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1.4.3 Legal Gateway Meetings

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in December 2016 to reflect the outcome of a judgment following an application to remove a child at birth. The judge set out what were thought to be ‘basic and good practice steps'. (See Section 3, Issues Considered at Legal Gateway Meeting.)


Contents

  1. Purpose of Legal Gateway Meetings
  2. Information Required to be presented at Legal Gateway Meetings
  3. Issues considered at Legal Gateway Meeting
  4. Outcomes of Legal Gateway Meetings
  5.  Decision to Present a Case to a Legal Gateway Meetings
  6. Chairing, Quoracy and Attendance at Legal Gateway Meetings
  7. Timing of Legal Gateway Meetings
  8. Recording of Legal Gateway Meetings
  9. Review of Decisions at subsequent Legal Gateway Meetings


1. Purpose of Legal Gateway Meetings

When it is clear that the protection or welfare of a child cannot be achieved by agreement with the parents, or where the security of a legal order may be necessary to ensure the viability of a plan for a child, or the existing court order is not providing adequate protection for the child or is no longer required, a Legal Gateway Meeting should be convened. Importantly, Gateway Meetings should consider alternative resolutions that avoid the need to instigate public law care proceedings.

The purpose of the Legal Gateway Meeting is to provide legal advice to  Children’s Social Care, regarding the legal options available to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. The meeting will, taking into account the quality of the evidence available, decide whether the issue of a Letter Before Proceedings, the issue of public law care proceedings or the support of a private law application is in a child’s best interests and will achieve the desired aim.

Note: where children are already Section 20 Accommodated there should be no delay in issuing proceedings where this is required, (see, Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, Section 20 Accommodation).


2. Information required to be presented at Legal Gateway Meetings

In order to enable a full discussion to take place, the following must be completed in full and made available to the Chair no less than two working days before the Meeting:

  • Legal Gateway Information Form;
  • Relevant assessment/s;
  • An up to date Chronology of Significant Events;
  • A Genogram.

In exceptional cases, where time is of the essence, the Chair can decide to proceed with a Legal Gateway Meeting even though all of the required documentation is not available.


3. Issues considered at Legal Gateway Meetings

The issues to be considered at the meeting will include the following:

  • The reasons for the concerns and the evidential basis for establishing Significant Harm and the Threshold Criteria;
  • Whether public law Care Proceedings are necessary and in the child’s best interests, and what would be the purpose of such proceedings, including what Orders would be sought and why;
  • Whether public law Care Proceedings could be avoided in favour of a private law resolution in the child’s best interests, including what Orders would be sought and why and how such orders could be achieved, including consideration of funding part or all of the application and subsequent proceedings;
  • The steps already taken to clarify the issues of concern - i.e. Single Assessment as well as other medical and other expert involvement.

Note that with pre-birth situations a recent High Court judgement has set out good practice steps to include:

  • A risk assessment of the parent(s) should be undertaken immediately the social workers are made aware of the mother's pregnancy and should be completed 4 weeks before the mother's expected delivery date and disclosed to the parent(s) (and their solicitor where relevant);
  • All relevant documentation should be then sent to the Local Authority Legal Adviser to issue proceedings.

(See, Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.)

  • The action/decisions already taken and where the decisions were made e.g. Strategy Discussion/Meeting, Child Protection Conference, Core Group meeting;
  • Consideration of the  wider family and  whether any family members are potentially viable to care for the child on an interim or permanent basis and whether the required checks and assessments have been made;
  • Whether it may be appropriate to instruct any further expert assessment before the commencement of court proceedings - if so, what are the proposed remit of the instructions and the areas to be addressed, who should the assessment be done by and what are the likely timescales?
  • Whether there have been previous Court proceedings in relation to the family and if so, what steps are required to obtain the papers in relation to the case from the Court, or another local authority;
  • Whether there has been or is scope to convene a Family Group Conference, and what the anticipated outcomes of this might be.


4. Outcomes of Legal Gateway Meetings

Having considered all of the information made available to it, and having considered the legal advice provided, Children`s Social Care will decide whether to:

  • Continue to work to the current plan (potentially with some recommended changes to the plan, possibly including the convening of a Family Group Conference), reiterating the importance of adherence to its desired outcomes to all relevant parties, and continue to review the plan through existing processes; or
  • Issue a ‘letter before proceedings’, and convene an urgent LBP Meeting with the parents and their advocates to agree what extra support / assessment / expectations are required to prevent the need for the Local Authority to issue proceedings; or
  • Support a private law resolution to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child; or
  • Issue public law care proceedings where the threshold criteria is met and the interests of the child require it.


5. Decision to Present a Case to a Legal Gateway Meeting

The decision to present a case to a Legal Gateway Meeting will be made by a Service Manager with management responsibility for the case as a result of Supervision or case discussion with the allocated Social Worker. This decision should be recorded within the child’s case record.

As the Legal Gateway Meeting is a Children’s Social Care meeting, the decision to present a case rests solely with Children’s Social Care.Therefore, whilst other agency professionals or an inter-agency forum such as a Child Protection Conference, Core Group or Child in Care Review Meeting can request or recommend that Children’s Social Care give consideration to the case being presented to a Legal Gateway Meeting, they cannot direct Children’s Social Care to do so.


6. Chairing, Quoracy and Attendance at Legal Gateway Meetings

Legal Gateway Meetings will be chaired by the Head of Service, Safeguarding, or another Manager nominated by the Head of Service to deputise. To be quorate the meeting must also have in attendance a legal adviser to the Local Authority on childcare matters and the Service Manager with case management responsibility for the case being presented. The Principal Advisor and the Principal Social Worker will ordinarily attend and participate in the decision making process, Consideration should also be given to whether it would be advisable to have other involved professionals who can materially add information to assist the decision making process in attendance, for example the Family Group Conference Coordinator. Any additional attendees must be agreed in advance by the Chair.


7. Timing of Legal Gateway Meetings

Legal Gateway Meetings are scheduled on a regular basis. This allows for the presenting Social Worker and Service Manager to prepare appropriately so that their presentation will enable the Meeting to come to an informed and considered decision, reflecting the significance of the decisions that can be made at the meeting to a child’s journey. However, if the welfare of the child requires that a decision is made before the next scheduled meeting, then the Head of Service, Safeguarding, will decide whether a Legal Gateway Meeting should be convened outside the existing schedule of meetings,for example where a decision is required as to whether to issue an application for an application for an Emergency Protection Order or an Interim Care Order on short notice.


8. Recording of Legal Gateway Meetings

Given the significance of the decisions that can be made at a Legal Gateway Meeting to a child’s journey, a written record of the Meeting will always be taken. The chairperson of the meeting will be responsible for ensuring that a written record of the meeting is made. The record should be checked for accuracy by the chairperson before being circulated to all attendees. Attendees will be afforded an opportunity to propose any amendments to the record. These are legally privileged and should not be made available to parents or other parties in any potential proceedings.


9. Review of Decisions at Subsequent Legal Gateway Meetings

To ensure that decisions made at Legal Gateway Meetings are progressed within the agreed timescales, the regular scheduled Legal Gateway Meetings will, at the request of the Head of Service, obtain updates from Service Managers, Social Workers and Legal Advisor as appropriate to ensure Management oversight and challenge to avoid drift and delay for children and young people.

End