Everything you need to know about Social Services Pre-Proceedings PLO 

Have you received a Letter from your social worker or social services telling you to seek legal advice or speak to a solicitor? Or, has your child’s social worker mentioned a legal gateway meeting or Pre-Proceedings? If the answer is yes, you need to seek legal advice and speak to a solicitor as soon as possible.  

The purpose of a pre-proceedings PLO is to provide an opportunity for parents to work with their social worker and social services (or children’s social care), to address any issues or concerns they may have. The aim is to avoid going to court or being involved with care proceedings. Pre proceedings meetings are arranged when social services believe that they have passed “the threshold” required to go to court for care proceedings, but they are offering parents one last chance to work with them before they take that step. Your child may have previously had a social worker and been on a child protection plan, been classed as a child in need, or this may be your first baby and you are pregnant (an unborn baby can be subject to pre proceedings).  

Pre-Proceedings Letter 

The pre-proceedings letter will set out the social worker. It may say “s31 proceedings” and urge you to instruct a solicitor. It may also set out social services concerns and explain the work they would like you as a parent to do to avoid the matter being referred to the Court.  

The letter will set out the date, time, and venue of a pre-proceedings meeting. Legal Aid is available so you do not need to worry about the cost of speaking to a solicitor as they will cover your solicitors fees for giving you advice.  

Speaking to a solicitor and obtaining legal advice as early as possible will be beneficial. A solicitor will help you understand the law and the process that will follow and will be able to reassure you, answering any questions you may have. This will help you understand what is expected of you and what you can expect from Social Services.   


Pre-Proceedings Meeting 

The pre-proceedings meeting will be attended by the Social Worker, Team Manager and their solicitor, you as the child parents, and your own solicitor.  

The point of the meeting is for the Local Authority to explain their concerns with the parents while they have the benefit of legal advice. Your solicitor will go through the agreement with you prior to the meeting to advise you and make sure it is fair, that you understand it and what you need to do to reduce social services concerns.  

As a parent, you will also have the opportunity to share your views on social services concerns, which can be useful when establishing what support might be needed to enable parents to successfully engage with the plan. Your solicitor will be present, and you can always ask for a break to speak privately if you need further advice during the meeting. 

The pre-proceedings stage is an opportunity to access support, whether that is around domestic abuse support, drug or alcohol misuse support, or around practical parenting support. It is important you understand what is being asked of you before agreeing to it because if you fail to adhere to it, there is a risk that the Local Authority will go to court.  


What happens next? 

You will be provided with a copy of an agreement which will include a schedule of expectations you have agreed to adhere to. Each agreement will vary but in some cases, you may be asked to attend courses, and often a parenting assessment will be completed.  

It is important you attend all appointments that are arranged for you and you work openly and honestly with the social worker. Should you feel you are struggling or not meeting all the requirements you agreed to in the meeting, it is advised to speak to your solicitor who will advise you on the appropriate steps to take.  

It is important to stay in touch with your solicitor and to engage with the social worker at all times. Remember, this is an opportunity to avoid going to court and nobody wants you to fail so they will support you.  


How long does it last and what happens when it ends? 

A pre-proceeding review meeting will usually take place 8 weeks after the first meeting to see how things are progressing.  

The hope of this process is that parents will engage well with services and demonstrate they are able to provide a good standard of care to their children. If it has been successful, social services will de-escalate your case. They will either close the matter and take no further action or they will continue involvement by way of a Child Protection Plan or Child in Need if they feel you still require support.  

If the Local Authority feels the parents have not complied with the agreement, they will commence court proceedings under Section 31 of the Children Act 1989 for a Care Order or Supervision Order. Proceedings of this nature are very serious. You are automatically entitled to legal aid to be represented in respect of such proceedings and it is important that you instruct a solicitor as soon as possible if such proceedings are issued. 

For more information, contact Nicole Ralston at nicoleralston@msbsolicitors.co.uk. 

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