When social services receive concerns about the safety and well-being of a child, they have a legal obligation to investigate. If necessary, social services may take legal action in the form of court proceedings to ensure the child’s protection, such as care or supervision orders.
PLO meetings are the highest-level meeting before court proceedings. Essentially the parents or carers of a child are being given a last chance to work with the local authority and demonstrate that their children can be adequately and safely cared for.
Before a PLO meeting the parents or carers will be sent a letter which makes clear that the local authority is considering taking court action. The parents are invited to a meeting to discuss.
The outcome of the PLO meeting might be that the local authority is going to make an application to the court and the discussion will then focus about the arrangements for the child and other steps which may be helpful with regard to the court process and evidence gathering which will be taken whilst a first court date is awaited.
In other cases, there will be a plan agreed at the meeting. The PLO meeting will then be adjourned to a further meeting for the plan to be reviewed. There could be several of these meetings. The endpoint could be that the local authority is satisfied that the care and safety of the child has sufficiently improved and other concerns have been dealt with such that the PLO meeting process can be ended. This could mean the end of social services involvement. On the other hand, the local authority might move the family onto one of the lower levels of meeting such as Child Protection or Children in Need.
Unlike Child Protection Meetings and Children in Need meetings a parent or carer is entitled to bring a solicitor to a PLO meeting and to receive legal advice during the meeting.
The parent or carer for the child will be entitled to free legal aid so that their solicitor can attend the meeting with them.
This legal aid is not means tested. All the parent or carer has to do is to give the solicitor the letter they will have received from the local authority inviting them to a PLO meeting and the parent or carer will then need to sign a legal aid form.
The local authority should give the parent or carer a list of solicitors who specialise in cases with social services and who have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency. We are on the list provided by Devon County Council, Torbay Council, Plymouth City Council, Somerset County Council and North Somerset Council. We can also assist clients further afield subject to the practicalities. If the meeting is by videoconference then it is easy for us to attend meetings anywhere.
The answer to this question is no. We have assisted parents and carers at many PLO meetings where the parents have found a way to work with the local authority so that it has been possible to avoid court proceedings.
We recognise that receiving an invitation to a PLO meeting can cause immense stress and anxiety. If you find yourself in this situation, it is crucial that you seek expert legal advice as soon as possible.
Our Care Team are child law specialists and can assist parents and carers at PLO meetings by providing expert legal advice and representation. We will help you understand the legal process and your rights, as well as help you work with your social worker to develop a strategy to address concerns and demonstrate the ability to provide safe and adequate care for your children. Our goal is to support you and help achieve a child-focused outcome.
The other types of meeting are essentially Child Protection Conferences and Child in Need Meetings. Sometimes these might be known by slightly different names – depending upon the local authority.
Child Protection Conferences
Child Protection Conferences are where the local authority has concerns about the care of a child, but these are not yet serious enough to justify a PLO meeting.
Legal aid is not available to enable a solicitor to attend this type of meeting.
These meetings are multiagency meetings and schools, doctors, health visitors and other relevant professionals will normally be invited to attend.
As with a PLO meeting the outcome is likely to be a plan which will say how the parent will work with professionals to ensure that the care of the child is good enough. There are likely to be a series of these meetings.
Children in Need Meetings
Children in Need Meetings follow if the child has been identified as being in need by the local authority. This doesn’t mean that they are in need of protection or that the parent has certainly done anything wrong.
A child is identified as being a child in need if:
If a child is placed on a Child in Need plan, then the local authority has duties to designate a social worker for the child and as the lead professional to work with other agencies and the families.
There is no legal requirement for a Child in Need Plan to be in place and there is a general duty on local authorities to provide services to children in need.
Legal aid and Child Protection Conferences and Child in Need Meetings.
If the case goes to court, parents and those with parental responsibility for the child receive free, non-means tested and non-merits tested legal aid. This legal aid will cover the cost of their legal representation for the whole proceedings.
For those without parental responsibility – but who have an interest in the proceedings – perhaps they are grandparents wanting to intervene in the proceedings and apply to the court for a residence order for the child, then legal aid is available. However, the legal aid will be means tested and merits tested. This means that the legal aid agency needs to be persuaded that the person seeking legal aid has a reasonable prospect of succeeding with their case or they need to be represented in the proceedings.
If there is a PLO meeting, parents and carers will also receive a free, more limited type of legal aid.
If there is no PLO meeting but a parent or person with parental responsibility or carer would like some advice about their interactions with social services then a different type of limited legal aid is available. This is limited to giving the parent or carer some advice and is means tested.
For those who do not qualify for legal aid, we offer alternative funding options. We provide a fixed-fee initial consultation for in-depth case discussions and advice. Additionally, we offer full court representation and a pay-as-you-go advisory service. In some cases, local authorities may cover the costs of individuals in court proceedings, even if they are not the child’s parent.
Whether you have been invited to a Public Law Outline (PLO) meeting or are facing care proceedings, our expert team of lawyers will provide you with straightforward, practical advice. We will ensure that you receive a fair hearing, and we will endeavour to reach a child-focused outcome.