This paper examines the issue of professional advocacy for parents in England following the local authority issuing the Letter Before Proceedings when the concerns about the welfare of a child are so serious the local authority are considering applying for a care order. We explore the tensions of providing a legal advocacy service for parents – drawing on a study of 57 cases, scrutinised as part of the Coventry and Warwickshire Cafcass Pre-Proceedings Pilot (Broadhurst et al. 2012) and explores the contribution of legal representation for parents.

The pre-proceedings meeting can be pivotal in terms of the direction of the case, the impression created at the meeting, and the action parties take afterwards. The importance of advocacy for parents was highlighted in the study both to facilitate parents’ understanding of the issues, and to afford a level of protection of their rights. It is noteworthy that in 16 out of 82 pre-proceedings meetings no advocate was present, and in general fathers were less likely to be represented (although as reported the exact pattern appears more complex). Where advocates were present, contributions to the pre-proceedings meeting varied from no input, to seeking points of clarification, and in 4 cases there was evidence of active ‘brokering’ on behalf of their clients.

Access to Justice for families? Legal Advocacy for parents whose children are on the edge of care: an English case study

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