What is a PLO and how can it affect you?
Since starting as a paralegal, one of the most common matters I deal with is Public Law Outcomes, otherwise known as, PLO meetings. Before I joined the firm, I’d never heard of a PLO, however now, it is an everyday task.
A PLO is a meeting which the Local Authority (LA) will invite a parent to if they believe they have sufficient concerns about a child in their care. It is often seen as a ‘last chance’ to prevent the LA escalating the matter to court.
A social worker will give the parent a PLO Letter which states the reasons why the LA are deciding to have the meeting, and it sets out the conditions that you need to meet in order to prevent the LA taking the concerns to court. PLO meetings are very serious and should not be regarded as something to take lightly, it's an opportunity for the parent to prove to the LA that they will make the required changes.
The letter states that the parent should contact a solicitor and encourages them to have one present at the meeting. It’s important to seek legal advice for a PLO as if this matter was to go to court, then the parent would have already received some initial advice on the case. Having a solicitor at the meeting can help alleviate the pressure by having someone to offer advice and to speak on your behalf.
One of the benefits of PLO’s is that no matter a parent’s financial circumstances you’re entitled to legal aid. This means there should be no reason for a parent not to find a solicitor to help with the matter as it is completely free.
Having had the opportunity to conduct a few PLO meetings myself, I now see the importance behind the need to obtain legal advice before the meeting. The discussions held at a PLO are highly important in making sure you don’t see your case progress before the court and for a parent to fully understand the concerns the LA raises.
No PLO meeting is the same and there is no timeline that they are prescribed by. This allows for families to be able to demonstrate a change and commitment to those changes. In order for the LA not to put the matter before the Courts, they need to see their concerns being alleviated by way of improvements and/or changes.
Since conducting PLO’s I have found a common theme that clients believe the LA will escalate the case no matter what and will not listen to their views. This is not the case, the LA are trying to prevent harm towards the child(ren) and want to work with you, rather than against you to resolve the matter. I remind my clients that it is very important to work collaboratively with the LA as they are there to help with any concerns and will provide the family with the assistance they need. No LA wants to see a situation where they have to remove a child, therefore it is important to work with the social workers to help alleviate concerns.
PLO’s are a vital part to stopping proceedings and are a great opportunity as a parent to understand the concerns raised and to change those concerns. It is also one of the only times legal aid is not based on your financial circumstance, so if you ever receive a PLO letter, make sure you obtain legal advice.