Pre-Proceedings is also referred to as a Public Law Outline (PLO) meeting.
The local authority will provide an invitation to one of these meetings by way of a “letter before proceedings”. These meetings are arranged when the local authority believe that they have passed the threshold required to go to court in care proceedings, but they are essentially a last chance to work with them before that step.
Letter Before Proceedings
The letter before proceedings will make it clear that this is a last chance and that the local authority intend to issue care proceedings at court if parents do not co-operate with them.
This letter will include the following:-
1. List of the local authority’s concerns
2. List of what needs to be agreed by the parents and what actions they must take
3. Telling the parents to seek legal advice
4. Inviting the parents to attend a Pre-Proceedings/PLO meeting
Pre-Proceedings / PLO Meeting
The point of the meeting is for the local authority to address their concerns with the parents directly with the benefit of legal advice.
The meetings are usually attended by the following people:-
- The allocated social worker who has been working with the family. Their role is to provide a history of the local authority’s involvement
- Social work service manager – this will usually be the team manager who supervises the allocated social worker
- Legal representative of the local authority
- Parents and any other person with parental responsibility of the child(ren)
- Legal representative of the parents and other person with parental responsibility of the child(ren)
The local authority will go through their concerns, ensuring each one is understood fully by the parents. They will then explain the proposed plan of action for each. There will be time to allow the parents to speak with their legal adviser and to consider their options.
There will be an opportunity to allow the parents to express their views on the local authority’s concerns. This is useful for both the local authority and the parents to establish if/what support can be provided to the parents to help them keep to the plan and to agree a deadline (if required) for when each action will need to be completed. A clear timetable will be given, and it is possible that a further review meeting will be arranged to monitor the parents progress.
Meetings of this nature can happen when the local authority are notified of cases concerning an unborn child. This could be due to a history of local authority involvement with the family or due to the conduct of the parents. The reason for these meetings is for the local authority to be able to put support in place for both before and after birth.
There are two main outcomes to Pre-Proceedings involvement:-
1. De-escalation – the hope of this process is for the parents to engage well with services and access any support they need to provide a good standard of care to their child(ren). When the parents engage well and do everything that is asked of them and the local authority no longer have concerns about the care offered to the child(ren), the local authority will notify the parents at the review meeting and may reduce their involvement by going back to child protection/child in need plans or by closing the matter altogether.
2. Care proceedings – if the local authority feel that the parents have not complied with the agreement then they will proceed to issue proceedings at court. This means that the local authority feel the child(ren) is not being looked after properly and needs to be safeguarded.
Any parent or person who holds parental responsibility and has been provided with a letter before proceedings will be entitled to non-means testing Family Help (lower) legal aid. This will provide limited public funding for legal advice and legal representation at the meeting. Non-means allows you to access legal help irrespective of your current income or financial circumstances.
What should I do if I have received a letter before proceedings?
If you have received one of these letters inviting you to a meeting, it is very important that you understand the severity of the matter which is essentially that the local authority believes they can succeed in care proceedings at court.
This may result in your child(ren) being removed from your care. For this reason, it is important that you seek specialist legal advice so you fully understand the options available to you and your family.