Pre-proceedings: what do I need to know?
Legal matters involving children are challenging and emotional enough without the added pressure of court proceedings. The pre-proceedings process aims to help you avoid this.
Whatever your situation, pre-proceedings give parents an opportunity to address any concerns the Local Authority has about your child or children’s welfare and make positive changes to ensure you can continue looking after them.
What are pre-proceedings?
Pre-proceedings are issued to give parents clear information about the Local Authority’s concerns regarding your children, outline the changes they suggest you can make, and how they can assist you with creating and implementing a plan.
In most cases, the Local Authority will send you a letter (‘Letter before Proceedings’), but if there are immediate concerns, court proceedings may be issued in the first instance. It is important to remember that the aim of pre-proceedings is to agree on a plan of action and avoid court proceedings.
The ’Letter before Proceedings’ will:
- Invite parents to a pre-proceedings meeting with a social worker; you should be given plenty of notice
- Include details of when and where the pre-proceedings meeting will take place
- Include a summary of the Local Authority’s concerns
- Outline the changes you need to make and how the Local Authority can support you
- Guide you on how to seek legal advice
- Set out what you and any relevant loved ones need to know
It is important that you engage with this process to demonstrate your dedication to improving your child’s welfare. This is the final opportunity to resolve the Local Authority’s concerns before care proceedings may be issued.
I’ve received a pre-proceedings letter: what do I do?
If you receive a pre-proceedings letter, you must seek specialist legal advice straight away. Any matter involving social services and the court can be complex. Our expert child care solicitors can guide you through the pre-proceedings and court proceedings process, offer non-judgemental support, and answer any questions you might have about what this means for you and your children.
We will meet with you before your pre-proceedings meetings to discuss your situation and work through the changes you need to make to your children’s care. We will also represent you in defending your case to the Local Authority if court proceedings are issued.
What happens at a pre-proceedings meeting?
At a pre-proceedings meeting, you will meet with a social worker to discuss the contents of your ‘Letter before Proceedings’ with the assistance of your solicitor. If you have not been provided with the pre-proceedings agreement beforehand, it will be provided in the meeting and we will request a break to go through it together.
Clear timescales and expectations will be laid out for your childcare plan, which will usually be revised within six to eight weeks to determine progress and review whether the court needs to be involved.
How long does the pre-proceedings process last?
The pre-proceedings process usually lasts up to six months and will include several meetings with the Local Authority, supported by your solicitor. It can last longer than this, but your lawyer will keep you updated on timescales.
What if the pre-proceedings process is unsuccessful?
Throughout the pre-proceeding process, your solicitor will provide a record of each meeting and offer advice for the next steps. Progress will be reviewed by the Local Authority, which will decide if:
- No further action needs to be taken;
- Further changes need to be implemented; or
- Care proceedings are going to be issued.
If the Local Authority decides that progress is not being made, or the changes are not being made quickly enough to meet your children’s needs, they may issue an application to the court. This is otherwise known as care proceedings.
If this is the case, you will receive a ‘Letter of Issue’. This letter will enable you to obtain free legal advice and representation throughout the court proceedings, and you must instruct a solicitor as soon as possible.
What are care proceedings?
Care proceedings involve the Local Authority issuing an application to the court for a Care Order or Supervision Order. The Court will review your children’s circumstances and determine:
- Whether they need a legal order to keep them safe
- Why they believe the children are at harm or at risk of harm
- Where the children should live until the final hearing and interim contact arrangements have taken place
How we can help
Our children law solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire have a wealth of experience working with families across the UK.