What is the Public Law Outline (PLO) Process?
A Public Law Outline (PLO) is one of the more serious steps taken by the Local Authority to work with a family where there are concerns about the children’s welfare.
The PLO process can seem intimidating and complex, especially when you receive the initial letter from the Local Authority. In this article, family paralegal Alexander Baxter explains what the Public Law Outline process is and what to expect at every step.
This article will address the reader as ‘you/your’, as if the reader is the subject parent in PLO proceedings.
The Local Authority have a duty under the Children Act 1989 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area. If the Local Authority have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering harm, they must carry out an investigation. This is called a Section 47 investigation.
There are various options the Local Authority have at the end of the Section 47 enquiries. One of the more serious of these options is the Public Law Outline (PLO).
The PLO enables the Local Authority to work with your family to ensure that your children are receiving the best level of care possible. It is the last stage before care proceedings can be issued at Court.
Table of Contents
- What is the Public Law Outline Process?
- What is a PLO meeting?
- Do I have to attend a PLO meeting?
- How do I prepare for a PLO meeting?
- Who attends the meeting?
- What happens in a PLO meeting?
- What happens after a PLO meeting?
- How long does the PLO process last?
- Do you need a Solicitor for the PLO process?
- Contact Us
What is the Public Law Outline Process?
The Public Law Outline (PLO) process is very serious. It is the highest level of pre-court proceedings which can take place. Therefore, it is crucial that you engage throughout.
The PLO process is the first stage in child protection matters which is eligible for legal help (which is the lowest level of legal aid).
The PLO process provides you with an opportunity to address any child welfare issues before the Local Authority make a final decision about whether to issue court proceedings.
The Local Authority want these concerns to be addressed within a certain timeframe. They will put a plan in place to avoid court proceedings where possible.
The thought of court proceedings can be daunting. However, the aim of a PLO is to resolve any issues without the need for court proceedings wherever possible.
It is not in the interest of the Local Authority to start court proceedings. Certainly, they would rather the outcome be that the PLO process is stepped down to either a Child in Need Plan (CiN) or Child Protection Plan (CPP).
Once a decision is made to progress to PLO, the Local Authority will send a letter, inviting you to a PLO meeting.
The letter sets out:
- each of the Local Authority’s concerns
- the support the Local Authority have already provided to your family
- the proposed plan the Local Authority have for the PLO process
- the importance of having legal representation at the meeting. (Please contact us if you require legal representation at your PLO meeting.)
What is a PLO meeting?
The PLO meeting is an opportunity for you to discuss the concerns that the Local Authority have. They can work out a plan for assessments and help your family going forward.
The meeting can last upwards of one hour. It is an open discussion, which you are expected to participate in.
The Local Authority want to hear your explanation as to how the situation has reached this point. They also want to assess what support your family needs and consider whether they can provide this.
Your legal representative will be present in the meeting. They will help explain anything that you do not understand, and also make sure the outcome is clear to all parties.
If needed, they can request a break during the meeting to have a private chat with you.
Do I have to attend a PLO meeting?
We would strongly advise that you attend your PLO meeting. As explained, a PLO meeting provides an opportunity to work with the Local Authority to address any concerns or issues they may have. If you do not attend, the Local Authority might immediately issue court proceedings and say you have not been engaging.
How do I prepare for a PLO meeting?
Your legal representative will have a separate meeting with you before the PLO meeting. This ensures that you know what to expect. Together, you will discuss the concerns the Local Authority will raise and how you intend to respond to these in the meeting. You should also consider your current situation, and any positive steps you plan to take to resolve any issues. Additionally, you may discuss any potential help that the Local Authority may be able to provide you. Your legal representative can help you raise and address these options in the PLO meeting.
Prior to the meeting, your legal representative will also set up your legal aid funding. This enables them to attend the PLO meeting with you.
Who attends the meeting?
At the meeting, there will be several people present. Normally, people in attendance are:
- You, the subject parent(s)
- Your legal representative (Please contact us if you require legal representation at your PLO meeting.)
- Your children’s Social Worker
- the Social Work Team Manager
- the area manager
- someone from the Local Authority’s legal team
What happens in a PLO meeting?
Usually, the area manager leads the meeting. The area manager will take you through each point of concern, asking for your thoughts on these and seeking an explanation.
They will have a pre-prepared plan for the next steps moving forward. They will discuss this with you. This could include assessments of you, family members, and/or the children. You do not have to agree to these in the meeting.
Your legal representative will discuss any plans with you before you agree to them. It is important you do not feel forced into deciding, without enough time to think about it.
In many cases, your legal representative will be told about the proposed plan before the meeting. Consequently, they can speak to you about this in advance.
What happens after a PLO meeting?
After the PLO meeting, an agreement is normally put in place. This is known as your “Written Agreement”. This is a document setting out the what the Local Authority expects you to do within the PLO process. It also sets out the support they are going to provide to you and your family.
Your legal representative will also be available to contact if you have any questions or concerns.
A review PLO date will be set. This will be a meeting around 12 weeks after the initial PLO meeting, to discuss what has happened over the last 12 weeks. Here, the Local Authority will confirm whether they can make a decision about the next steps. If everything goes according to plan, the PLO process can be stepped down to CiN/CPP and court proceedings will not be issued.
Nonetheless, if there are outstanding concerns, the Local Authority can extend the PLO for another approximately 12 weeks to continue working with you.
If the concerns are significant, the Local Authority can issue court proceedings. This is a longer, stressful, and more complex process. You may wish to instruct your legal representative to continue to represent you through these court proceedings.
How long does the PLO process last?
The PLO process will usually run for 12 to 26 weeks.
This can be extended if required.
This allows you to make the necessary changes and address any concerns that the Local Authority raised. Throughout this period, you will be supported by the Local Authority and any other relevant professional organisation. This helps ensure that you can work together to make the necessary progress for your children.
Do you need a Solicitor for the PLO process?
We would strongly advise that you instruct a Solicitor during the Public Law Outline process. Whilst you may be able to complete this process on your own, a Solicitor will help guide you through the process and answer any questions that you have. The Local Authority will have their legal team present and advising them. By having a Solicitor, this allows you equal footing. It also means your legal representative can advise you throughout and ensure you fully understand the consequences of the decisions you make. We recommend that you seek advice from a specialist children solicitor when involved in the Public Law Outline process.
We understand that the PLO process can be a stressful and concerning time. Our specialist children solicitors have significant experience in representing clients at PLO meetings in a sensitive and constructive way. Please contact us on 01707 329333 or email email@example.com if you require legal advice or representation regarding the PLO process.