Assessment of pre-proceedings processes in children's social care


The Public Law Outline (PLO), introduced in April 2008 changed what was required of local authorities seeking to protect children through court proceedings. It imposed a pre-proceedings process to be used in all cases where the threshold for legal intervention (Children Act 1989, s.31) was met but proceedings to protect children were not immediately required. The process involves the local authority sending the parents a letter setting out their concerns and inviting them to a formal meeting with the social worker. The letter entitles the parents to legal aid for advice and representation at a pre-proceedings meeting at which plans for the children will be discussed. The process is intended to avoid the unnecessary use of care proceedings by encouraging the parents to work co-operatively with children’s social care services to improve their parenting or, if this is not possible, to narrow the issues in dispute and ensure proceedings are better prepared. The aim of the research is to examine the operation of the pre-proceedings process to see whether and how it is achieving what was intended. Specifically, the research establishes: 1) The extent to which local authorities use processes before starting care proceedings; 2) The similarities and differences between cases where process is and is not used. 3) The practices social workers, local authority lawyers, parents and parents representatives adopt in pre-proceedings meetings; 4) The impact of the process on child protection cases; and 5) parents' perceptions of the pre-proceedings process and its impact on their relationship with the Children's Social Care Department. Data sources included: Cases schedules completed by researchers from 207 Local authority legal department case files and court bundles; 69 in-depth interviews with professionals (lawyers, social workers and social work managers); fieldworker notes of 36 observations of pre-proceedings meetings; and 25 in-depth interviews with parents. This project will examine local authority decision-making about child protection in the wake of the Baby Peter tragedy. Under child protection procedures introduced in 2008, local authorities must send parents a formal letter to invite them to a meeting before applying to the court for care proceedings (this does not apply where a child needs immediate protection). This letter qualifies the parents for legal aid and they can bring a legal adviser to the meeting with the social worker. This new procedure is intended to avoid court proceedings, either by helping parents understand the importance of working with the local authority to improve their care or by obtaining parents' agreement for their child to live with relatives or foster carers. Where proceedings are not avoided it is hoped that the discussions will improve the preparation of cases, reduce disputes and cut the time proceedings take; The research will examine how local authorities use these procedures, how successful they are in diverting cases from the courts and what impact they have on cases which do go to court. As well as examining local authority files and interviewing practitioners, the researchers will observe meetings and interview parents.

The project used mixed methods and combined 1) a retrospective study of local authority legal department files on individual cases; 2) a prospective study based on observations of pre-proceedings meetings; and 3) qualitative interviews with parents and professionals. The study was conducted in 6 local authorities in England and Wales (2 shire counties; 2 London boroughs and 2 unitary authorities), selected using Legal Services Commission data on bills submitted for these cases and cafcass data indicating the use of care proceedings in each authority. The sample included LAs that were making sufficient use of the pre-proceedings process (PPP) for the project to be feasible, with lower and higher use of care proceedings, and serving areas with contrasting geography (rural /urban) and demography (majority /BME). Case file records 207 cases drawn from 6 local authorities in 2009; for 173 of these cases further data taken from documents relating to the legal proceedings. Up to 1350 variables have been collected for each case, focusing on 1 (index) child for each case but with limited data about each child subject to the proceedings. There were 305 children involved in the care proceedings and 63 in the cases which did not result in care proceedings.

Metadata Access
Creator Masson, J, University of Bristol; Dickens, J, University of East Anglia
Publisher UK Data Service
Publication Year 2014
Funding Reference ESRC
Rights Judith Masson, University of Bristol
OpenAccess true
Language English
Resource Type Numeric; Text
Discipline Social Sciences
Spatial Coverage England; Wales; United Kingdom