and issue the care application - see Legal Planning Meeting Procedure.
Appendix 1: Agenda for Pre-Proceedings Meetings
The standard agenda is set out below, and can be downloaded and printed.