If you have received a PLO letter, or “Letter before Proceedings” from your family’s social worker, this usually means that the social worker is concerned about your child, that they are considering taking the matter to court.
Within the letter the social worker will list their concerns, and set out how those concerns can be addressed and reduced throughout the PLO process. It will say how the local authority will support you, and most importantly, the date for the PLO meeting.
It is extremely important that you instruct a solicitor without delay to ensure that you are fully aware of your rights, and the legal consequences should you fail to appropriately engage with this process. You will not be required to pay any legal fees, as this is covered under the Legal Help Scheme.
What happens at a PLO meeting?
You will be invited to a PLO meeting, which is usually attended by:
- Social worker
- Social work team manager
- Local authority solicitor
- Parents solicitors
At the meeting, the local authority will ask for your response to the concerns set out within the PLO letter. Then an action plan will be created which sets out what reports and assessments may be required. The plan will also set out what will be expected of you throughout the PLO process in order to reduce the local authority’s concerns. You will need to work openly and honestly with the local authority at all times. It is extremely important that you engage with any professionals involved with your children.
During this process, a parenting assessment will be undertaken of you which assesses your ability to meet your child’s needs.
Assessments will also be completed of any connected persons whom you may wish to care for the children if the matter proceeded to court, and you were unable to do so. This may seem daunting however, it is important that these assessments are undertaken during the PLO process. This avoids any delay, or the chance of the children being placed into foster care if the local authority choose to take the matter to court.
What is a Legal Gateway meeting?
Once all reports and assessments have been completed, the case will be presented at a legal gateway meeting. The legal gateway meeting must take place within a six month period. At this meeting, the social worker will present their evidence to an independent panel, who will make a decision as to how your case should be handled:
- The PLO should end and step down to a child protection or child in need plan,
- The case should stay on PLO for longer to allow you more time, or
- The care proceedings should be issued in respect of your children.
PLO is the last opportunity for you to address the local authority’s concerns, and demonstrate that you are able to provide stable and safe parenting to your children. It is therefore extremely important that you engage with this process, and ensure that you have legal representation.
How we can help
If you have received a PLO letter, or have been notified that the local authority intend to enter into the PLO process, please feel free to contact our care team on 0161 330 6821 who have specialised experience in the handling of PLO cases and will be happy to help you.
At Bromleys, we have a specialist team of friendly and approachable lawyers who are available to support you through the PLO process. To contact one of the care team visit their page: Care Proceedings & Social Services Archives – Bromleys Solicitors LLP.