Ian WalkerPublic Law Outline /PLO /Meetings with social services

The Public Law Outline or PLO for short was introduced in 2014. This provided new rules and expectations as to how care proceedings would be managed.

We are not going to cover court proceedings on this page.

The focus of this page is on PLO Meetings and what happens before court proceedings.

PLO meetings

Local Authorities have a legal duty to safeguard all of the children in their area.

There are essentially three levels of meeting. Sometimes these are called slightly different things but the objective is the same.

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 make changes/work with the local authority/demonstrate that their children can be cared for well enough and safely.

Before a PLO meeting – the parents/carers will be sent a letter which makes clear that social services/the local authority are 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 are 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 of the child/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 social services might move the family onto one of the lower levels of meeting – child protection or children in need.

PLO meetings and Legal Aid

Unlike child protection meetings and children in need meetings a parent/carer is entitled to bring a solicitor to a PLO meeting and to receive legal advice during the meeting.

A parent or other person with parental responsibility 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 person with parental responsibility has to do is to give to the solicitor the letter they will have received from the local authority/social worker inviting them PLO meeting and the parent or person with parental responsibility will then need to sign a legal aid for. It’s as simple as that.

The local authority should give the parent or person with parental responsibility 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.

If there is a PLO meeting – does this mean that the case will definitely end up in court?

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 social services so that it has been possible to avoid court proceedings.

Other types of meeting

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

A local authority/social worker may have concerns about the care of a child – but these are not yet serious enough to justify a PLO meeting. They could instead call a child protection meeting/child protection conference.

Legal aid is not available to enable a solicitor to attend this type of meeting.

These meetings are multiagency meetings and schools and doctors and 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:

  • the child is unlikely to maintain or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by a local authority
  • the child’s health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision of such services, or
  • the child is disabled

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 and regarding social services generally.

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 it will also be 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 (for example there is an allegation that they have caused harm to the child – they need representation to defend themselves against this allegation).

If there is a PLO meeting – parents and those with parental responsibility will also receive a more limited type of legal aid which is also free.

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/carer some advice. This is means tested.

For those who don’t qualify for legal aid – we do have options in terms of funding. For example we offer a fixed fee initial meeting – where we can discuss the case in depth and give advice – and as well as offering full representation in court proceedings we also have a pay as you go service where we can give advice from time to time. Sometimes a local authority will pay the costs of someone who is drawn into court proceedings who is not the parent of child.

We are experts in this type of law and we have a contract with the legal aid agency – so please do get in touch.