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1.2.7 Public Law Outline (PLO) Applications to Court under Children Act 1989 and CAFCASS Plus Lincolnshire Initiative

An updated Public Law Outline came into effect on 22 April 2014, alongside the statutory 26-week time-limit for completion of care and supervision proceedings under the Children Act 1989 and Children and Families Act 2014. This places an increased emphasis on pre-proceedings work and the quality of assessments. In all but an emergency application to the Court, the assessment should be completed prior to the commencement of proceedings. Where a safeguarding emergency arises in respect of a child which necessitates an application to the Court, it is expected and accepted that this will commence without the various assessments having been completed. In such circumstances timescales will be provided within the initial evidence as to when such assessment will be completed.

RELEVANT DOCUMENTATION

Practice Direction 12A

Practice Direction 25B

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

RELEVANT CHAPTER

Support Panel Procedure

LSCB Pre-Birth Protocol

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in December 2016 to include a link to the Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board Pre-birth Protocol (see Section 3, CAFCASS Plus Initiative).


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Planned Applications
  3. CAFCASS Plus Initiative
  4. The Family Meeting/Family Group Conference
  5. Pre-proceedings Documents
  6. Immediate Action to Safeguard the Child

    Appendix 1: Public Law Outline 2014 (26 weeks) Flowchart

    Appendix 2: CAFCASS PLUS - Lincolnshire Initiative - Flowchart of Process


1. Introduction

The Social Care Assessment forms the central part of the evidence supporting any application that the local authority may make for a care or supervision order under section 31 of the Act. Local authorities must ensure that an up to date Social Care Assessment is available in relation to any child who is the subject of a section 31 application under the Act.

The plan for the care of the child should be based on findings from the Social Care Assessment. It should set out the aims of the plan and the intended outcomes for the child, informed by the findings from the assessment i.e. the identified developmental needs of the child and the capacity of the parents to respond to the child's needs in the context of their wider family and environmental context. The structure of the plan should follow the Assessment Framework domains and dimensions in accordance with the MOSAIC care plan exemplar and be explicit about the services which will be provided by which agency and at what frequency in relation to the dimension headings. The plan should also set out the outcomes which are being sought in relation to the needs and services identified. LAC (99) 29 provides further guidance on the preparation of care plans in applications under section 31 of the Act. Additionally, section 31A of the Act provides that where an application is made, from which a care order might be made with respect to a child, the local authority must within the timetable directed by the court prepare a care plan, and no care order may be made until the Court has considered that plan (section 31(3A)).

Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 1 Court Orders

Chapter 3, page 32, 3.17 and 3.18.

At any time a case discussion can be undertaken with legal services if legal advice is required. The Lead Social Worker will record in case note using the type 'Legal Case Discussion' and the heading 'legal advice sought'.

Circumstances when an assessment identifies that there are issues about a child and a commencement of Care proceedings may be necessary:

  • Social Care Assessment - immediate protection with a Section 47 Enquiry following. A Social Care Assessment will have commenced as part of the s47 enquiry. In these circumstances either an Emergency Protection Order will be sought or an Interim Care Order with abridged time for service;
  • At the outcome of a Section 47 Enquiry where concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be at continuing risk of Significant Harm;
  • At the end of a Social Care Assessment.

In all circumstances the Team Manager will authorise the assessment.

The standard of contents of the Social Care Assessment to support the statement and evidence are:

  • The summary and analysis shall include reference to what service provision has already been provided to meet the planned outcome for the child's needs, and the reasons for the planned outcomes not being met;
  • It will evidence the reason for the request for a legal meeting or, in those circumstances where the safeguarding concerns are such that the legal planning meeting will not be undertaken, evidence to support that decision;
  • The issues that triggered the 'letter before proceedings';
  • The needs of the child that are recorded within the child's plan (MOSAIC);
  • The risks to the child, that concerns are substantiated and that the child is judged to be at continuing risk of significant harm;
  • Analysis of what is required to resolve the issues;
  • The type of placement and carer the child requires (matching needs);
  • And analysis of any risks that may be posed by the child in a placement and what measures may be required to minimise/manage those risks;
  • Analysis of contact requirements;
  • The views of parents/child(ren's)/carers of the assessment and needs, including that to issue proceedings;
  • The views of other professionals of the assessment and needs, including that to issue proceedings.


2. Planned Applications

The Social Worker and Team Manager will attend the 'Legal Planning Meeting' and present the:

  • The Social Care Assessment;
  • Completed draft copy of the 'Letter Before Proceedings';
  • Genogram.

The Legal Planning Meeting will:

  • Read the Social Care Assessment summaries and analysis;
  • Agree if the 'Letter Before Proceedings' can be issued;
  • Agree the content of the 'Letter Before Proceedings';
  • If the 'Letter Before Proceedings' cannot be issued give reasons and provide advice on implementing the child's plan. This could include changes to the child's plan;
  • If the letter is to be issued set the date when the case will be presented again for review/monitoring at the legal meeting;
  • A note of the Legal Planning Meeting will be produced, and provided to all in the meeting by the legal advisor.

Letter before Proceedings to be issued:

  • The Team Manager will complete the letter and distribute to the parent(s)/people with parental responsibility, social worker and legal services;
  • The social worker will notify the Family Group Conference co-ordinator providing the list of issues (concerns) and proposed resolutions;
  • The Team Manager will set the date for the Pre Proceedings Meeting with parents and their legal representative and notify legal services of the date and time.

Following the issuing of the Letter before Proceeding:

  • The Team Manager will meet with the social worker, parents and parents' legal representative to discuss 'Letter Before Proceedings', and as far as possible, agree further action to safeguard the child. The date for the review of the child's plan will be set and if required a date for the review Pre Proceedings Meeting; this meeting will, in all but exceptional circumstances be chaired by the local authority legal representative;
  • The social worker will ensure that the child's plan in the child's record accurately reflects that which was agreed at the Pre Proceedings meeting;
  • Parents and their legal representative will be provided with a new plan for the child setting out what the parents and local authority will do to safeguard the child and resolve the issues. This will be distributed with a letter from the Team Manager that confirms what action will be taken and what action will be taken by the local authority to safeguard the child if the plan is not followed and the date of the review of the child's plan;
  • The child's plan and a copy of the letter will be distributed to all professionals who are involved with the child and the family, in particular those that are recorded within the plan as providing services to meet the planned outcomes;
  • If the child has a Section 17 child's plan the Team Manager will chair the first review of the plan. A decision as to who will chair subsequent reviews will be made at each review and made in line with progress in meeting the planned outcomes for the child.

Letter before Proceedings not issued:

  • Social Worker will make any changes to the child's plan within one working day;
  • Team Manager will send a letter to the family explaining the outcome of the legal planning meeting. This letter will not contain any details of the legal advice which has been provided from the local authority legal representative. The social worker will discuss the contents of the letter with the family. Consideration must be given to any special requirements for the parents/child including the need for an interpreter;
  • Social Worker will discuss the option of a Family Group Conference with the family and make the necessary arrangements for the family with the Family Group Conference service. This will be done within 5 working days;
  • The Team Manager will chair the subsequent review of the S17 child's plan.


3. CAFCASS Plus Initiative

The CAFCASS Plus Initiative is to be applied in all cases of unborn babies:

  • Where there are safeguarding concerns in respect of the parent's ability to adequately safeguard the child and/or meet the holistic needs of the child.

Please see also the LSCB, Pre-Birth Protocol.

The Social Worker and Practice Supervisor will present any such case at the Support Panel as soon as possible after the Pre Birth Care Assessment has been completed. This must be no later than a gestation period of 24 weeks.

The request to Support Panel is for the unborn babies’ case to be included in the scheme, for a legal planning meeting to be heard and for a letter before proceedings to be issued.

Support Panel (see Support Panel Procedure) will make a decision about whether the matter should be referred to CAFCASS Plus or not.

The unborn babies’ case should then be subject of a legal planning meeting.

The following process will be followed:

The Social Worker and Team Manager will attend the 'Legal Planning Meeting' and present the:

  • The Social Care Assessment;
  • Completed draft copy of the 'Letter Before Proceedings';
  • Genogram.

The Legal Planning Meeting will:

  • Read the Social Care Assessment summaries and analysis;
  • Agree if the 'Letter Before Proceedings' can be issued;
  • Agree the content of the 'Letter Before Proceedings';
  • If the 'Letter Before Proceedings' cannot be issued give reasons and provide advice on implementing the child's plan. This could include changes to the child's plan;
  • If the letter is to be issued set the date when the case will be presented again for review/monitoring at the legal meeting.

Once Support Panel has agreed that the case should become part of the scheme the social worker should discuss the scheme with the family. The family should be issued with the following:

  • “CAFCASS Plus Initiative Information Leaflet” from CAFCASS;
  • Letter to Parents which includes a list of Family Law Society Solicitors; and
  • Written consent should then be obtained using the “CAFCASS Consent Form”.

When deemed appropriate a ‘Letter Before Proceedings to be issued:

  • The Team Manager will complete the letter and distribute to the parent(s)/people with parental responsibility, social worker, legal services and a copy forwarded to CAFCASS;
  • The social worker will notify the Family Group Conference Co-ordinator providing the list of issues (concerns) and proposed resolutions;
  • The Team Manager will set the date for the meeting with parents and their legal representative and notify legal services of the date and time in order that they can attend the meeting. A decision will be made as to whether legal services will attend or be give advice by telephone. Account needs to be taken of the availability of a Family Court Advisor to attend. This may require a degree of flexibility and negotiation.

The signed consent form from the family, along with all the relevant paperwork should then be emailed to:

inbox-Lincoln@cafcass.gov.uk and copied into paula.bexon@lincolnshire.gov.uk using the “CAFCASS Notification” as a covering letter.

The referral from Children’s Services to CAFCASS Plus will ideally be made at 24 weeks Gestation, however given that Children’s Services will on occasions not be notified until a later point during the pregnancy, the referral will be accepted at any point between 20 to 28 weeks Gestation, ideally this will not exceed 28 weeks gestation.

If the referral is made after 28 weeks Gestation, the referral will be will accepted at the discretion of CAFCASS. After 32 weeks Gestation CAFCASS will not accept the referral and the scheme cannot be utilised.

The Service Manager of CAFCASS once notified will appoint a Family Court Advisor. CAFCASS will endeavour to ensure that the matter is allocated to a Family Court Advisor within two day of the referral. The allocated Family Court Advisor will contact the Social Worker about the necessary paperwork. In the event that this contact has not been made, contact should be made will Anya Phillips to enquire as to who has been allocated.

The relevant paperwork should include:

  • Social Care Assessment;
  • Contact Details of the parents;
  • Letter outlining expected date of delivery and outlining concerns (names and DoB of any children who were previously removed from the parent's care or subject to previous proceeds should also be included within the letter);
  • Genogram;
  • Any Special Assessment e.g. Protective Covers/Risk Assessments;
  • Child Protection Conference Minutes (if available);
  • Any expert reports from previous proceeds in full;
  • Copy of the Pre-proceedings letter;
  • Child’s Plan;
  • Signs of Safety Assessment;
  • PLO compliant chronology (No more than four pages and should focus on events only in respect of the preceding two years);
  • Outcome of FGC, if it has taken place.

The above paperwork must be supplied to CAFCASS within 2 weeks of the Support Panels decision. CAFCASS need a minimum of 2 weeks’ notice for the date of the Pre-proceedings meeting.

On receipt of the paperwork a Family Court Advisor will then make enquiries, including meeting with the family prior to attending the Pre-proceedings meeting.

The Local Authority Lawyer will chair the pre-proceedings meeting, in attendance with the Team Manager, Social Worker, parents, parent’s legal representative and Family Court Advisor to discuss ‘Letter Before Proceedings’ and as far as possible, agree further action to safeguard the child. There should be no more than one review prior to the birth of the child. Any review meeting should include the Family Court Advisor.

A note of the Pre Proceedings Meeting will be provided to the Social Care Team by the legal advisor as a record of the meeting. This document remains an internal document which should not be shared with external agencies as it may contain additional legal advice following on from the meeting.

The Social Worker will ensure that the child’s plan in the child’s records accurately reflects that which was agreed at the ‘letter before proceedings meeting’.

Eight working days after the pre-proceedings meeting, the Family Court Advisor will provide a CAFCASS Plus report setting out an initial analysis and recommendations as to the way forward. This report will be forwarded to Children's Services and the parents by Cafcass or a representative acting on behalf of the Family Court Advisor.

Following the Pre-Proceedings Assessment Report and any notable views from the Family Court Advisor taken into account, the following process will be followed:

  • Parents, their legal representative and the Family Court Advisor will be provided with a new plan for the child setting out what the parents and local authority will do to safeguard the child and resolve the issues. This will be distributed with a letter from the Team Manager that confirms what action will be taken and what action will be taken by the local authority to safeguard the child if the plan is not followed and the date of the review of the child's plan;
  • The child's plan and a copy of the letter will be distributed to all professionals who are involved with the child and the family, in particular those that are recorded within the plan as providing services to meet the planned outcomes.

Review

At the agreed review interval the Local Authority will notify CAFCASS of the outcome of events and whether they intend to issue proceedings. In the event that proceedings are commenced then the same Family Court Advisor who has been involved in the pre proceedings to be allocated wherever possible and so becomes the allocated Children's Guardian.

See Appendix 2: CAFCASS PLUS - Lincolnshire Initiative - Flowchart of Process.


4. The Family Meeting/Family Group Conference

Family Group Conferences can take place at any time during the course of the case. It is good practice to use the Family Group Conference service to assist in the delivery of the child's plan.

In these circumstances, whenever possible, the Family Group Conference will take place prior to the social worker's statement and child's care plan being submitted to legal services. The birth family will be offered the opportunity to hold a family meeting with the purpose of:

  • Identifying if there is anyone within the family (or friends/community) who can offer support to enable the child to remain with their parent(s);
  • Identifying who could look after the child to prevent the child from being placed in a local authority placement;
  • Identify who wishes to be assessed to look after the child if the child is unable to return to the birth parent(s) or those with parental responsibility;
  • Make proposal of how the family/friends can assist with the contact arrangements;
  • Make proposals of how the family/friends can assist with meeting the identified needs within the child's plan.

In some circumstances the family may request that a professional who is already involved with their family, chair's the family meeting. However, the family should always be offered the facility of an independent chairperson from the Family Group Conference Service. If this is their preference the Lead Social Worker will contact the Family Group Conference (see Family Group Conferences Procedure), co-ordinator manager within one working day of being notified by the family.

Whenever possible, the FGC minutes, containing the plan, will be given to the Lead Social Worker, family, child/young person (dependent upon age and understanding) and legal services at least two working days before the proposed date of filing to the court. If this is not possible the Family Group Conference co-ordinator will notify the Lead Social Worker of the date of the meeting and reasons for it not taking place prior to the application to the court.


5. Pre-proceedings Documents

The following documents will need to have been prepared and forwarded to the legal department so that the necessary legal application can be prepared:

  1. Chronology: a succinct summary of the length of involvement of the local authority with the family and in particular with the child; A succinct summary of the significant dates and events in the child's life in chronological order, (it must be no longer than four pages and must refer to events within the preceding two years, save in circumstances where there is a long history of social care involvement and then a short historical context paragraph should be included). i.e. a running record up to the issue of the proceedings, providing such information under the following headings:
    1. Serial number;
    2. Date;
    3. Event-detail;
    4. Witness or document reference (where applicable).
  2. Initial Social work statement (succinct summary of reasons with reference as appropriate to the Welfare Checklist);
  3. Genogram;
  4. Kinship viability assessment(s);
  5. Any complete kinship assessments;
  6. Parenting assessment;
  7. Care Plan;
  8. Social Care Assessment;
  9. Letter before Proceedings.

The above documents are Annex documents which will be used to issue application. Alongside these documents the legal representative will also be requiring documents which will go into checklist documents, by way of example, evidential documents and decision making records.


Note:
Parallel Criminal Investigations

The Protocol and Good Practice Model: Disclosure of Information in Cases of Alleged Child Abuse and Linked Criminal and Care Direction Hearings (October 2013) provides guidance and good practice in relation to the disclosure of evidence and evidence between local authorities, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service ('CPS').

  • The local authority should ensure that documents relating to family court proceedings are not included in the files to be examined by the police. Instead, the local authority will provide a list of such documents without describing what they are (e.g. by providing a copy of the redacted court index), in order for the police and/or the CPS to apply to the family court for disclosure;
  • The local authority can disclose to the police documents relating to family court proceedings where the police officer to whom disclosure is made is a member of a dedicated child protection unit and/or is exercising powers of Police Protection under section 46 of the Children Act 1989, and the disclosure is for the purposes of child protection and not for the purposes of the criminal investigation;
  • The local authority can disclose to the police documents which are lodged at court or used in the proceedings which already existed prior to the commencement of the family court proceedings (e.g. pre-existing medical reports);
  • The text or summary of a judgment given in the family court proceedings can be included in the files to be examined by the police;
  • Where material is disclosed to the police, it cannot be further disclosed to any other parties (e.g. the CPS) for the purposes of the criminal investigation without the express permission of the family court.


6. Immediate Action to Safeguard the Child

Where there is immediate requirement to safeguard a child the Initial Social Work statement (see 10.3, page 11 The PLO, Guide to Case Management), Care Plan, Genogram (unless this is a new referral with no previous involvement from social care) and the Assessment that led to the decision to make an application will be forwarded to the legal services for the application to be lodged.

The court will make directions of when the other documents including the Social Care Assessment will be filed.

Documents disclosed from the Local Authority's records will include:

  • The current child's plan (s17 child in need plan, child protection plan and Looked After Child Plan);
  • The Kinship care assessment(s), viability kinship care assessment(s) or proposed kinship care assessment (for (in those circumstances when the viability assessment has not been completed). The timescale of when each prospective carer will be assessed will be given;
  • Most recent Strategy Discussion Record;
  • Most recent Outcome of Section 47 enquiry;
  • The social worker's and chairperson's report and the child protection plan from the most recent Initial Child Protection Conference / Review of the Child Protection Plan;
  • Other relevant reports from health, education, Home Office etc. including those presented to the Initial Child Protection Conference/Review of the child's plan, Review of the Looked After Child Plan;
  • Minutes/plan from the Family Group Conference;
  • Section 7 & Section 37 report (if one has been completed);
  • Any previous orders and judgements/reasons.

Other documents may be disclosed upon the request of the court.


Appendix 1: Public Law Outline 2014 (26 weeks) Flowchart

Click here to view the Public Law Outline 2014 (26 weeks) Flowchart.


Appendix 2: CAFCASS PLUS - Lincolnshire Initiative - Flowchart of Process

Click here to view the Flowchart of Process.

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