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1.4.3 Legal Planning - Legal Tracking Meetings and the Area and Country Gateway Panel

RELATED CHAPTER

Protocol and Good Practice Model: Disclosure of Information in Cases of Alleged Child Abuse and Linked Criminal and Care Direction Hearings (October 2013)

RELATED GUIDANCE

Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Court Orders and Pre-Proceedings (2014)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed and updated in October 2016. The chapter has been retitled and an Appendix has been added: Somerset County Council Gateway Panel – Terms of Reference. Other amendments reflect the outcome of a judgment following an application to remove a child at birth. The judge set out what were thought to be ‘basic and good practice steps’. (See Section 2, Considerations).


Contents

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

    Appendix 1: Somerset County Council Gateway Panel - Terms of Reference


1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings

Legal Planning is 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 gateway 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.

An Area Tracking Meeting should be held to discuss the way forward in a particular case, where an application for a legal order may be required. This can include:

  • Following an application for an Emergency Protection Order when consideration is being given to an application for an Interim Care Order;
  • When it is clear that the protection or welfare of a child cannot be achieved by agreement with the parents, or the security of a legal order is necessary to ensure the viability of a plan for a child, or the existing court order is not providing adequate protection for the child;
  • 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.

At the meeting, a decision should be made in principle about whether the Threshold Criteria have been met. The local authority should then decide at a Legal Gateway Meeting, based on a robust analysis of the level of assessed risk, whether:

  • It is in the best interests of the child to provide a further period of support for the family with the aim of avoiding proceedings; or
  • Whether proceedings should be initiated immediately.

The Legal Gateway Meeting should also identify any evidence gaps, clarify whether additional assessments will be required, and consider what would be a suitable draft Care Plan for the child.

Note: where children are already Section 20 Accommodated there should be no delay in issuing proceedings where this is required, (see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, Section 20 Accommodation). These children should be booked urgently onto the Legal Gateway Meeting.


2. Considerations

A Legal Tracking Meeting is an opportunity to discuss a case fully, and to consult with colleagues to ensure that children are the subject of active case management and that appropriate legal action is taken when required to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child.

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:

  • Relevant assessment/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;
  • 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 Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure;
  • When will the Assessment and other supporting documentation be available, if not already?
    • Note that with pre-birth situations a recent High Court judgement has set out good practice steps to include:
  • 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, the need for a Twin Track Plan, 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, including where appropriate arranging a date for the case to be presented to the Adoption Panel;
  • Whether it may be appropriate to instruct any further expert assessment before the commencement of court proceedings - 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 be ready?

If Care Proceedings are recommended, the Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure should be followed.

Any potential issues/documentation regarding parental capacity to litigate should be flagged up at the meeting. The recommendations from area legal tracking should be passed to County Legal Gateway panel for discussion and ratification, with the relevant information set out as outlined in the terms of reference. (Appendix 1: Somerset County Council Gateway Panel - Terms of Reference.)


3. Who can Convene Legal Tracking Meetings

The decision to convene a Legal Tracking Meeting will be made by the social worker's line manager - the decision will usually be taken following a recommendation from a Child Protection Conference, as a result of a Looked After Review, a Permanence Planning Meeting, or on the request of a social worker, manager, local authority lawyer, or other agency.


4. Attendance at Legal Tracking Meetings

The meeting will be chaired by a local Area Operations Manager, and will usually involve the following: the child's social worker and a local authority legal adviser.

Where the child has been in foster care, the views of the foster carer should be sought by the child’s social worker, and taken into consideration in the legal tracking meeting. This may include information on the child’s progress in their placement and on the impact of contact with their family.


5. Timing and Duration of Legal Tracking Meetings

The timing of a Legal Tracking Meeting is likely to be determined by the urgency of court proceedings and the need to allow sufficient time for necessary preparation.


6. Recording of Legal Tracking Meetings

Notes of Legal Tracking 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 chairperson or Director.


7. Review/Subsequent Legal Planning Meetings

The meeting should consider whether further Legal Planning Meetings are necessary and if so, when. It may be that new information emerges which requires a change of plan for the child. In this event, the Legal Planning Meeting must be reconvened in order to consider the implications for the legal plan.


Appendix 1: Somerset County Council Gateway Panel - Terms of Reference

1. Introduction

This guidance clarifies the role of the Legal Gateway Panel in the context of permanence planning for children. It identifies how the panel fits with statutory processes for children within the community, the Public Law Outline process and the remits of the At Risk of Care and Permanence panels.

2. What does 'Legal Gateway' mean?

The Legal Gateway is the point at which the area team has reached a recommendation (based on consideration of the facts) that legal action is now required to safeguard a child and plan for their permanence.

3. The Purpose of Legal Gateway Panel

  • To ratify recommendations for PLO and appropriateness of any assessments required, including cost. This recommendation is passed to the Legal Gateway panel for a threshold decision;
  • To review all cases of PLO at 10 weeks for planning and timescale to step down out of PLO or escalation to proceedings;
  • To ratify recommendations for initiating proceedings;
  • To review all cases in proceedings at 16 weeks and every 8 weeks thereafter until conclusion.

4. Outcomes of the Legal Gateway Review Panel

Having considered all of the information made available to it, the LG Panel will decide the appropriateness of any of the following:

  • Issue a “pre-proceedings letter” and convene a PLO meeting;
  • Support a private law resolution to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  • Issue S31 Public Law Care proceedings where the threshold criteria are met and the interests of the child require it;
  • Defer decision for further information;
  • Set a future review date to ensure PLO, or proceedings timescales are adhered to.

5. Emergency Decisions made outside of the Panel

Any decision made outside the panel, on an emergency basis can only be made by the Deputy Director Children and Families or in her absence the Principal Social Worker. These decisions must be brought to the next panel retrospectively with all the required information.

6. Review of Decisions

To ensure that decisions made at the Legal Gateway panel are progressed within the agreed timescales, updates will be timetabled at the panel and obtained from relevant managers and Social Workers as appropriate. This will ensure management oversight and challenge, to avoid drift and delay for the children and young people concerned.

7. Panel Administration

Where assessments are being presented to panel for consideration, the relevant reports must be sent to the Panel Administrator five working days before the panel. The following documentation is needed:

  • Paperwork required for ALL cases:
    • Up to date C&F Assessment;
    • Draft court care plan (if relevant);
    • Draft PLO letter (if relevant);
    • Chronology.

8. Core Membership

Chairperson – Deputy Director Children and Families
An Area Operations Manager
CLA Operations or CLA Strategic Manager
Legal Department Solicitor
Principal Social Worker

Where a core member cannot attend, they must identify a suitable substitute of the same grade.

9. Meeting Frequency

Legal Gateway Panel is scheduled on a weekly basis, on a Tuesday afternoon rotating between area offices.

10. Panel Records

A written summary of the meeting will always be taken by the Panel Administrator.

  • The written summary will set out the panel decision with a clear rationale for their decision making;
  • The notes will be produced and ratified by Panel Chair within 5 working days of Panel.

The notes will be added onto LCS on the child’s file in the legal tab, on the Legal Gateway panel meeting form with an alert sent to the Social Worker and Team Manager’s LCS trays. These notes are legally privileged and cannot be shared with other parties and organisations.

The meeting notes will also be sent as a word document to the Senior lawyer, Child Care for their information (in the same ‘5 days from panel’ timescale).

End