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I have a meeting with social services, can a solicitor attend with me?
There may be lots of reasons why social services are inviting you to a meeting. For some of these meetings, you may be entitled to legal representation, meaning a solicitor can attend the meeting with you and give you advice about the issues discussed.
Types of meetings which a solicitor can attend with you include:
Child Protection Conferences – a Child Protection Conference is a meeting which takes place between family members, the Local Authority and any other professionals involved with your children, for example school and health services. At these conferences the attendees all share and consider relevant information to decide whether your child is at risk of significant harm and whether they need to be subject to a Child Protection Plan, under which the Local Authority can work with your family to try and manage and reduce this risk. If a plan is put in place this will be reviewed regularly, in the form of Review Child Protection Conferences. It is advisable to instruct a solicitor to attend any Initial or Review Child Protection Conferences with you. Although solicitors are not permitted to speak in these meetings, they will be able to give you advice before and after the meetings based on the information shared.
Pre-Proceedings Meetings – Pre-Proceedings (sometimes called PLO) meetings take place when the Local Authority are considering issuing Care Proceedings at Court, but want to give parents and families one last chance to make changes before they do this. The Local Authority will send you a letter letting you know that they are starting pre-proceedings and listing their concerns and what they want you to do to address these concerns. If you get a letter inviting you to a pre-proceedings meeting, it is very important that you contact a solicitor to get advice and representation at these meetings. Pre-Proceedings usually last around 12 weeks, and you will have several review meetings during this time. This will often be alongside a Child Protection Plan.
Notice of Intent to Issue or Notice of Having Issued Care Proceedings Meetings – these meetings are held when the Local Authority is either just about to, or have just issued an application to the Court, commencing Care Proceedings. You will receive a letter inviting you to this meeting and explaining the reasons why the Local Authority are issuing Care Proceedings. It is important that you show this letter to a solicitor and that you have them attend this meeting with you. That same solicitor will usually continue to represent you once Care Proceedings begin.
If you are going through Care Proceedings, a solicitor will attend all of your Court Hearings with you. They will also sometimes attend LAC Reviews or Review of Arrangements Meetings with you, depending on the circumstances. These are meetings within which the family, carers, Local Authority and other professionals involved with your children come together to discuss the progress your child is making whilst in care and identify anything else which your child may need or benefit from. These meetings will take place during care proceedings if your child is made subject to an Interim Care Order, and after if a Full Care Order is made. These meetings will be held for as long as your child remains in the care of the Local Authority, but a solicitor will generally (other than in exceptional circumstances) only be able to attend these meetings with you whilst care proceedings are ongoing.
There are other types of meetings which you may be asked to attend alone, without legal representation. A few examples of meetings solicitors cannot attend include Child In Need Meetings; Core Groups; any informal meetings between you and your social worker; assessment sessions or sessions of work completed with a Support and Assessment Worker.
What you can do, however, is take notes in these meetings and discuss them with a solicitor afterwards if you have any concerns or feel that you need advice on the issues raised.
If you are invited to a meeting by social services and you are unsure whether or not a solicitor can attend this meeting with you please contact our Care Team and somebody will be able to answer this for you. If allowed, they will also be able to attend the meeting with you and advise on whether you will be eligible for free advice and representation under Legal Help or Legal Aid.
The Care Team can be contacted on 0116 255 4855 or email firstname.lastname@example.org