Care proceedings and protection orders

What PLO means and what you need to do

The Public Law Outline (PLO) process takes place when we (the local authority) are concerned about your child's wellbeing. It is the process which social workers must go through with a family if we are considering going to court to ask for a Care Order or Supervision Order to be made.

It does not necessarily mean that will be the outcome. The process is designed to hear and protect everyone involved in the process and provide the best outcome for your child.

Pre proceedings is the name for the stage in the process when we are considering whether we need to go to court.

The information here is for you if:

  • You are a parent or have parental responsibility for a child we consider to be at risk of harm
  • We have discussed with you a move to pre proceedings

How the process works

The order of events in the process is:

  • We will discuss with parents or those with parental responsibility about moving into the pre proceedings process
  • If we do move to pre proceedings this will be because we are seriously concerned that your child is not being looked after properly
  • You will receive a letter which:
    • Sets out what the concerns are about the care of your child
    • Invites you to the Pre Proceedings Meeting

Why it is important for you to attend the Pre Proceedings Meeting

The Pre Proceedings Meeting is NOT just another meeting with children’s services or a social worker.

It is an important meeting to look at what needs to change to stop the local authority going to court.

The meeting will look at the worries outlined in the letter and at how you can be supported to make the changes necessary to keep your child or children safe.

What you need to do when you receive the Pre Proceedings Meeting letter

The letter sets out the details of why we are worried your child is not being looked after properly.

Check you understand the details of the concerns

You might want to note down what you think about the concerns and whether you agree with them or not.

  • If you agree - think about what you could do with help or support, to make things better
  • If you disagree - you will need to tell the meeting why

Note the time and place for the meeting and make sure you will be able to attend

The Pre Proceedings Meeting is an important meeting. If you do not attend we may apply to the court to start care proceedings.

If there is a reason why you cannot attend at the suggested time it is important that you contact your children's allocated social worker so that they can change the time or date. There should be contact details on the letter.

Contact a child care solicitor immediately

It is very important that you contact a child care solicitor for independent legal advice. With the letter will be a list of local solicitors who can help you understand the law, the process and attend the meeting with you.

If you have parental responsibility, you will not have to pay for the solicitor to come to the meeting with you as they can apply for legal aid for you. You will need to take the letter and some ID (driving licence/passport) to the solicitor.

Get more information if you need it

If you do not want to instruct one of the solicitors from the list, you can:

  • Call Community Legal Advice on 0845 345 4345 or visit Community Legal Advice for details of other solicitors or other advice
  • Look on the The Law Society website (select the 'I need a solicitor' tab)

You can also speak with your child's social worker, your legal adviser or visit the Family Rights Group.

The pre proceedings process

Government guidance requires social workers to go through the pre-proceedings process with a family before considering or starting any court proceedings (except in an emergency).

The Pre Proceedings letter

Our social workers must discuss concerns and send those with parental care for the child a Pre Proceedings letter before they start any court proceedings.

The letter:

  • Lists the main concerns, a timeline of the social history, and help that has been provided by social care so far.
  • Gives you, as parents, access to free legal advice and gives information about how to find a child care solicitor
  • Invites you and your legal representative to a Pre Proceedings Meeting. This is usually within 5 working days of the decision to start Pre Proceedings.

Pre Proceedings Meeting

The Pre Proceedings Meeting is the first meeting in the pre proceedings process.

It looks at what needs to happen to protect the child/ren from continued harm, so that court proceedings can be avoided.

Parents may also be asked to consider involving the wider family to offer practical or other methods of support.

The aim is to make progress towards reducing or eliminating the risks of harm.

Pre proceedings end when progress has been made.

Pre proceedings can run for up to twelve weeks, with reviews in between.

These twelve weeks are referred to as 'the period for change'. It is the time for you, as parents to show evidence they you have made the necessary agreed changes to reduce the concerns.

Six week review

Parents and legal representatives will be invited to attend a review Pre Proceedings Meeting at six weeks with the local authority, to review progress and see if the risks of harm have reduced.

Twelve week meeting

A final pre proceedings meeting should be held at twelve weeks with you and your legal representatives. This meeting will review progress and agree a conclusion.

This will either be to:

  • Agree that progress has been made and that your child is no longer at risk, and support is in place to monitor and maintain progress – (Step down from the Public Law Outline)
  • Request the issuing of proceedings

Where it is decided that care proceedings need to be issued the local authority has to make an application to court. Under the Public Law Outline guidance, care and supervision proceedings should be completed within twenty six weeks.