November 9, 2016 2:07 pm
The Public Law Outline, or PLO, is the final stage of the child protection process.
Now enshrined in law since April 2014, it sets out the process that local authorities must follow when considering care proceedings.
You may find it helpful to download the Public Law Outline (PLO) flow chart.
Many of you will be working with children in some way, for instance, as a doctor, nursery nurse, teacher or a worker within the health service. You may not be involved in the day-to-day workings of the Local Authority but as a worker on the peripheral of a child’s life, you may be asked to provide the Local Authority with some information where there are concerns.
Let’s take a look at exactly what care proceedings are. Very briefly, care proceedings happen when a Local Authority makes an application to the Court because there are concerns that a child, or children within a family are at significant risk of harm and the Local Authority is seeking to share parental responsibility
There is a legal structure which a Local Authority must abide by when considering removing a child. It’s the point at which everything else they’ve tried has failed. What the Local Authority does is start to build up its evidence and makes a start to look at what needs this child has.
In some cases, child protection conferences are not enough to safeguard children. Sometimes parents won’t work with the Local Authority. Sometimes the issues are much more complex and there are difficulties in keeping parents/carers engaged in the process and making sure that everything that needs to be done is being done by them.
In those circumstances a Local Authority will go to its legal team and present the case, detailing their involvement and that of other professional agencies and state that they’re really struggling to effect any change and are worried about the risk this child/children are facing.
This is where the Public Law Outline comes in.
Following the legal meeting, it may be that the next stage will occur which is that of a Public Law Outline (PLO) meeting. This is a meeting where parents are advised of everything they need to do in order to stop the Local Authority going to Court. This stage really is the last point before a Local Authority would look at going to Court.
This stage is often referred to as pre-proceedings because it’s before a Local Authority has issued any sort of Court proceedings. The Local Authority will be gathering information from a number of agencies so if children have a protection plan, there will be regular meetings with a formal conference meeting taking place with all agencies working with this family and information is shared with professionals involved, for example, Police, Health, School, the Local Authority and it may be that Probation are involved with parents. All these agencies start to gather information and share information about the family to look at protecting the child/ren who are at the centre of the Local Authority’s concerns.
The Public Law Outline meeting is between the Local Authority, parents and their legal representatives. The Local Authority will share their information with the solicitors and the legal representatives all its concerns and explains what the parent/s has/have to do in order to show the Local Authority that they are managing and that they are seriously tackling the concerns being raised and they’re doing something about it. The parents may be engaging with other services, such as drugs services, probation, parenting courses, etc. All these agencies will need to be dealt with.
As with protection plans and child in need plans, an agreement is drawn up which sets out very clearly what has to happen and when it has happen by in order to prevent the Local Authority from taking the situation further and looking at issuing proceedings.
Court proceedings are a last resort. From the initial referral, which could come in from various sources, the Local Authority conducts an initial investigation. If it needs to take it further, it will look at a plan for the child – either a Child in Need Plan or a Child Protection Plan. If that doesn’t work and there are still risks/concerns, the Local Authority will look at escalating their involvement to the next stage, the final stage before Court, which is a Public Law Outline meeting, this involves Solicitors at this stage.
In some cases, a Local Authority will go to Court without any of the stages being followed, and this occurs where there is an emergency situation which can happen for several reasons. Maybe the family is not known to the Local Authority, or possibly the Local Authority has just become involved and doesn’t know anything about the family, but suddenly, an urgent situation occurs and everyone is involved at that stage because something has to happen in order to protect the child on an emergency basis.
There are various reasons this can happen which can include things like an unexplained injury when a child is presented at hospital and there’s an injury there that the carer or parent/s cannot provide a satisfactory explanation. This is one example where a Local Authority would work very quickly to get into Court in order to get a framework around the child/ren at risk and look at how it best to proceed with the case, from which it would need to have parental responsibility in those circumstances. Now even though in emergency situations, a family may be known to a Local Authority, there’s no history there at all, the 26 weeks still applies.
The Local Authority works on a case by case basis. Generally speaking each and every case will have different nuances in it. As a professional involved on the periphery of care proceedings, if parents not turning up for appointments with you, the Local Authority is will want to know about that, and for instance, if a child turns up late on a very regular basis, if there are problems in terms of their presentation. Are they turning up to nursery in grubby clothes, unwashed, and not having been fed? Are they turning up to appointments that you’ve scheduled, if you work in health, or you’re some other worker, maybe drugs, are they turning up, and all of this needs to be documented because it all forms part of the Local Authority’s case and it all goes towards safeguarding a child.
All of this information is gathered at that pre-proceedings stage, but as mentioned, there are those cases that have to happen much quicker than that, but all this information still needs to be gathered within that 26 week time slot. The Courts will not tolerate cases taking 12 months plus. The Courts decided that all those assessments that I’ve mentioned all need to happen at the beginning.
- The Local Authority receives an initial referral – it then acts on that initial referral.
- If further involvement is needed it will then look at either a Child in Need Plan or a Child Protection Plan. Under those agreements, parents will sign up to an agreement that says what they need to do, it will be laid out for them what they need to do in order for the children to remain with them and for the children’s welfare needs to be met.
- If that doesn’t effect the necessary change, the Local Authority will look at escalating proceedings to a PLO meeting which will involve their Solicitor and another agreement around what has to happen so the Local Authority doesn’t issue proceedings. At this stage there’ll be multi-agency meetings and various bits of work that have to be undertaken by parents. Social workers will do assessments and if you’re involved with a family, you may have to be providing information on a regular basis.
- If that doesn’t effect the necessary change and the Local Authority takes the view that a child is at risk of significant harm, then it will issue proceedings. When the proceedings are started, on Day 1, by Day 18 there’ll be the first Court hearing and by the third stage, all information will need to be provided to the Court explaining and setting out what the basis is for the Local Authority’s case and that can include a whole wealth of information from Police, School, Nursery, Health Visitors, Midwives, GPs, Consultants, Drug Referral agencies, parenting courses and the list continues. There may be expert evidence from various professionals such as Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Risk Assessments and there may also be information from people who supervise contact or who are involved in some other way.
- The next hearing should be the Issues Resolution Hearing and if possible, the case will be finalised at that hearing. If it can’t be resolved at that hearing, then the Court will list it, i.e. set it up for a final hearing and at that hearing the Local Authority’s application will be finished. The Court will make a decision about the information that’s been provided to the Court and will decide whether or not it will grant the Local Authority’s application to share parental responsibility on a long term basis and potentially to look at removal and adoption of a child or look at whether or not a lower level of intervention is needed and maybe at the Supervision Order stage.