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1.3.2 Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline (PLO)

NOTE

Any changes in a child's legal status as a result of court proceedings must be recorded on the electronic database.

RELATED GUIDANCE AND DOCUMENTS

Public Law Outline (2014)

Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Court Orders and Pre-Proceedings (2014)

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

Social Work Evidence Template
(West Yorkshire Version) – See Resources and Forms Library

Also see the Resources and Forms Library for the Care Plan and Court Table Flowchart.

AMENDMENT

In June 2017 this guidance was reviewed and updated throughout. Links have been added to the following documents:

  • Letter Before Proceedings;
  • Letter Before Proceedings – Unborn Child;
  • PLO and Child Protection Workflow;
  • Pre-proceedings Agenda and Guidance;
  • Pre-proceedings Minutes.


Contents

1. Pre-Proceedings Under the Public Law Outline (PLO)
2. Pre Birth Planning and Proceedings
3. Starting Care or Supervision Proceedings
4. Case Management Checklist and Flowcharts


1. Pre-Proceedings Under the Public Law Outline (PLO)

1.1 Introduction

The period when safeguarding concerns are identified is likely to be stressful for both the child and his/her parents. Early parental engagement in the child protection /child in need process is vital, as well as keeping the child age appropriately informed of what is being planned.

Of key importance is the need to:

  • Encourage parents to take up the offer of a Family Group Conference. Parents will sometimes need to be persuaded of the benefits of holding a family meeting possibly out of fear or the embarrassment of wider family members knowing their circumstances;
  • Family can play a key role in supporting the child and helping the parents to address identified problems. In situations where the safeguarding concerns escalate and a child can no longer live safely with a parent, the local authority should seek to place the child with a family member where safe to do so;
  • Complete and keep under review any assessments undertaken and ensure that due regard has been given to any particular issues like the parent’s level of understanding; and
  • Be very clear about the issues of concern and any timescales agreed for reviewing progress.

1.2 The Concerns are not being Addressed or Reduced and the Child / Unborn child Remains at Risk of Harm 

Where the concerns about a child are not being addressed or reduced and the child /unborn child remains at risk of harm, it is the decision of the local authority as to whether a child should become subject to pre-proceedings. However a view from the other agencies involved with the child should be sought wherever possible.

With the permission of the Team Manager and the relevant Children’s Service Delivery Manager (CSDM), a referral should be made to Decision and Review Panel (DARP).

There is always a legal representative on the DARP panel who will be able to advise whether the circumstances of the child meet the threshold for going into pre proceedings. As such DARP, whilst deciding whether to initiate pre proceedings/proceedings will also act as the legal planning meeting.

Pre proceedings can be initiated in respect of an unborn child and should be held as early as possible, ideally at or before 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

Pre-proceedings work is often referred to as Public Law Outline or PLO.

1.3 What happens next when Permission is given by DARP to Enter into Pre Proceedings?

The local authority will send the parents and anyone with parental responsibility a Letter Before Proceedings. This is a prescribed format which cannot be altered.

There is a slightly different version when holding such a meeting about an unborn child – this is the Letter Before Proceedings - Unborn Child.

About the Letter Before Proceedings:

  • The letter allows the parents/carers to receive free legal advice and representation;
  • The letter should go out within five (5) working days of DARP giving permission for pre-proceedings to commence;
  • The Social Worker should ensure that they have identified wherever possible who the father / mother of the child is and that even if he/she has played no part in the child’s life up to now that he/ she is also sent a copy of this letter; 
  • The letter should set out in plain language the ‘bottom line concerns’ that have to be addressed to keep the child safe. If the child is subject to a child protection plan the Team Manager should agree the concerns with the safeguarding chair. There are likely to be no more than three to four concerns that are the ones that meet threshold;
  • The letter should contain a summary of what support has been provided and what the parent needs to do to avoid proceedings, including timescales;
  • A draft of the plan required to safeguard the child should be in the PLO letter;
  • The draft letter should be sent to the allocated solicitor who will advise if any amendments or additions are required; and
  • A list of solicitors should be included with the letter. Up to date lists are available from legal section.  

1.4 Pre-Proceedings Meeting

The meeting should take place no more than seven (7) working days after the parent has received the letter. This allows parents time to seek legal advice and for a solicitor to be available to represent the parent(s) at the meeting.

It may be necessary to hold separate meetings for each parent if there is a risk to one party by having all parents in the same room.

The PLO process can be confusing for parents who struggle understandably to distinguish the Pre-Proceedings Meeting from others they may have to attend such as core groups. Careful consideration should be given about the timing of this meeting to ensure that it does not clash or is too close to any other meetings the parent has to attend. If the child is subject to a child protection plan, the Safeguarding Chair should be consulted about how this can be achieved and whether a Core Group or Review Child Protection Conference should be rescheduled.  

Please refer to the PLO and Child Protection Workflow  for guidance on how these two processes work together. 

The meeting is chaired by either the Team Manager or CSDM. The Pre-Proceedings Agenda and Guidance is used and followed. If the parent does not have legal representation the meeting can go ahead, or dependent on the urgency, the meeting could be rescheduled to allow the parent time to consult a solicitor if that is their intention.

A draft of the plan required to safeguard the child should have been included in the PLO letter and a copy made available for the meeting and ideally signed by the parent. This plan will run alongside any family plan developed through a Family Group Conference but will supersede the child protection or child in need plan as it focuses on the ‘bottom line concerns’. However parents should be encouraged to engage with the contents of all plans.

The plan should consider whether any expert assessments are required, e.g. DNA testing, substance misuse testing, or psychological assessment. The cost of such assessments at this stage is the responsibility of the local authority.

The meeting must be recorded in minutes and should be distributed within seven (7) working days. Such minutes will be required if care proceedings are initiated. The Pre-Proceedings Minutes template is used.

1.5 Review Meetings

A review meeting date should be set at the end of the meeting to take place within 6-8 weeks. If a further review is required this should take place within 12-16 weeks, i.e. 6-8 weeks after the first review.

If two reviews have been held and the necessary changes have not taken place for the case to come out of PLO the case should be either re-presented to DARP for agreement to initiate proceedings or the CSDM must record on the child’s file on Mosaic the rationale for the case remaining in PLO.

At any time if safeguarding concerns escalate, permission can be sought via DARP or in an emergency, a Head of Service, to issue proceedings.

1.6 Ending the Public Law Outline Process

If a decision is made to end the PLO process a clear recommendation should be made as to whether the child will be subject to care proceedings, child protection plan, a child in need plan or the case closed to the social work service.

The end of the PLO process should be clearly recorded on the child’s file on Mosaic by the Children’s Service Delivery Manager. 

1.7 Recording the Activity on the Child’s Electronic File

Clear records should be made of all the pre-proceedings activity on the child’s electronic file. Any standalone documents (not ones generated by and saved within Mosaic) should be uploaded to the child’s file including letters, minutes of meetings, and any other documents.


2. Pre Birth Planning and Proceedings

Considering Care and Supervision Proceedings at a pre-birth stage and when a child is newly born remains challenging for a number of reasons.

Court judgments have established that: ‘At an interim stage the removal of children from their parents is not to be sanctioned unless the child’s safety requires interim protection.’

It continues to be important to ensure for both the child and the parent(s) that:

  • Any hearing should be considered a ‘fair hearing’ commensurate with Article 6 of the Human Rights Act (the right to a fair trial);
  • The fact that a hospital is prepared to keep a new born baby is not a reason to delay making an application for an Interim Care Order (ICO), (the hospital may not detain a baby against the wishes of a parent/s with Parental Responsibility and the capability of a maternity unit to accommodate a healthy child can change within hours and is dependent upon demand);
  • Where a Pre-birth Plan recommends an Application for an ICO to be made on the day of the birth, ‘it is essential and best practice for this to occur’.

2.1 Good Practice Steps

In all but, the most exceptional and unusual circumstances, local authorities must make applications for public law proceedings in respect of new born babies timeously and especially, where the circumstances arguably require the removal of the child from its parent(s), within at most 5 days of the child’s birth. Best practice includes that:

  • The Pre-birth Plan should be rigorously adhered to by social work practitioners, managers and legal departments;
  • A risk assessment of the parent(s) should be ‘commenced immediately upon the social workers being made aware of the mother’s pregnancy’;
  • The Assessment should be completed at least 4 weeks before the expected delivery date;
  • The Assessment should be updated to take into account relevant events pre - and post delivery where these events could affect an initial conclusion in respect of risk and care planning of the child;
  • The Assessment should be disclosed upon initial completion to the parents and, if instructed, to their solicitor to give them opportunity to challenge the Care Plan and risk assessment;
  • The Social Work Team should provide all relevant documentation necessary to the Local Authority Legal Adviser to issue proceedings and application for Interim Care Order / Interim Supervision Order:
  • Legal Services must issue on the day of the birth and certainly no later than 24 hours after the birth (or the date on which the Local Authority is notified of the birth);
  • Immediately on issue – or before - the Local Authority solicitor should serve the applications and supporting evidence on the parents and, if instructed, their respective solicitors. They should have sought an initial hearing date from the court, or the best estimate that its solicitors could have provided.


3. Documentation

Before a decision can be made to initiate Care or Supervision Proceedings, the approval of DARP (Decision and Review Panel), or in an emergency a Head of Service, must be obtained.

3.1 Documents to be Filed with the Application

In the revised Public Law Outline, both the filing and service of documents is more focused, with a concentration on what is relevant, central and key, rather than what is peripheral or historical. Local authority materials are expected to be:

  • Much shorter than previously, and they should be more focused on analysis than on history and narrative;
  • Documents must be recent - restricted to the most recent, limited to those from the last two years. Documents need not be served or listed if they are older than two years before issue of the proceedings, unless reliance is placed on them in the local authority’s evidence; and
  • Documents must be focused and succinct. with a concentration on what is relevant, central and key, rather than what is peripheral or historical. Both the social work Chronology and the summary of the background circumstances as set out in the social work statement must be kept appropriately short, focusing on the key significant historical events and concerns and rigorously avoiding all unnecessary detail.

  1. The local authority solicitor will prepare some of the documents including:
    • The application;
    • Threshold Statement: This is a written outline of the facts which the local authority will seek to establish by evidence or concession to satisfy the threshold criteria under s31(2) of the Children Act 1989, limited to no more than 2 pages; and
    • Local Authority Case Summary: A document prepared by the Local Authority legal representative for each case management hearing in the prescribed form.
  2. The social worker will need to provide the following: 
    • The social work Chronology;
    • A Genogram
    • The social work statement which the solicitor will also assist with;
    • Any current Assessment relating to the child and/or the family and friends of the child to which the social work statement refers and on which the local authority relies; and
    • The Interim Care Plan.

      The solicitor will advise the social worker if any other additional documents are required.
  3. The Children’s Guardian will need to provide:
    • A written or, if there is insufficient time, an oral outline of the case for the Case Management Hearing (CMH) or Final Case Management Hearing (FCMH) and issues resolution hearing.
  4. Parents’ Response – there should be a document from either or both of the parents containing:
    • In no more than two pages, the parents’ response to the Threshold Statement;
    • The parents’ placement proposals including the identity and whereabouts of all relatives and friends they propose be considered by the court; and
    • Information which may be relevant to a person’s capacity to litigate including information about any referrals to mental health services and adult services.

In some cases, the level of concern about a child’s welfare may require rapid and sometimes immediate recourse to the courts. A lack of documentation should never prevent a case being brought to court quickly where this is essential to protect the child’s welfare. Such cases should never be the norm, however, and where a particular piece of documentation cannot be supplied immediately, the authority must state on the application form the reasons why it cannot be included and confirm the date when the documents will be submitted to the court.

3.2 Court Hearings

Although the Public Law Outline sets out a prescribed set of stages, it also provides for flexibility at any stage of the proceedings. See Section 4 Case Management Checklist and Flow Charts.

3.3 The Timetable for the Proceedings

The court will draw up a Timetable for the Proceedings taking into account:

  • Dates which are important to the child’s welfare and development;
  • Concluding the matter within 26 weeks beginning with day the application was issued.

That in particular circumstances, the court may consider that it is necessary to extend the time by which the proceedings are to be resolved beyond 26 weeks, but may do so only if it considers that the extension is necessary to enable it to resolve the proceedings justly. This may be on application or the court’s own initiative. Extensions are not to be granted routinely and require specific justification. When deciding whether to extend the timetable, the court must have regard to the impact of any ensuing timetable revision on the welfare of the child. An initial extension may be granted for up to eight weeks (or less if directed). A further extension of up to eight weeks may be agreed by the court. There is no limit on the number of extensions that may be granted. 

3.4 Use of Experts

Section 13 of the Children and Families Act 2014 states that permission to put expert evidence before the court is ‘necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly’. Before granting such permission the court will take into account:

  • Any impact which giving permission would be likely to have on the child(ren);
  • The impact on the timetable and conduct of the proceedings;
  • The cost; and
  • What other expert evidence is available (whether obtained before or after the start of the proceedings), and whether evidence could be given by another person, such as a social worker or the Children’s Guardian.

An application for permission to instruct an expert should state the questions which the expert is required to answer and the court will give directions approving the questions that are to be put to the expert.

Decisions about commissioning such evidence should be made early in the proceedings, usually at the Case Management Hearing.

See also Practice Direction 25B – The Duties of an Expert, the Expert’s Report and Arrangements for an Expert to Attend Court (Ministry of Justice, 2014).

3.5 Good Local Authority Practice during Proceedings

All parties should comply with court directions and ensure that timeframes set by the court are met

Both the local authority social worker and the local authority solicitor should be in command of the essential evidence.

Social Workers need to keep in regular contact with the allocated solicitor appraising them of any changes/new developments in a case which if relevant will be drawn to the court’s attention and shared with the other parties.

The social worker must also  keep the IRO and Children's Guardian up to date. Arrangements for any change to the child's placement in proceedings must not be made without prior consultation with the Children's Guardian.

The final Care Plan filed with the court should include the views of the IRO and, be written by the IRO rather than by the social worker and the plan should have had approval from the Head of Service.

Once proceedings have been concluded, the Children’s Guardian and IRO should have a handover discussion, in line with the agreed protocol. This is to ensure that the IRO is aware of any stipulations or directions from the Court that they need to monitor as part of their on-going scrutiny and review of the case.


4. Case Management Checklist and Flowcharts

4.1 Pre-Proceedings

PRE-PROCEEDINGS
PRE-PROCEEDINGS CHECKLIST

Annex Documents are the documents specified in the Annex to the Application Form which are to be attached to that form and filed with the court:

  • Social Work Chronology;
  • Social Work Statement and genogram;
  • The current assessments relating to the child and/or the family and friends of the child to which the Social Work Statement refers and on which the LA relies;
  • Care Plan;
  • Index of Checklist Documents.

Checklist documents (already existing on the LA’s files) are:

(a) Evidential documents including:

  • Previous court orders including foreign orders and judgments/reasons;
  • Any assessment materials relevant to the key issues including capacity to litigate, Section 7 and 37 reports;
  • Single, joint or inter-agency materials (e.g., health & education/Home Office and Immigration Tribunal documents).

(b) Decision-making records including:

  • Records of key discussions with the family;
  • Key LA minutes and records for the child;
  • Pre-existing care plans (e.g., Child in Need plan, looked after child plan and child protection plan);
  • Letters Before Proceedings.

Only Checklist documents in (a) are to be served with the application form.

Checklist Documents in (b) are to be disclosed on request by any party.

Checklist documents are not to be:

  • Filed with the court unless the court directs otherwise; and
  • Older than 2 years before the date of issue of the proceedings unless reliance is placed on the same in the LA’s evidence.

4.2 Stage 1 - Issue and Allocation

STAGE 1 ISSUE AND ALLOCATION
DAY 1 AND DAY 2

On Day 1 (Day of issue):

  • The LA files the Application Form and Annex Documents and sends copies to Cafcass/CAFCASS CYMRU;
  • The LA notifies the court of the need for an urgent preliminary case management hearing or an urgent contested ICO hearing where this is known or expected;
  • Court officer issues application.

Within a day of issue (Day 2):

  • Court considers jurisdiction in a case with an international element;
  • Court considers initial allocation to specified level of judge in accordance with the Allocation Rules and any President’s Guidance on the distribution of business;
  • LA serves the Application Form, Annex Documents and evidential Checklist Documents on the parties together with the notice of date and time of CMH and any urgent hearing;
  • Court gives standard directions on Issue and Allocation including:
    • Checking compliance with Pre-Proceedings Checklist including service of any missing Annex Documents;
    • Appointing Children’s Guardian (to be allocated by Cafcass/CAFCASS CYMRU);
    • Appointing solicitor for the child only if necessary;
    • Appointing (if the person to be appointed consents) a litigation friend for any protected party or any non subject child who is a party, including the OS where appropriate;
    • Identifying whether a request has been made or should be made to a Central Authority or other competent authority in a foreign state or a consular authority in England and Wales in a case with an international element;
    • Filing and service of a LA Case Summary;
    • Filing and service of a Case Analysis by the Children’s Guardian;
    • Filing and Serving the Parents’ Response;
    • Sending a request for disclosure to, e.g., the police or health service body;
    • Filing and serving an application for permission relating to experts under Part 25 on a date prior to the advocates meeting for the CMH;
    • Directing the solicitor for the child to arrange an advocates’ meeting no later than 2 business days before the CMH;
    • Listing the CMH.
  • Court considers any request for an urgent preliminary case management hearing or an urgent contested ICO hearing and where necessary lists the hearing and gives additional directions;
  • Court officer sends copy Notice of Hearing of the CMH and any urgent hearing by email to Cafcass/ CAFCASS CYMRU.

4.3 Stage 2 - Case Management Hearing

STAGE 2 - CASE MANAGEMENT HEARING
ADVOCATES’ MEETING
(including any litigants in person)
CASE MANAGEMENT HEARING
No later than 2 business days before CMH (or FCMH if it is necessary)

CMH: Not before day 12 and not later than day 18

A FCMH is to be held only if necessary, it is to be listed as soon as possible and in any event no later than day 25
  • Consider information on the Application Form and Annex documents, the LA Case Summary, and the Case Analysis;
  • Identify the parties’ positions to be recited in the draft Case Management Order;
  • Identify the parties’ positions about jurisdiction, in particular arising out of any international element;
  • If necessary, identify proposed experts and draft questions in accordance with Part 25 and the Experts Practice Directions;
  • Identify any disclosure that in the advocates’ views is necessary;
  • Immediately notify the court of the need for a contested ICO hearing and any issue about allocation;
  • LA advocate to file a draft Case Management Order in prescribed form with court by 11a.m. on the business day before the CMH and/or FCMH.

Court gives detailed case management directions, including:

  • Considering jurisdiction in a case with an international element;
  • Confirming allocation;
  • Drawing up the timetable for the child and the timetable for the proceedings and considering if an extension is necessary;
  • Identifying additional parties, intervenors and representation (including confirming that Cafcass/CAFCASS CYMRU have allocated a Children’s Guardian and that a litigation friend is appointed for any protected party or non-subject child);
  • Giving directions for the determination of any disputed issue about litigation capacity;
  • Identifying the key issues;
  • Identifying the evidence necessary to enable the court to resolve the key issues;
  • Deciding whether there is a real issue about threshold to be resolved;
  • Determining any application made under Part 25 and otherwise ensuring compliance with Part 25 where it is necessary for expert(s) to be instructed;
  • Identifying any necessary disclosure and if appropriate giving directions;
  • Giving directions for any concurrent or proposed placement order proceedings;
  • Ensuring compliance with the court’s directions;
  • If a FCMH is necessary, directing an advocates’ meeting and Case Analysis if required;
  • Directing filing of any threshold agreement, final evidence and Care Plan and responses to those documents for the IRH;
  • Directing a Case Analysis for the IRH;
  • Directing an advocates’ meeting for the IRH;
  • Listing (any FCMH) IRH, Final Hearing (including early Final Hearing) as appropriate;
  • Giving directions for special measures and/or interpreters and intermediaries;
  • Issuing the Case Management Order.

4.4 Stage 3 - Issues Resolution Hearing

STAGE 3 - ISSUES RESOLUTION HEARING
ADVOCATES’ MEETING
(including any litigants in person)
ISSUES RESOLUTION HEARING (IRH)
No later than 7 business days before the IRH As directed by the court, in accordance with the timetable for the proceedings
  • Review evidence and the positions of the parties;
  • Identify the advocates’ views of:
    • The remaining key issues and how the issues may be resolved or narrowed at the IRH including by the making of final orders;
    • The further evidence which is required to be heard to enable the key issues to be resolved or narrowed at the IRH;
    • The evidence that is relevant and the witnesses that are required at the final hearing;
    • The need for a contested hearing and/or time for oral evidence to be given at the IRH;
  • LA advocate to:
  • Notify the court immediately of the outcome of the discussion at the meeting;
  • File a draft Case Management Order with the court by 11a.m. on the business working day before the IRH.
  • Court identifies the key issue(s) (if any) to be determined and the extent to which those issues can be resolved or narrowed at the IRH;
  • Court considers whether the IRH can be used as a final hearing;
  • Court resolves or narrows the issues by hearing evidence;
  • Court identifies the evidence to be heard on the issues which remain to be resolved at the final hearing;
  • Court gives final case management directions including:
    • Any extension of the timetable for the proceedings which is necessary;
    • Filing of the threshold agreement or a statement of facts/issues remaining to be determined;
    • Filing of:
      • Final evidence & Care Plan;
      • Case Analysis for Final Hearing (if required);
      • Witness templates;
      • Skeleton arguments.
    • Judicial reading list/reading time, including time estimate and an estimate for judgment writing time;
    • Ensuring Compliance with PD27A (the Bundles Practice Direction);
    • Listing the Final Hearing;
  • Court issues Case Management Order.

Click here to view Leeds Care Plan and Court Timetable.

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