Legal Gateway/Planning Meetings

1. Purpose of Legal Gateway/Planning Meetings

The Legal Gateway/Planning Meeting is an essential part of the process for dealing with public law children's cases under the Public Law Outline. Its purpose is to consider all the information available and decide if the legal threshold is met to commence pre-proceedings or to issue immediate care proceedings.

A Legal Gateway/Planning 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.

Public Law Working Group Best Practice Guidance: Support for and Work With Families Prior to Court Proceedings sets out some (non-exhaustive) examples of some key points at which a family should be considered for presenting at legal gateway/planning meeting:

  • Where a pre-birth conference decides a child is to be made the subject of a child protection plan ahead of birth and there is no active involvement from the extended family;
  • Where a child has a child protection plan and parental engagement with the process, and support services, has been persistently inconsistent and ineffective, limiting progress and putting the child at risk of significant harm;
  • Where the child has a child protection plan and there has been no progress and/or the impact of the identified concerns has worsened at the point of the second review conference. Every care should be taken to recognise change takes time, particularly where families are experiencing longstanding challenges;
  • Families that have previously been through the pre-proceeding process and similar concerns re-occur within a 12-month period;
  • Families where the mother or father have had child(ren) removed from their care in the past and there is concern that any presently identified risks cannot be managed with the children remaining in the parents' care;
  • Families where the risks and concerns are sufficiently significant that the matter is highly likely to proceed to court, but allowing time for the PLO pre-proceedings.

At the meeting, a decision should be made in principle about whether the Threshold Criteria have been met. The local authority should then decide, 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 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 Procedure, Section 20 Accommodation).

2. Who can Convene Legal Gateway/Planning Meetings

A senior manager should decide if it is appropriate to convene a Legal Gateway/Planning meeting for a family, with a view to instigating pre-proceedings.

In reaching that decision, the following points should be considered:

  • What is the lived experience of the child(ren) and how is it impacting on their wellbeing?
  • Is the legal threshold met to commence pre-proceedings or to issue immediate care proceedings?
  • How long has social care been involved with the family? What are the concerns, and the history of such concerns, of the local authority and/or other agencies?
  • Have any changes been made within the family to mitigate the risk factors?
  • What support services have been offered to the family?
  • How has the family engaged with these services and what is the impact on the children's wellbeing / outcome of this engagement?
  • What needs to change/happen and what is the plan for the family moving forward?
  • How have social and cultural differences and inequalities been addressed? Have interpreters been consistently used whilst working with the family?

Following consideration of the above points, the senior manager will then identify whether further work is required with the family or if a legal gateway/planning meeting is needed. At this point, the senior manager should make a written record, clearly setting out the reasons for their decision. This will inform the decisions that follow so clear and unambiguous reasoning is important.

3. Considerations

A Legal Gateway/Planning 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:

  • The names of the child(ren), their parents and any other significant family members or friends who may be able to offer support, in either the short or longer term, plus the birth certificate to check father's parental responsibility;
  • The key needs of the child(ren) and details of any direct work with them to date;
  • Any relevant child and family assessments completed within the past six months;
  • Genogram (three generational);
  • Chronology;
  • The most recent child protection conference plan;
  • The most recent child in care review plan;
  • Details of any previous expert assessments (if there have been previous Care Proceedings);
  • An outline of the proposed plan for working with the family;
  • An overview of the bundles from any previous proceedings.
The Chair's role is to consider all the information and advice available and decide the most effective course of action to promote the safety and wellbeing of the child(ren).

In coming to a decision, all members of the LGM/LPM will identify:

  • The specific issues, risks and mitigating factors of relevance at this time, which will include known historical concerns;
  • Continuing support or any additional direct work to be undertaken with the child(ren) during this period;
  • Specify further support the local authority could offer the family to mitigate identified risks;
  • How the local authority will continue to assess the risks and/or track positive changes in this period;
  • Any expert assessments that are required – including who is being assessed, for what purpose, who will undertake this assessment plus the likely duration;
  • Family members who are to be consulted to offer either support or be assessed as alternative carers. The early sharing of necessary information with extended family and the use of a FGC (or similar model developed and used locally) is essential, unless there is good reason why this is impracticable;
  • Make a record that the duration of pre-proceedings process will commence from the date of the first PLO meeting at which the plan will be discussed with the parent(s); and agree the frequency of review meetings;
  • When the pre-proceedings letter will be sent in order to communicate with the family and agree when the pre-proceedings meeting will take place;
  • If appropriate, timetable with the family a return date for LGM/LPM at the conclusion of the intervention to consider the assessments and interventions completed in pre-proceedings and make subsequent decisions.

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 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);
  • All relevant documentation should be then sent to the Local Authority Legal Adviser to issue proceedings.
    (See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure, Pre-Birth, Newborns and Infants).
  • 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.

4. Attendance at Legal Gateway/Planning Meetings

Attendance should include:

  • Chair: A suitably senior manager, in accordance with the local scheme of delegation;
  • Local authority solicitor;
  • Team manager;
  • Social worker;
  • Care proceedings manager (if appointed);
  • Representatives from other services, such as the placement team, SGO, adoption, parenting assessment team, etc.
  • A minute taker.

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 Gateway/Planning 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 Gateway/Planning Meetings

The timing of a Legal Gateway/Planning 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 Gateway/Planning Meetings

The decision and reasoning will be minuted. It is essential that these minutes are accurate, concise and clear.

Minutes/notes of Legal Gateway/Planning 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 Gateway/Planning Meetings

The meeting should consider whether further Legal Gateway/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 Gateway/Planning Meeting must be reconvened in order to consider the implications for the legal plan.