When someone is worried about the safety and well-being of a child, there is a whole system in place that can be evoked to ensure the child in question receives the care they need.
Although the road to safeguard a child from a potentially abusive situation can be a long process, there are a number of steps that need to be taken to prevent formal court intervention.
One part of the process will include a Public Law Outline (PLO). In this article, we’ll be discussing what a PLO is, what happens during this meeting, and what you can expect if you are asked to be a part of one.
What is a Public Law Outline meeting?
A PLO meeting is a procedure that takes place when a local authority has been alerted that a child is not getting the care they deserve in their current home. There may have been previous interventions such as child in need plans (CIN process) or child protection plans (CP process) or it may be that something urgent has happened that has escalated things to the PLO process beginning. Usually, PLO process will be a last resort to give parents/carers a chance to make improvements to the child’s care before the local authority (social services) considers issuing formal care proceedings.
The whole process of a PLO can take around three-six months to complete, depending on what assessments take place but can be longer. If the authority feels that the child is in imminent danger, a decision may be made that the case goes straight to the courts if it is considered that the child needs to be taken out of their current situation as quickly as possible.
If a local authority is starting a PLO process you will be given a letter advising you of that and the letter will also ask you to find a family solicitor to help you with the process. There is legal aid available for this level of intervention, regardless of your financial circumstances. Legal Aid specialists will have expert, accredited solicitors (members of the law society’s children panel) that can help you with this type of case.
What happens in a PLO meeting?
In the letter provided by the local authority, it will set out what they are worried about in respect of the care being provided to a child and it will also set out a list of expectations that they invite the parents to accept, to avoid the case escalating to formal court proceedings.
Within this letter, parents or guardians will be given a time and date of a PLO meeting. This is the meeting that the local authority recommends you are accompanied by an experienced solicitor and it will be sensible to speak to your solicitor before the meeting so that you can have some advice and discuss your views on the concerns and expectations.
During the PLO meeting, parents will meet with representatives from local authorities, including the social worker and the solicitor for the local authority, and a chairperson who will cover the reasons why the meeting was arranged and what support they suggest can be offered. Parents will also get the chance to respond to the concerns outlined by social services during the meeting
The child’s parents are most likely going to be asked to sign a ‘Written Agreement’ at the conclusion of a PLO meeting which outlines what is expected of them to avoid formal care proceedings taking place and what support will be provided by the local authority. Although this document is not legally binding if the parents were to breach the terms of the agreement, the local authority is likely to seek advice from their solicitor as to escalate the case to court.
At the end of the PLO meeting, a date for a future meeting will be set where the parents can demonstrate their engagement with the process and whether any changes have been made to the child’s care. There will be discussion as to what further work is required and e whether the PLO process needs to continue or if it can step down to a lower level of intervention (such as child protection or child in need).
Do I need a solicitor for a PLO meeting?
It is recommended in the initial PLO letter that parents should contact a solicitor as soon as they can and ensure that one is present at the meeting to offer independent legal advice.
Having the right legal advice throughout this process will help guide you through the procedure and ensure that you can demonstrate how you can make any necessary changes to improve the care your child is receiving. Not only will this make the PLO meeting easier, but it may also prevent formal care proceedings from starting.
At National Legal Service, we offer professional advice and support for parents who have to go through the PLO process. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you, get in touch with us today.