Letter before Proceedings – PLO letter
Why has my local authority sent me a letter before proceedings?
If you get a letter before proceedings, it’s because your local authority thinks your child is not being looked after properly or is out of control, and they are considering asking the court if they can take your child into care.
The letter explains why they think this. In every case, the reasons will be different. Sometimes it might be to do with your lifestyle. Sometimes it is because of your child’s health or because they are not going to school. Focus on what the letter tells you – not on other things that you think might be problems.
What happens if I don’t follow the instructions in the letter?
If you don’t go to the meeting that the letter asks you to go to, your local authority will almost certainly apply to the court to start care proceedings.
What are care proceedings?
Care proceedings are a formal process where a local authority asks a court to have your child taken into care. This means your children would live with approved family members or foster carers. This can be for just a few weeks or until the court makes a final decision. During the care proceedings the local authority acquire “parental responsibility” for your child – this means that the local authority has the legal right to make decisions about your child’s life, such as medical treatment and which school they attend.
If I get a letter before proceedings, does it automatically mean my child will be taken into care?
No. It gives you a last chance to show your local authority that you are willing to agree to make changes to the way you look after your child. If you don’t take this chance, then your local authority will almost certainly start care proceedings.
Why are local authorities allowed to do this?
Local authorities have a legal duty to “safeguard, protect and promote the welfare of children” in their area. If a local authority thinks that a child is at risk of harm or neglect, it has to take action.
Your child’s social worker will explain why your local authority thinks your child is not being looked after properly or is out of control and what you can do about it. They will suggest things you can do to change the way you look after your child. If your local authority thinks you are not changing the way you look after your child, it will send a letter before proceedings.
What do I have to do next?
You must go to the meeting your local authority has asked you to attend.
The letter tells you when and where it is. At the meeting, you can have your say about how your child should be looked after and put your side of the story across.
Read carefully what your local authority has said in the letter about why they think your child is not being looked after properly and decide whether or not you agree with them. If you agree, think about what you could do to change. If you don’t agree, you will need to say why.
Before that meeting, you can arrange Kings Solicitors to attend the meeting with you and as a parent you will automatically be eligible for legal aid.
Why do I need a solicitor?
You need a solicitor for two reasons:
- Your solicitor will listen to what you say and help explain your point of view to your local authority;
- The law about when a child can be taken into care is very complicated. Your solicitor can explain it to you and make sure your local authority is following the law. At the pre-proceedings meeting, your local authority will have their solicitor with them.
How much will a solicitor cost?
Provided you have parental responsibility you don’t have to pay Kings Solicitors for attending the pre-proceedings meeting with you. As a parent you are automatically eligible for legal aid.
I don’t agree with what the letter says – what can I do?
If you disagree with what the letter says, you will have a chance to say why at the meeting. Tell your solicitor what you disagree with. They can help you explain your point.
Do I have to tell anyone about this?
No, but it’s often best to talk to your child’s other parent or a friend or family member you trust about the fact that you’ve had this letter. It can be difficult to talk about it, but they can support you and listen to you. They can also help you come up with ideas of how to change the way you look after your children.
What you need to know
At the pre-proceedings meeting, you can agree what you would do to change the way you look after your child. This is written in a formal agreement between you and the local authority.
If you don’t keep to your side of the agreement, your local authority will almost certainly consider issuing care proceedings and ask the court to remove your child from your care.
You will have to attend meetings with your local authority to show that you are keeping to the agreement.
What you need to do
Attend the meeting and take anything the local authority has asked you to bring. Before the meeting, think about what the local authority wrote in the letter. If you don’t agree or have ideas about what you could do to change the way you look after your child, tell your solicitor about them. You could also ask for a family group conference which is a meeting of your whole family to help you all to take the lead in making a safe plan for your child. Listen to your solicitor and let them speak for you as much as possible.
How is it different from other meetings?
It’s different because if you don’t agree any changes to how your child is looked after, the local authority is very likely to ask a court for permission to take your child into care.
Who will be there?
At the meeting, there will be several people from the local authority:
- Your child’s social worker;
- The manager of your local authority’s children’s services;
- A local authority solicitor; and
- Your solicitor should be there with you
You should not take your child to the meeting. Ask someone you trust to look after your child while you are at the meeting to look after your child; tell your local authority as soon as possible. They may be able to find someone to help.
What do I have to do in the meeting?
In the meeting, you will:
- Have to answer questions about the way you look after your child;
- Be asked if you agree with the suggestions; and
- Your local authority make about how to change the way you look after your child.
You may prefer your solicitor to answer some of the questions for you. They can also say how you want to change the way you look after your child and any other ideas you think will help. Try to keep calm and follow what is being said. It might be difficult but if you stick to the facts, you will help the meeting to focus on your child.
How can I prepare for the meeting?
Your local authority will normally send you and your solicitor an agenda for the meeting. This will say what the local authority wants to talk about. You can use this and the letter before proceedings to help be ready. Read carefully what your local authority has said in the letter about why they think your child is not being looked after properly or is out of control. Check where the meeting is and what time you need to be there. Work out how you will get there in plenty of time, and who will look after your child during the meeting.
What you need to know
At the pre-proceedings meeting, you agreed what you would do to change the way you looked after your child. This was written down in a formal agreement.
If you don’t keep to the agreement, your local authority will almost certainly ask the court if they can remove your child from your care.
You will have to go to meetings with your local authority to show that you are keeping to the agreement.
What you need to do
Stick to your part of the agreement. That includes making sure you go to appointments arranged by your child’s social worker or other people like doctors, schools or support groups.
Keep records of what you’ve done as your part of the agreement. It will help you when you go to meetings with your local authority about the agreement.
If you find it difficult to keep to any bits of the agreement, tell your child’s social worker as soon as possible. They may be able to change it or offer you extra help.
What is the agreement?
The agreement is a document that says what you have agreed with the local authority needs to be done to look after your child and make sure that your child is protected. It is a formal record of what you agreed with your local authority at the pre-proceedings meeting.
What can it include?
An agreement can include all sorts of things. Some of these are things the parents must do. For example: make sure the child goes to school every day; take the child to a friend or family member when the parent goes to work; meet a health visitor every week to check on the child’s health; or see a drug and alcohol adviser if needed.
It might also include things that the child’s social worker must do, for example: ask a health visitor to visit the child or ask a drug and alcohol adviser to visit the parents. Make sure you understand exactly what you have to do as part of the agreement. Don’t agree to anything you can’t do.
What happens if I don’t keep to the agreement?
If you don’t keep to the agreement, the local authority will almost certainly ask a court for permission to take your child into care.
How will my local authority check I’m keeping to it?
You will have to go to regular meetings with your local authority. At the meetings, you will be asked about what you’ve done to keep to the agreement. The local authority will also ask people you had to meet, like health visitors, to tell them if you have met them, and what they think about your child’s situation.
How do I prove I’m keeping to it?
You should keep notes about when you have done things that are part of the agreement.
My circumstances have changed, and I can’t do something that was on the agreement. What can I do instead?
If you have a good reason why you can’t do something that was on the agreement, you should tell your child’s social worker as soon as possible. They might be able to get the agreement changed or think of something else you could do instead to help your child. You should also tell your solicitor.
My child’s social worker was supposed to do something as part of the agreement, but they haven’t done it. What should I do?
If your child’s social worker hasn’t done something they are supposed to do, you should call them and ask them why. If you think they are not helping you, you can ask to speak to the manager of children’s services at your local authority. You should also make a note of it and tell your solicitor.
What else can I do to help show the local authority I can look after my child well?
One good way of showing the local authority you are looking after your child well is to do other things that aren’t part of the agreement. For example, you could let your child join an after-school club that they are interested in. Your child’s social worker might be able to suggest organisations that can help you. You could also ask family and friends to help you with childcare if you feel you need a break. Don’t be afraid to ask for more help if you need it.