If Children’s Services have concerns about your children or your care of them they may have sent you a ‘letter before proceedings’ or otherwise known as a PLO letter. Your Social Worker may have also informed you of the PLO meeting that has been arranged for you to discuss these concerns. PLO stands for ‘Public Law Outline’ and is a reference to the procedure that the Local Authority must follow.
The Local Authority has a duty, should they have sufficient concerns about any child in their area and the care that they are receiving from their parents or carers, to investigate these concerns. You may have previously been invited to Child Protection Conferences, or had a social worker complete an assessment of your family set up. If the concerns are sufficiently serious the Local Authority may then want to hold PLO meetings with you.
Imagine that these stages are rungs on a ladder. On the bottom rung you may have the initial social work investigations. Then the next one up is a Child Protection Conference, after that is the PLO meeting and thereafter are possible Court proceedings in respect of the child.
Therefore, the PLO meeting is very serious, and is sometimes considered the ‘last chance’ to prove to the Local Authority that you can work with them and make the necessary changes to ensure that the children in the family are being cared for properly, before going to Court.
The PLO letter itself will list the concerns held by the Local Authority. They should also provide examples of what they are concerned about. The letter will invite you to a meeting and will have a list of local solicitor’s firms that are able to help you. If you are a parent of the child, or you have parental responsibility for the child, you will be automatically entitled to legal aid for a solicitor to provide you with advice and attend the meetings with you. It is advisable that should you receive a letter like this you contact a solicitor immediately.
At the meeting, your Social Worker will attend as well as their Team Manager and someone from the Local Authority’s legal department. They will discuss with you what they are worried about, and what the plan is going forward. The point of the meeting is to address the concerns and to put a plan in place to stop them from escalating further. You may be asked to participate in a parenting assessment after the meeting to assess whether you can stop the concerns from getting worse. The Local Authority may also ask you to sign up to a ‘written agreement’. This agreement is not binding; however, it is a way of showing the Local Authority that you are working with them and by their rules.
Each case is individual, so it is not possible to say how long the PLO process can last. However, should the matter be going on longer than 6-9 months, and it does not seem that there is any reason for this, you should discuss with your solicitor what is causing the delay and whether it is possible to end the process.
Being invited to a PLO meeting does not mean that the Local Authority is seeking to issue proceedings in respect of the child. However, it is important that those invited to the process listen to the concerns and seek to work with the Social Worker in addressing them. If sufficient change is not seen, then the next step for Local Authorities is often to present the matter to the Family Court.
Should you receive a PLO letter and require advice please contact our offices on 01633 242526 and ask to speak to one of our highly trained and experienced members of the family law team.