The Public Law Outline (PLO) sets out the duties local authorities have when thinking about taking a case to court to ask for a Care Order or a Supervision Order to be made. These are called “public law “ court cases.
Before applying to the Court for an order the local authority must identify the concerns they have about a child early and where possible provide support for the family to make changes. This is pre-proceedings work and it is often called the PLO process.
Usually, when PLO process starts, the child has been subject to a Child Protection Plan but not enough progress has been made. Child protection core group meetings and conferences continue throughout the PLO process and run alongside it.
Where the social worker feels that the risk of harm to a child or children is so great, or the case is so urgent, a decision may be made by the local authority to go straight to court instead.
When the local authority decide that pre- proceedings PLO work with the family will take place, the next steps are:
Letter Before Proceedings (LBP)
This letter sent to the parents. It sets out the main concerns and the help that has been provided by Children's Services at the local authority so far. The parents are invited to a meeting and advised to get a specialist solicitor and to get wider family involved. If you are sent this kind of letter you can automatically get free legal aid, but you must give a copy of the letter to your solicitor.
Pre– Proceedings Meeting – this meeting takes place within seven working days of the letter to identify whether it is possible to reach agreement about what needs to happen to protect the child from harm, so that court proceedings can be avoided.
The meeting involves parents, their solicitors, Childrens’s Services at the local authority and their legal representative. The concerns, what support is being offered, what the parents need to do to reduce the concerns are all discussed and an action plan is formed.
Period of change – this is the time for the parents to make the agreed changes to reduce the concerns. Support is provided by the local authority and progress is checked.
Pre – Proceedings Review – this is a meeting held within 6 to 8 weeks of the first meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to review progress made.
What are the possible outcomes of the Pre- Proceedings Review?
The pre-proceedings review is a very important meeting.
There are a number of possible outcomes:
- PLO ends as progress has been made – if the parents have achieved the actions that are needed to reduce the concerns, it may be decided that the local authority are no longer considering care proceedings and work ends.
- The work to progress the child protection plan will continue the plan is no longer needed to safeguard the child and a child in need plan will take over or the social work service no longer needs to be involved.
- A recommendation for PLO to end (and which type of lesser plan is needed).
- PLO – further period of change - if it is felt that further progress can be made through more pre-proceedings work so another review will take place. This review should be held within six – eight weeks. PLO should not go on longer than 16 weeks.
- Care proceedings - if the parents have not made enough progress or things get worse.
What happens if the local authority decide to start Care proceedings?
Before they can go to Court, the local authority will need to be satisfied that the PLO work has taken place and that the threshold criteria for significant harm (the legal test for court) is met.
An application will be made to Court apply for a Care Order or a Supervisions Order. The parents are informed by letter. At that point the parents are advised again to speak to their solicitor and to get their wider family involved.
If you are a parent in Care Proceedings you are automatically entitled to free legal aid.