Public Law Proceedings – Pre Court
‘Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.’ JFK
The right to make decisions about a child is the responsibility of those who hold parental responsibility.
What is Parental Responsibility?
Parental Responsibility is defined in s 3(1) Children Act 1989 as being:
‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’.
In practical terms Parental Responsibility means the power to make important decisions in relation to a child.
Social Service Involvement
The Local Authority have a duty to investigate where concerns have been expressed about the safety of a child. This is called a referral, this arises when someone contacts Children Services due to their concerns for the child. The Local Authority have a duty to intervene when they believe a child is at risk and must take action to protect that child.
Following a referral, the Local Authority have 24 hours to decide what type of response is required.
Under the Children Act 1989, the Local Authority are required to obtain the child’s wishes and feelings.
If the situation does not need an immediate resolution, a social worker will conduct a multi-agency meeting to plan the next steps.
Whenever there is a reason to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm there will be a strategy meeting with Children Services, Police, Health, Education and other agencies if applicable.
This meeting will gather all necessary information to determine whether the child is at risk of harm. It is, also, tasked with designing a tailored package of support, if necessary.
What can they do next?
Following the multi-agency meeting, there could be a decision to commence Section 47 (s47) enquiries.
A Section 47 Enquiry is initiated to decide whether and what type of action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm.
The purpose of these enquiries is for the Local Authority to determine whether it needs to take any further action to promote or safeguard the child’s welfare.
Outcomes of the s47 enquiry, may include no further action or family support to be provided.
If the conclusion of the s47 investigation is that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, the local authority will convene an Initial Child Protection Conference.
Child Protection Conference/Plan
A Child Protection Conference is a meeting held between social services, other professionals involved and the family members. It is chaired usually by an Independent Reviewing Officer. Discussions will be centred around a child’s future safety, health and development. The Conference is supposed to look at all the information to establish how best to safeguard the child.
The Conference will determine whether a child should be placed on the child protection register and if so under which category e.g. neglect, physical or emotional harm or sexual abuse. Secondly, during the Conference there will be discussions to agree a Child Protection Plan to enable the Local Authority to work with the family.
You should attend and fully participate in the Conference. Minutes of the Conference and the subsequent Child Protection Plan should be made available to you.
If no progress has been made on Child Protection then the Local Authority will escalate your case to Pre-Proceedings.
Pre-Proceedings are entered into when the Local Authority have concerns in relation to the care that a child is receiving and when the concerns have not been addressed through Child Protection. The goal of Pre-Proceedings is to work with the family and to avoid Court.
Pre-Proceedings last for approximately 6 months. There will be an initial meeting, a review meeting and a final meeting as a minimum.
You must engage with the process and meaningfully engage with social workers. This is the final step before the Local Authority issue Care Proceedings.
At Berksons we can provide you with legal advice, support and assistance regarding Social Service involvement.
Regarding Pre-Proceedings, you are entitled to Legal Help if you provide the Local Authority Letter, we will attend meetings with you, provide representation and advice throughout the process.
Our team are specialists in Public Law and will treat your matter with trust, empathy and expertise.