Our specialist care solicitors are frequently approached by parents who are worried about children’s services starting the Pre-Proceedings Process and have been told this is a ‘last chance’ before the local authority start court proceedings. We can give you independent legal advice if you are worried that:
- The social worker has said they’re starting the Pre-Proceedings Process
- The social worker has said we’re ‘going into’ PLO
- I have been given a pre proceedings letter
- I have been given a PLO letter
- I’ve been told i have to go to a pre-proceedings meeting
- I’ve been told i have to go to a PLO meeting
Our care solicitors understand that you will be worried if the local authority have said they are starting pre-proceedings. It is important to get advice quickly and our solicitors can help every step of the way from going through the letter to attending meetings with you.
I’ve been told PLO is my last chance before going to Court, is that right?
The local authority will commence the public law outline (PLO) process, also called the pre-– proceedings process, when they believe that the ‘threshold’ has been crossed to go to court for a care order BUT they want to try and work with the family to prevent that from happening and give them one last opportunity to address the concerns about their children.
What should i do if i receive a pre proceedings/PLO letter?
One of the first things you will receive is a letter before proceedings which tells you what the social workers are worried about, what they are going to do and what they want the child’s parents to agree to do.
If you get a letter before proceedings from the local authority you should read the letter extremely carefully and make sure you are aware of the date of the next meeting; put it in your phone and set a reminder. You should tell the social worker that you will be going, if there are issues such as domestic violence you will have a different meeting time from the other parent.
You should contact a specialist children lawyer when you get a Pre Proceedings letter, you can take a lawyer with you to Pre-Proceedings meetings and if you are a parent, or someone with parental responsibility, then you can access legal aid and have a lawyer with you for free. If you contact our children law solicitors we will make sure that a member of our team is able to attend the meeting with you and that the local authority know we are representing you. Our solicitors will discuss the PLO letter with you before the meeting so you know what to expect at the meeting and can start thinking about what you can do to address the concerns. Our solicitors will help you identify and understand the issues so that you have time to speak to friends and family about what support they may be able to offer to you as well.
As difficult as it is, our solicitors will also advise you to think about which of your family and friends will be prepared to put themselves forward to care for your children if court proceedings start and the children can’t come home to you. We understand that you don’t want this to happen but it means that the local authority can check out any friends or family members you want to put forward, a ‘back up’ plan is ready and the children won’t have to go to a foster carer who is a stranger if a Judge decides they can’t come home to you and no-one else has been put forward and checked.
What is a Pre-Proceedings meeting?
Pre-Proceedings meetings, also called PLO meetings, will take place between yourself, a solicitor from the local authority, the social worker, the social worker’s team manager and the other parent. You are able to have a solicitor present with you.
Pre-Proceedings meetings are formal meetings and the meetings will have a record made of what was discussed. The copies of the ‘minutes’ will be sent to your solicitor and yourself to approve before the formal record of the content of discussions. The minutes can be used as a record of what has been discussed and agreed if the matter proceeds to court
The meetings are important and offer a last opportunity to address concerns. If the local authority are satisfied that their concerns have been dealt with they will not take their involvement further and instead of going to court may ‘deescalate’ and could be involved with you at a lower level. However, if the local authority believe the concerns are continuing or worsening then it is likely that they will issue an application to court for a care order or supervision order in relation to your children
How can a solicitor help me if the Local Authority start the Pre-Proceedings Process about my children?
Our children solicitors attend pre proceeding meetings regularly and are experienced with the process. Our solicitors can arrange for you to access legal aid to fund your advice and representation. They will meet with you to go through the letter before proceedings, discuss your concerns, discuss strengths and weaknesses and ensure you fully understand what is likely to happen at the meeting. They will arrange to attend any PLO meetings with you and meet you before the meeting to provide you with support and answer any questions before you go into the meeting. They can also check minutes and communicate with the Local Authority lawyer for you if concerns arise between meetings. If the Local Authority decide that they are going to issue proceedings it also means that you already have a solicitor involved who knows what has been happening and can continue to represent you at court.
If an application to court is being made for a care or supervision order for your children please contact us and read here for more information.
What can I be asked to do as a parent involved in Pre Proceedings Meetings?
Parents can be asked to do different things depending on what the worries are about the child. They may be asked to have drug or alcohol tests if the social worker is worried about parents using drugs or drinking too much. Parents may be asked to stay away from an abusive partner if the concerns are about domestic abuse. If home conditions are a worry parents will be given a list of improvements that need to be made, and then maintained, by a certain time. If children aren’t attending school or are late regularly parents may be asked to ensure their school attendance. Parents can also be asked to engage with psychological assessments if necessary. Our care solicitors can talk to you about what you are being asked to do, whether it is reasonable and achievable and any concerns you may have to come up with a plan together.
I am not going to work with the social worker in Pre-Proceedings/PLO meetings. They can’t make me.
If parents refuse to work with the local authority during the Pre-Proceedings Process or they don’t attend meetings or work with the social worker it is extremely likely that the Local Authority will make an application to the court and start care proceedings. If the social worker becomes aware between meetings that the parents are doing something that they said they wouldn’t do, or are not doing something they said they would do, and the situation becomes worse then it is likely the local authority will start care proceedings. It is important you understand what will happen if you don’t engage with the pre-proceedings process. If you are worried, contact our specialist lawyers today.