Families on the edge of care proceedings: the operation and impact of pre-proceedings processes in children's social care

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Law

Abstract

Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.
 
Description Guidance to local authorities, introduced in 2008, requires local authorities to send a letter inviting parents to a formal meeting before starting care proceedings, unless children need immediate protection. The letter entitles the parents to free legal aid for advice and representation at the meeting. The process aims to reduce the need for care proceedings by helping parents to co-operate with social workers to improve their care, or to agree that children should live with relatives or foster carers. Also, if cases go to court, the work done should enable them to be completed more quickly. There are substantial variations between local authorities in the use they make of the 'pre-proceedings process' and the ways in which they used it. All but one of the 6 study local authorities were above average users, routinely considering the process and using it in almost all cases where there was time to do so. They used it in nearly three-fifths of cases where care proceedings were considered and half where proceedings were brought; in a fifth of these cases the letter made it clear that proceedings would be started. Nationally, use of the process declined from 2009-10 to 2011-12 despite the increase in the numbers of care proceedings. Social workers, lawyers and parents valued 'pre-proceedings meetings' as a fair way of spelling out concerns and agreeing plans for the child's safety. Parents valued having legal advice and felt supported by having a lawyer with them even though most lawyers said little in the meeting. Lawyers' advice generally reinforced social work messages about co-operation and, for that reason, was welcomed by social workers. Legal advice and support was a catalyst for parents' engagement with children's social care Operating the process was not a straightforward matter; some parents had difficulty getting a lawyer and meetings required skilful chairing. Cases were not resolved through a single meeting; continued social work support and monitoring, including review meeting were necessary to maintain improvements to keep cases out of court. Local authorities varied in their monitoring of the process some and allowed cases to drift too long without real signs of improvement before eventually starting proceedings. About a quarter of cases where parents went to a pre-proceedings meeting did not result in care proceedings. This is a substantial achievement given the nature and seriousness of the local authority's concerns about children's care. Diversion from care proceedings cannot be assumed to be a positive result. In around a third of these diverted cases, parents agreed that their children should live elsewhere, with their other parent, with relatives or in a foster placement. In over half, parents' care improved enough for court proceedings not to be needed, with substantial, positive changes for children in two-fifths of these. The process was particularly useful to engage parents in the local authority's plans to protect unborn children. The pre-proceedings process had little effect on cases where care proceedings were started. The courts appeared to take no account of work and assessments undertaken under the pro-proceedings process. Judges said they were often unaware that the process had been used, were sceptical about the quality of local authority social work and concerned about the fairness of proceedings. There was no significant difference in the length of cases with and without the pre-proceedings process; as many parents contested and there was no difference in outcomes. This left local authority managers reluctant to commission assessments before applying to court, and unsure about the benefits of the committing resources to the process. The study also provided empirical evidence relating to procedural justice effects and highlighted the benefits of a naturalistic theoretical frmework for describing and evaluating decision-making in child protection
Exploitation Route As a basis for policy development by Department for Education, Family Justice Board and the President of the Family Division - in relation to child protection, child care and care proceedings, particularly relating to Statutory Guidance on the Children Act 1989 and guidance related to the operation of the time limit for care proceedings (being introduced in the Children and Families Bill 2013). To inform policy development, including monitoring of access to justice and fixing payment rates, by the Legal Aid Agency (formerly the Legal Services Commission). By managers and analysts in local authority children's services departments to provide comparative data on the handling of child protection matters by local authorities and the courts. For policy and practice development (including staff training and social work supervision) within local authority children's services departments, particularly in relation to use of the pre-proceedings process, sending letters before proceedings, styles of pre-proceedings meetings, reviewing cases in pre-proceedings and avoiding drift. To support aspects of the management and monitoring function of Designated Family Judges by alerting them to matters to consider when reviewing the performance statistics relating to care proceedings and by providing detailed and reliable comparative data. For practice development for solicitors and paralegals who act for parents in the pre-proceedings process. Practice development for cafcass/ cafcass Cymru guardians who act for children in care proceedings and advise the courts about local authority practice. In single discipline or inter disciplinary training for those working in child protection, child care law or family justice. It can be used in social work education and training (including for Local Safeguarding Children Boards,Independent Reviewing Officers and cafcass officers), the professional development of child care lawyers and local authority managers, for judicial education and in interdisciplinary training within and for local family justice boards. The case studies and parents' interviews provide contemporary evidence about parents' perceptions of child protection practice which will be a useful educational resource. The research examines how local authorities implemented central government guidance on the pre-proceedings process and identifies gaps in that guidance. It can be used to improve the guidance, particularly by identifying cases where the process is particularly beneficial or problematic. The findings in relation to court practice can be used to inform developments in care proceedings and judicial management as part of the process for modernising family justice and reducing the length of time it takes for courts to determine these cases. To inform policy in the Law Society and the Legal Services Board in relation to the legal representation of parents. Via the work of the researchers and other academics working in family law, child protection, child and family social work etc
Sectors Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

URL http://www.bris.ac.uk/law/research/researchpublications/2013/partnershipbylaw.pdf
 
Description Findings relating to court practice in care proceedings were fed into the Family Justice Review and have contributed to the reform of care proceedings. A DVD presentation of the findings was used as part of a training package for social workers on the new pre-proceedings process. Findings were disseminated to all family judges who hear care proceedings as part of Judicial College training on the new care proceedings system (PLO2013) Findings relating to local authority practice in the pre-proceedings process contributed to the revision of Children Act 1989, Statutory Guidance Volume 1(2014)
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Consultant to Nuffield Foundation Funded Project Scoping a Family Justice Observatory
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
URL http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/towards-family-justice-observatory
 
Description Contribution to Department for Education Children Act Statutory Guidance, Court orders and Pre-proceedings (2014)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact The use of the pre-proceedings process, which was originally introduced in 2008 has increased. Guidance now includes advice on use of the pre-process in working with parents whose children may be removed at birth. Use of the process pre-birth has been shown to be effective in encouraging parents to work with children's services, in identifying support for parents following birth , and avoiding the need for care proceedings
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/306282/Statutory_guidance_...
 
Description Improvement of adoption practice in local authorities with Coram
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Project methodology and key findings used by Consultants (Coram) to identify local authority legal policy and practice issues in order to address delays in achieving permanency for looked after children via adoption.
URL http://www.coram.org.uk/sharing-our-expertise/our-consultancy-partnerships
 
Description Membership of Family Justice Council Committee examining mediation in child care practice
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description President of Family Division referred to importance of pre-proceedings process when promoting procedural reforms (PLO) in 2013
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Increased use of pre-proceedings process as measured by legal aid bills for providing this work. A factor in the reduction in duration of care proceedings through contributing to better preparation of cases that are taken to court
URL http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/FJC/Publications/VIEW+FROM+THE+PRESIDEN...
 
Description Reference to early findings in Family Justice Review Final Report p 115
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Contributed to proposals in Family Justice Review to encourage use of pre-proceedings system
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/217343/family-justice-revi...
 
Description Family Justice Council Research Fund
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Family Justice Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2012 
End 04/2015
 
Title Edge of Care database 
Description Quantitative data on 200 cases (c 350 children)where local authorities considered starting care proceedings in 2010-2012, including data on children, parents/families and children's social care involvement; details of court proceedings and orders for 173 of these cases where proceedings were commenced. Interview transcripts for interviews with 70 social work and legal professionals from 6 separate local authority areas, who handed these cases interview transcripts for 24 parent interviews, with parents who attended a pre-proceedings meeting with social workers as part of the process 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Database is available in UK Data Archive. but I am not aware that it has been accessed by other researchers 
URL http://reshare.ukdataservice.ac.uk/851380/
 
Description Acting for parents on the edge of care proceedings: the level 2 playing field 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop for practising lawyers who act for parents, disseminating the findings and discussing practice issues such as the use of paralegals, parental agreement to s.20 accommodation etc. This workshop was held at the Annual Conference of the Association of Lawyers for Children

Raised awareness of lawyers about the benefits of the pre-proceedings process; discussion showed lawyers had recognised how they could improve their practice
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Child and family pathways through proceedings 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact One of a series of seminars organised by Nottingham University for social workers/ social work managers

Practitioners were stimulated to think critically about the provision of support to parents facing care proceedings
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Completing care proceedings in 26 weeks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Over 150 social work managers and cafcass managers attended this event on care proceedings reforms. There was a lively discussion about the impacts of the reforms and how local authorities could meet the challenges of shorter care proceedings through effective use of pre-proceedings.

Requests for further information about making the pre-proceedings process work. This information was taken forward in the discussions with the Department of Education on the new statutory Pre-proceedings and Court Orders
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Contribution to RiP training resources on Court Orders and Pre-proceedings Guidance 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Training was made available at spcific train the trainer events, via a webinar , and for download so it could be be used in local training for social workers in practice and those training for social work eg in the Step up to Social Work programme

The initial run of this training was positively received in 2013 so the pre-proceedings package has been included and re -run in 2014 to support the introduction of the new statutory guidance : DfE Court orders and pre-proceedings
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
URL http://coppguidance.rip.org.uk/
 
Description Families on the edge of care proceedings: the operation of the pre-proceedings process and its impact on care proceeedings 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation to policy makers and professional advisers in Department for Education, Cafcass and Ministry of Justice Presentation to key policy makers from child care/ public family law section

Presentation to key policy makers from child care/ public family law section. Subsequently contributed to the preparation of new Statutory Guidance on the pre-proceedings process
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/306282/Statutory_guidance_...
 
Description How lawyers for parents enable voice in child protection 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation stimulated alternative perspectives on the role and practice of lawyers

Researchers from other jurisdictions reflected about relations between lawyers and clients and the meaning of their communication
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/law/research/frs/researchprojects/nfng/
 
Description Making the best of the pre-proceedings process 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to local authority children's social care staff as part of a seminar on the Public Law Outline and the Family Drug and Alcohol Court, organised by London Borough of Southwark to mark the extension of FDAC to Southwark

Increased interest in continuing to use the pre-proceedings process, despite more limited resources
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
 
Description Making the most of the pre-proceedings process for local authorities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to Local authority of findings from the study - part of a local authority organised event on developments in care proceedings practice

Social workers, lawyers and managers increased understanding of how they could prevent the need for court proceedings and improve engagement of families in child protection social work, and discussed how to embed this in local authority practice
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description On the Edge of Care 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public learned of the contribution of research to social work practice.

Provoked interest in the process from beyond the social work/ legal profession
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Perspectives on pre-proceedings work 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to the Norfolk Family Justice Board day conference, 'Changing Family Justice', 17 June 2013, held at the University of East Anglia. I spoke alongside the Assistant Diretcor of Children's Services in Norfolk, Tom Savory, and a private practice family solicitor, Rafael Silver.

Private practice lawyers expressed increased willingness to act for parents before care proceedings, ie to support the pre-proceedings process
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Presentation at postgraduate research methods conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation and discussion on mixing methods in research, stimulated discussion about how methods can be combined, and on the findings

Students shared their wish to learn more about research methods
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Procedure or theory - the case of the PLO 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Stimulated discussion amongst mixed audience of policy makers practitioners and academics/ researchers

Stimulated further discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/law/research/frs/researchprojects/nfng/secondinternationalworksh...
 
Description Reforming care proceedings - getting the balance right for children and the court 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk resulted in discussion about the changes that were required to improved care proceedings and cut their duration, and in the use of the pre-proceedings process

Members of the audience recognised that perceptions about how the process was working in NI did not refelct what was actually happening, and that change was possible.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Talk to National Family Justice Council interdisciplinary conference, 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk to judges and lawyers about the pre-proceedings process and the progress of initiatives to reduce the duration of acre proceedings. Led to a lively and well-informed discussion between audience and presenters. A paper based on the presentation was subsequently published in the journal 'Family Law'.

Continuing to promote judicial awareness of the pre-proceedings process, to assist in reducing the duration of care proceedings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description The pre-proceedings process for care proceedings 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Short summary of the research focusing on the findings relating to socio-legal theories (responsive regulation, juridification, and procedural justice)

knowledge of this area of child protection research and the methods used increased in socio-legal communnity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.slsa.ac.uk/newsletter#content
 
Description The pre-proceedings process in practice 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation to Family Justice Council Early findings of the study to Public Children Committee - an interdisciplinary committee of the Family Justice Council whose work focuses on care proceedings.

Early findings of the study to Public Children Committee - an interdisciplinary committee of the Family Justice Council whose work focuses on care proceedings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description The pre-proceedings process in practice - Wales 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to cafcass Cymru managers and Local authority children's services managers in Wales and discussion on the use of and diversion from care proceedings

Cafcass and local authority social work managers planned further dissemination to their teams/ authorities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description The pre-proceedings process in practice: Social work education event, Bristol 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Lecture to MA social work students at Bristol University: discussion of the importance of legal rights in supporting client engagement

Students began to see the rationale for and impact of legal advice for parents before proceedings, that the law could support parents to work with social workers not merely challenge what social workers do.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014
 
Description Using care proceedings well and making them effective 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk encouraged discussion about developing practice, particularly to prevent, reduce the duration of, care proceedings in Northern Ireland

Requests for further material and papers on aspects of the talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015