When Social Services are concerned about your child and their welfare, they start a process called the PLO process. This is short for Public Law Outline. When this happens it is likely that you will receive a letter from the Local Authority called a Letter Before Proceedings.
Letter Before Proceedings
This is the initial letter that you receive from the relevant Local Authority detailing their concerns about your child’s welfare. The letter will include all of the issues that the Local Authority (Social Worker) is concerned about, what steps they want you to take to improve matters and will invite you to instruct a Solicitor and attend a meeting with the Local Authority to discuss the concerns they have.
When a Local Authority invites you to a Letter Before Proceedings meeting, you are eligible for Legal Help, which means that you do not pay for the assistance of a Solicitor. Contained within the Letter Before Proceedings will usually be a list of Solicitors that are local to you that can assist you with this process and attend the meeting with you.
Once you have received a Letter Before Proceedings from the Local Authority, it is best to contact a Solicitor as soon as possible so that you can have a meeting with your Solicitor to discuss the Local Authority’s concerns and the best way forward to deal with these to avoid the Local Authority wanting to take the matter further and the possibility of Court Proceedings.
At your appointment, your Solicitor will talk with you about the Local Authority’s concerns and your views on the same. You will be asked to sign a Legal Help form, which covers your Solicitors costs of advising you and attending the meeting with you.
Once you have met with your Solicitor, they will then contact the Local Authority to confirm that they are representing you within the PLO process and will attend the meeting with you.
Meeting – What to expect
Currently meetings are either taking place remotely or in person. If your meeting is in person, your Solicitor will attend the meeting with you. If your meeting is remotely, you will either be asked to join the meeting link from your own mobile / ipad or other device and your Solicitor will also join the meeting remotely.
If you are separated from the other parent, your meeting will usually take place separately. The meeting will usually be attended by: –
- Social Worker
- Local Authority Solicitor (legal team for the Social Worker)
- Your Solicitor
- Team Leader for the Social Worker
- Minute Taker
The meeting is usually chaired by the Team Leader or the Social Worker.
At the meeting the Local Authority will go through all of their concerns about your child and you will have an opportunity to respond to the same. The Local Authority will discuss with you the safety measures that they want to put in place to keep your child safe and any work or agreements that they want you to engage with in order to prevent the Local Authority from wanting to take the next step of issuing Court Proceedings.
Should you fail to take the relevant steps that the Local Authority feel are necessary, there is the chance that the Local Authority could make an application to Court for an Order in respect of your children.
As above, there are numerous possible outcomes following a Letter Before Proceedings meeting. This is dependant on the concerns the Local Authority have about your child and your level of engagement and cooperation with the Local Authority.
If all goes well following the Letter Before Proceedings and you engage well, meaning that things improve and the Local Authority’s concerns are reduced, it is likely that the PLO process will be stepped down either a Child in Need Plan or Child Protection meeting. This is when the Local Authority will continue to monitor the situation to see if you require any further assistance from them or to see if things have improved enough for the Local Authority to no longer be involved in the children’s lives.
If things do not improve and you do not engage or cooperate with the Local Authority, they could issue an application to Court to seek an Interim Care or Supervision Order for your child. This is where the Local Authority could be asking to share parental responsibility for your child or could even be asking for your child to be removed from your care due to the level of their concerns about your child.
Whenever a Local Authority issues a Letter Before Proceedings, any biological parent is entitled to free legal assistance. This is covered under the Legal Help Scheme and you will be asked to sign a Legal Help form at your appointment with your Solicitor. This means that you do not pay for our assistance, advice or attendance at the meeting throughout the PLO process.
Should matters progress to Care Proceedings, then any biological parent or person with PR for a child is automatically entitled to Legal Aid. This will again cover the costs of your representation throughout these proceedings.
By Michelle Bromley