Pre-proceedings meeting – Essentials
What you need to know
The Public Law Outline (‘PLO’) pre-proceedings meeting is NOT just another meeting with children’s services or a social worker. It’s a really important part of the process the local authority uses to decide whether or not to go to court about your child. The aim of the PLO meeting is to discuss what you can do to look after your child better and what help your local authority will give you. If you agree some changes, these will be written down in a formal agreement that you and the local authority have to follow. You will have a chance to give your side of the story and say what you think is the best way to look after your child. If you can’t agree on how to look after your child better, your local authority will probably ask a court to take your child into care. Make a list of anything the local authority has asked you to bring to the meeting so you don’t forget it on the day. The aim of the PLO meeting is to make a formal agreement of things you will do to look after your child better and things that your local authority must do to help you. Make a note of the things you have to do.
What you need to do
Attend the PLO meeting and take anything the local authority has asked you to bring. Before the PLO meeting, think about what the local authority wrote in the letter. If you don’t agree or have ideas about what you could do to change the way you look after your child, tell your solicitor about them. You could also ask for a family group conference which is a meeting of your whole family to help you all to take the lead in making a safe plan for your child. Listen to your solicitor and let them speak for you as much as possible.
How is it different from other meetings?
It’s different because if you don’t agree any changes to how your child is looked after, the local authority is very likely to ask a court for permission to take your child into care.
Who will be there?
At the meeting, there will be:
- Several people from the local authority
- Your child’s social worker
- The manager of your local authority’s children’s services
- A local authority solicitor
- Your child’s other parent (unless a separate meeting has been arranged)
- Your solicitor should be there with you
You should not take your child to the meeting. Ask someone you trust to look after your child while you are at the meeting. If you do not know someone suitable to look after your child, tell your local authority as soon as possible. They may be able to find someone to help.
What do I have to do in the PLO meeting?
In the meeting, you will have to answer questions about the way you look after your child be asked if you agree with the suggestions your local authority make about how to change the way you look after your child. You may prefer your solicitor to answer some of the questions for you. They can also say how you want to change the way you look after your child and any other ideas you think will help. Try to keep calm and follow what is being said. It might be difficult but if you stick to the facts, you will help the meeting to focus on your child.
How can I prepare for the PLO meeting?
Your local authority will normally send you and your solicitor an agenda for the meeting. This will say what the local authority wants to talk about. You can use this and the letter before proceedings to help be ready. However, in many cases, the local authority will set out all of its concerns, what help it has provided so far and what it is seeking that you do next, in it’s ‘letter before action’. Read carefully what your local authority has said in the letter about why they think your child is not being looked after properly or is out of control. Check where the meeting is and what time you need to be there. Work out how you will get there in plenty of time, and who will look after your child during the meeting. Sometimes there will be more than one meeting.
Keeping to the agreement
What you need to know
At the earlier pre-proceedings, child in need or child protection meetings, you may have agreed what you would do to change the way you looked after your child. This was written down in a formal agreement. This will be reviewed. If you don’t keep to any agreement reached at the PLO meeting, your local authority will almost certainly ask the court if they can remove your child from your care. You will have to go to meetings with your local authority to show that you are keeping to the agreement.
What you need to do
Stick to your part of the agreement. That includes making sure you go to appointments arranged by your child’s social worker or other people like doctors, schools or support groups. Keep records of what you’ve done as your part of the agreement. It will help you when you go to meetings with your local authority about the agreement. If you find it difficult to keep to any bits of the agreement, tell your child’s social worker as soon as possible. They may be able to change it or offer you extra help.
What is the agreement?
The agreement is a document that says what you have agreed with the local authority needs to be done to look after your child and make sure that your child is protected. It is a formal record of what you agreed with your local authority at the pre-proceedings meeting.
What can it include?
An agreement can include all sorts of things. Some of these are things the parents must do. For example: make sure their child goes to school every day take their child to a friend or family member when the parent goes to work or college meet a health visitor every week to check on the child’s health see a drug and alcohol adviser. It might also include things that the child’s social worker must do, for example: ask a health visitor to visit the child or ask a drug and alcohol adviser to visit the parents. Make sure you understand exactly what you have to do as part of the agreement. Don’t agree to anything you can’t do.
What happens if I don’t keep to the agreement?
If you don’t keep to the agreement, the local authority will almost certainly ask a court for permission to take your child into care.
How will my local authority check I’m keeping to it?
You will have to go to regular meetings with your local authority. At the meetings, you will be asked about what you’ve done to keep to the agreement. The local authority will also ask people you had to meet, like health visitors, to tell them if you have met them, and what they think about your child’s situation.
How do I prove I’m keeping to it?
You should keep notes about when you have done things that are part of the agreement. Use the table on the previous page to help.
My circumstances have changed and I can’t do something that was on the agreement. What can I do instead?
If you have a good reason why you can’t do something that was on the agreement, you should tell your child’s social worker as soon as possible. They might be able to get the agreement changed, or think of something else you could do instead to help your child. You should also tell your solicitor.
My child’s social worker was supposed to do something as part of the agreement, but they haven’t done it. What should I do?
If your child’s social worker hasn’t done something they are supposed to do, you should call them and ask them why. If you think they are not helping you, you can ask to speak to the manager of children’s services at your local authority. You should also make a note of it and tell your solicitor.
What else can I do to help show the local authority I can look after my child well?
One good way of showing the local authority you are looking after your child well is to do other things that aren’t part of the agreement. For example, you could let your child join an after-school club that they are interested in. Your child’s social worker might be able to suggest organisations that can help you. You could also ask family and friends to help you with child care if you feel you need a break. Don’t be afraid to ask for more help if you need it.
A first review meeting is likely to be set up at the PLO meeting to see what has changed. If at that time things are going well, a second review meeting may be set up. However, if the local authority considers that things are not going well, then care proceedings could be started even before the first review meeting.