1.4.3 Legal Planning Meetings & Gateway Panel

1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings (LPMs)

Legal Planning Meetings are an essential part of the process for dealing with public law children's cases under the Public Law Outline. 

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division in 'The Process of Reform: the revised PLO and the Local Authority', states that a properly organised legal planning meeting is invaluable and can be the key to achieving timely outcomes to Care Proceedings. He also recommends that local authority lawyers be involved, advising and assisting their social work clients, at an early stage.

A Legal Planning Meeting should be held to discuss the way forward in a particular case, where legal intervention may be required. This can include:

  • Where it is considered that there are safeguarding risks within the family, and the risks cannot be managed by Children’s’ Services following Local Authority intervention and support;
  • A baby is due to be born to parents where a previous child or young person has been removed from their care within the last five years, the Legal Planning Meeting is to take place no later than week 22 of the expected delivery date (EDD);
  • The Section 20 toolkit recommends legal advice to be sought;
  • Gateway Panel recommends legal advice to be sought;
  • Following an application for an Emergency Protection Order when consideration is being given to an application for an Interim Care Order;
  • 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.

At the meeting, a decision should be made in principle about whether the Threshold Criteria have been met. The meeting should also identify any evidence gaps and clarify whether additional assessments will be required to support with available evidence.

2. Who Can Convene a Legal Planning Meeting

The Social Worker and Team Manager will seek the approval of their Service Manager to convene a Legal Planning Meeting. The decision will usually be taken following a recommendation from a Child Protection Conference, as a result of a Looked After Review, a Permanence Planning Meeting, or on the request of a social worker, manager, local authority lawyer, or other agency.

3. Requesting a Legal Planning Meeting, and the Relevant Timings

The Social Worker will request the Legal Planning Meeting by submitting the relevant documentation to the Service Manager. Once the Service Manager has approved the request and documentation, the Social Worker will make the Legal Planning Meeting request to Case Progression by email CPCaseProgression@northamptonshire.gov.uk. The request should not be made until all relevant documentation has been prepared and approved to avoid any delays being caused pending the relevant documentation being provided.

Once all relevant documentation has been provided, Case Progression will track the Legal Planning request, and liaise with the legal team. The legal advisor will contact the Social Worker to arrange the Legal Planning Meeting. The Legal Planning Meeting is expected to take place within six working days of the request being made for a Legal Planning Meeting.

4. Documentation Required for a Legal Planning Meeting

The documentation required for a Legal Planning Meeting is defined below:

  • Legal Planning Meeting Referral Form;
  • Chronology;
  • Genogram;
  • Child and Family Assessment;
  • Signs of Safety Mapping;
  • Family Plan;
  • CP Minutes;
  • Any completed Family Assessments;
  • Any other assessments/Expert Assessments/Police Reports/Agency Reports;
  • Judgments or relevant documents from any previous proceedings.

5. Attendance at Legal Planning Meetings

The meeting will be chaired by a Team Manager. The Social Worker will attend along with the allocated legal advisor.

6. Considerations and Outcome

To enable legal advice to be provided as to whether the threshold criteria is met, as referred to in s.31(2) Children Act 1989, and to comment upon the current evidence available and any evidence that is to be obtained, the following will be considered:

  • The reasons for the concerns and the evidential basis for establishing Significant Harm and the Threshold Criteria;
  • Whether the evidence currently available supports Care Proceedings to be commenced without a period of PLO Pre Proceedings. What would be their aim, objective and purpose;
  • Whether Pre-Proceedings would be recommended, based on the evidence currently available. What is its 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;
  • When will the Assessment and other supporting documentation be available, if not already, and whether a further legal planning review should be arranged.

Where legal threshold has been advised as met, or if the Strategic Manager requests, the Social Worker will refer the case to the Gateway Panel within three working days from the Legal Planning Meeting. Referrals should be sent to the Gateway Panel Administration email AdmissionsandLegal@northamptonshire.gov.uk

7. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings

The legal advisor will confirm their legal advice from the Legal Planning Meeting in writing, within three working days of the meeting. The written legal advice will be sent to the Social Worker, Team Manager and Case Progression.

The Social Worker is responsible for recording the written legal advice from the Legal Planning Meeting onto CareFirst.

The written legal advice is Legally privileged and should not be made available to parents or other parties without the permission of the chairperson or Director, and following discussion with the legal advisor.

8. Review/Subsequent Legal Planning Meetings

If the legal advisor recommends a further Legal Planning Meeting to take place to enable further evidence or information to be gathered, this must be recorded by the Social Worker onto CareFirst. The review Legal Planning Meeting must be arranged at the Legal Planning Meeting, and be within reasonable timescales for the child or young person.

9. Purpose of Gateway Panel

The primary purpose is to formulate a social work based child focused decision, to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child or young person, and to consider any immediate risks and how these may be managed within the Local Authority. The Gateway Panel will decide whether any legal intervention will be required.

The Gateway Panel will decide whether any request for a child/young person to be accommodated has been approved in the short term, extended or approved in the long term.

10. When Should Gateway Panel be Requested?

A child or young person should be referred for a Gateway meeting:

  • Where legal advice confirms that threshold is met in accordance with s31 Children Act 1989 following Legal Planning Meeting (within three working days from the Legal Planning Meeting);
  • Where the Strategic Manager has made such a request, despite legal advice that threshold is not met in accordance with s31 Children Act 1989 following Legal Planning Meeting;
  • To consider step up into proceedings from pre-proceedings following Case Progression Review (refer to the Pre Proceedings Terms of Reference);
  • To consider whether a request for a child/young person to be accommodated has been approved in the short term, extended or approved in the long term;
  • To consider the care plan for a child /young person accommodated from an emergency or unplanned situation, within four weeks of the date of accommodation;
  • To consider the care plan for an accommodated child/young person until either approval is provided in the long term, or an alternate care plan agreed;
  • To consider PLO legal intervention for an Unaccompanied Migrant Child, following six monthly review by a Strategic Manager;
  • Any potential issues/documentation regarding parental capacity to litigate should be flagged up at the 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.

If Care Proceedings are recommended, the Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure should be followed.

Note: Approval to accommodate a child or young person outside of Gateway Panel can be made only by the Assistant Director or Director of Children’s’ Services. See Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, Section 20 Accommodation when consideration Section 20 for any child or young person.

11. Requesting a Gateway Panel Meeting

The Social Worker will contact the Gateway Panel Administrator.

At the time of making the request the Social Worker will provide the relevant documentation as set out in Section 12, Documentation Required for Gateway Panel to the Gateway Panel Administrator. The Social Worker will be provided with a time to attend at the Gateway Panel by the Panel Administrator only once all relevant documentation as required has been submitted.

12. Documentation Required for Gateway Panel

The Social Worker must submit to the Panel Administrator when requesting a Gateway Panel:

Circumstance Documentation
To request approval for accommodation or following emergency or unplanned accommodation/ Review of Section 20 (including for Unaccompanied Migrant Children) Child and Family Assessment
Section 20 Toolkit
Following LPM Papers submitted for LPM
Written legal advice
To request step up into proceedings from pre-proceedings Papers submitted for LPM
Written legal advice
Pre-proceedings letter
Pre-proceedings minutes
Family Network Meeting outcome/Family Group Conference (where appropriate)
Completed IVA(s)
Copy birth certificate
Parenting/Risk assessment/other assessments
Supporting agency and professional Reports
Other supporting evidence, including Hair Strand Testing, DNA testing

13. Attendance at Gateway Panel

The following will attend for the Gateway Panel:

  • Strategic/Service Manager (Chair);
  • Team Manager;
  • Social Worker;
  • Case Progression Manager/Officer;
  • Legal Advisor;
  • Targeted Support;
  • Commissioning;
  • Any other professional considered relevant;
  • 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 planning meeting. This may include information on the child’s progress in their placement and on the impact of contact with their family.

All attendees must prioritise attendance for this meeting.

The Panel Administrator will provide the agenda and relevant documents to the Gateway Panel members at least two working days before Gateway Panel date, to allow Gateway Panel members to consider the information provided.

14. Gateway Panel Outcomes

The Gateway Panel will consider and decide:

  • Whether approval is provided for a child or young person to be accommodated;
    • The reasoning for the agreement to accommodate;
    • How long accommodation has been approved for. If the accommodation is short term a further Gateway review must be set;
    • What is required to be completed to enable the child or young person to return home;
    • Whether a LPM should be held.
  • Whether the Social Worker should continue to work with the family as part of the Child Protection Process;
    • Whether any services or funding be agreed or recommended to prevent further escalation.
  • Whether pre-proceedings should commence, see Appendix 1: Pre Proceedings;
  • Whether Public Law Proceedings should commence, see Appendix 3: Issue s31 Proceedings;
  • If the recommendation is for the case to return to Gateway Panel, the return date should be booked.

15. Recording of Gateway Panel

The notes of the Gateway Panel will be input directly onto CareFirst by the Panel Administrator within 24 hours. The chair will authorise them within 48 hours of the panel.

16. Review/Subsequent Gateway Panel

If the recommendation is for the case to return to Gateway Panel, the return date should be arranged within reasonable timescales for the child or young person.

Appendix 1: Pre Proceedings

Objectives

To identify and focus on the key issues, including by assessment work and identifying and evaluating possible family support networks or carers with the aim of making the best decisions and looking for child focused solutions within the timescales for the children.

Gateway Panel Outcomes

  • Consider any relevant assessment to be conducted within the PLO pre proceedings;
  • Agree on any services or funding that may be available to prevent further escalation;
  • Consider whether early Police Disclosure should be requested (legal advisor to obtain);
  • Ensure the Coram randomiser is updated to determine whether a Family Group Conference will be offered;
  • Ensure Family Network Meetings are considered;
  • Consider whether the Connected Persons Team can be updated relating to any potential connected persons identified for Initial Viability Assessment.

Process Guidance

Week 0 Approve Pre-Proceedings at Gateway
Week 0 SW to send pre proceedings letter to Case Progression (2 days after Gateway). Case Progression to review, and forward the letter to the legal advisor for approval
Week 0 SW to prepare Assessment plans, to be shared with parents
Week 0 SW to request agency reports to be requested/make Relevant referrals
Week 0 SW to make any relevant funding/Commissioning application
Week 0 SW to deliver the pre-proceedings letter/seek parental consent to CAFCASS Plus (where applicable) (3 days after Gateway)
Week 0 SW to liaise with CAFCASS Plus re referral (where applicable)
Week 1 Pre-Proceedings Meeting (with parents and legal present) –
(10/14 days after delivery of pre proceedings letter)
Week 1 Assessments to commence
Week 1 Social Worker confirmation re Family Network Meeting
Week 3 Referral for IVA to Connected Person’s Team
Week 4 IVA completed
Week 5 Case Progression Review (see Appendix 2: Case Progression Review)
Week 6 Review Pre-Proceedings Meeting (with parents)
Week 11 Case Progression Review (see Appendix 2: Case Progression Review)
Week 12 / Week 16 Final Pre-Proceedings Meeting (with parents)

Outcome

The Social Worker will complete the Minutes of the Pre Proceedings meeting during the course of the meeting. The Minutes will be signed by each parent, the Social Worker and the Team Manager at the conclusion of the meeting.

A copy of the minutes will be provided to each parent/relevant party to take away from the meeting.

Appendix 2: Case Progression Review

Objective

To have an overview of children subject to PLO pre proceedings to ensure their legal intervention is progressing in line with the child’s timescales. To ensure relevant and child focused assessments are on track and progressing as required to enable early decisions to be made.

Process

  • To support the Social Worker with the contents of the pre proceedings letter;
  • To review the progress of the PLO pre proceedings within Case Progression Meetings;
  • To escalate appropriately should any delays/problems be identified;
  • To ensure assessments have been completed and signed off to enable further decisions to be made;
  • Following Service Manager approval and Case Progression Review, to support with decisions to step out of the PLO pre proceedings process;
  • To support with the return to Gateway Panel, should request be made to step into PLO Public Law Proceedings.

Relevant Documents

The Social Worker will ensure the Case Progression Manager is updated with any relevant documentation and assessments as completed prior to the Case Progression Meeting, bearing in mind the relevant documentation as set out in the Gateway Panel Terms of Reference (within pre proceedings).

Considerations

The aim of the Case Progression review is to consider:

  • Whether further legal advice is required;
  • Whether the current assessments are progressing within agreed timescales;
  • Whether any further assessments should be considered or commissioned to ensure child focused decisions can be made;
  • To support with the escalation of any issues arising, for example to Commissioning or the legal advisor;
  • To ensure relevant escalation should delays be identified;
  • To support with decisions relating to stepping out of the PLO –Pre Proceedings process;
  • To support with referral to Gateway, should the Social Worker seek approval to for PLO Public Law Orders to be sought (refer to the Gateway Panel Terms of Reference).

Membership

In attendance:

  • Team Manager
  • Social Worker
  • Case Progression Manager
  • Legal Advisor (if requested)
  • Any other professional considered relevant

Commissioning

All attendees must prioritise attendance for this meeting.

The Case Progression Meeting will be arranged by the Case Progression Manager at approximately weeks 5 and 11 of the PLO pre proceedings process.

Additional meetings can be arranged at the request of the Social Worker should the following arise:

  • Difficulties with progress have been identified relating to the assessments;
  • Consideration is being given to step out of the PLO pre proceedings process;
  • The Social Worker considers a request Gateway to seek approval to step into PLO Public Law proceedings is required;
  • An emergency situation requiring urgent consideration.

Recording

The Case Progression Manager will record on the child’s electronic file the steps agreed to make progress, and will escalate as appropriate any issues arising.

Appendix 3: Issue s31 Proceedings

Objectives

To make all efforts to ensure cases are font loaded, to enable child focused recommendations and decisions to be made within s31 Proceedings relating to placements and outcomes for children. To make every effort to conclude the Court proceedings within the child’s timescales and in conjunction with statutory guidelines.

Gateway Panel Outcomes

  • Agree the Order to be sought, and the type of placement to be considered including family placement, Foster for Adoption;
  • Agree on the assessments to be undertaken within the proceedings;
  • To consider whether early Police Disclosure should be requested (Legal to obtain);
  • To update the Connected Persons Team if any IVA’s have been identified;
  • To agree the date for the issue letter to be delivered to the parents (3 days after Gateway);
  • Agree the date the SWET, Care Plan, evidential and checklist documents will be sent to Case Progression (7 days after Gateway Panel).

Case Progression Support

  • Case Progression will arrange a meeting with the Social Worker to consider the issuing evidence available;
  • Case Progression will review all evidence prepared once finalised and signed off, in readiness to forward to the legal advisor.
  • Case Progression will liaise with the legal advisor re updates relating to the issuing paperwork, and to forward the paperwork once finalised and signed off;
  • Case Progression will escalate appropriately should any delays be identified with the agreed dates to issue.