You are a parent or someone with parental responsibility of a child who has received a letter from Children’s Services inviting you to the pre-proceedings process, but what exactly does this mean?
When Children’s Services are concerned about the welfare of a child to the extent that they are considering taking the case to court, this is known as the "pre-proceedings" or "Public Law Outline" (PLO) process.
The law and guidance about pre-proceedings is found in two main places:
- The Public Law Outline (PLO) - the government's legal framework for public law care proceedings; and
- In statutory guidance, ‘court orders and pre-proceedings for local authorities’.
Children’s Services must have regard to both when initiating the pre-proceedings process.
A letter before proceedings
Unless Children’s Services considers that any such risk identified requires an immediate application to the court, they should send a ‘letter before proceedings’ to the parents and/or others with parental responsibility of the child.
This letter is a formal written notification that care proceedings are likely. The letter should invite you to a pre-proceedings meeting to agree a way forward in order to address the current problems that Children’s Services have identified which have led to concerns about the welfare of the child.
The letter should also include:
- A summary of the local authority’s concerns and changes that they would like you to make, including a timescale of when such changes should be made,
- A summary of the support that has already been provided to you,
- Details of any proposed assessments or support,
- Information about involving wider family and friends; and
- Information on how to obtain legal advice.
On receipt of the letter, you are entitled to non-means tested legal aid at ‘family help (lower)’. This means that you are able to consult a solicitor for advice, who can support you before, during and after the meeting and help negotiate an agreement to try to avoid the need to go to court. This will be at no cost to you.
Any solicitor that you approach will require a copy of the letter before proceedings, so make sure to bring the letter with you to any consultation.
The initial meeting
At the meeting various people will be present. This will include, but is not limited to, the allocated social worker, their team manager and a solicitor on behalf of Children’s Services. You are able to attend the meeting alone, or with the support of a solicitor.
During the meeting, the social worker should talk through the concerns that Children’s Services have. You will have the opportunity to discuss and respond to those concerns in turn.
A plan will then be drawn up which will detail what actions will be taken by both Children’s Services and yourself in order to address those concerns.
Assessments may be undertaken by Children’s Services or they may arrange for assessments to be undertaken by other professionals such as a psychologist. Assessments will be tailored to the concerns identified, i.e. drug and/or alcohol testing of you may be appropriate.
You may be asked to sign a written agreement during or after the meeting which reflects what actions are to be taken. A failure by you to adhere to such written agreement may result in Children’s Services placing the matter before the court.
Consideration may also be given to identifying potential carers for the child in the event that you are unable to look after them. The social worker will convene what is known as a family group conference. This is where you, as well as your family members, are invited to a meeting with Children’s Services to consider how best they can support you through the pre-proceedings process.
After the initial meeting
Following the initial meeting, a date for a review meeting should be agreed. These review meetings will continue until the concerns are fully addressed. If this is the case, Children’s Services may then step the matter down and the pre-proceedings process will come to an end.
If the concerns are not addressed, Children’s Services may then make an application to court for an interim care order or an interim supervision order and consideration may be given to the child being removed from your care.
If Children’s Services do make an application to the court to commence care proceedings, you will be entitled to legal aid as a parent or someone with parental responsibility of the child. This funding will cover the cost of a solicitor advising and representing you through the court process, at no cost to you.
Stephensons has one of the largest child care teams in the North West as well as numerous members of the team on the Children Panel meaning we can provide specialist advice in Children’s Services involvement. If you would like to speak to a member of the team please call us on or 0161 696 6193 online enquiry form and we will contact you directly.
By Danielle Leigh, graduate paralegal