I am told that the local authority want to arrange a legal meeting in relation to my children as part of the Public Law outline and are to send a letter before proceedings. What does this mean?
The local authority have legal responsibilities to ensure that children are not at risk of significant harm. Attempts will be made to work with parents and the family to avoid the local authority having to make an application to the court for orders that could determine where the children live and the future plans for the children. In many cases the local authority will try to avoid decisions being made by a judge and instead by parents or those with parental responsibility working together with the children’s social worker. The local authority will provide a formal letter identifying their concerns and also what steps need to be taken to avoid the local authority feeling compelled to make an application to court for a care or supervision order.
What should I do?
You should contact a solicitor preferably a solicitor who has experience in these sort of cases. Many solicitors have an accreditation from the Law Society. If you have a copy of the letter before proceedings bring it with you to your appointment. There is a type of legal aid known as Public Law legal help that is regarded as a non-means non-merits legal aid i.e. as long as you are the parent named in the letter then you would get legal aid regardless of your financial circumstances.
Strictly speaking there is a merits consideration as the solicitor would need to be able to justify that the client requires advice and assistance with a view to avoiding proceedings or narrowing and resolving any issues with the local authority.
What happens next?
You will need to explain your views in response to the local authority concerns and hopefully acknowledge any valid concerns. It is likely that there will be a meeting attended by you, your solicitor, the social worker and the local authority legal representative to see whether there is an acknowledgement of the concerns, whether matters can be put right and the position to be maintained. If so court proceedings can be avoided and hopefully the best outcome reached in relation to the children.
This does not stop the local authority from issuing care proceedings.
Please note that this sort of legal meeting is different to other types of meetings such as a case conference or looked after review and so the type of involvement from the local authority needs to be clearly identified beforehand.
If you receive a letter like this or have involvement with social services and need advice from a solicitor, contact our family team on 01325 281111.