4.1.4 Care Proceedings and the Public Law Outline (PLO) Procedure
RELATED CHAPTERS AND GUIDANCE
See also Emergency Protection Order Procedure.
Preparing Care and Supervision Proceedings, issued by the Ministry of Justice in August 2009.
This chapter was updated in October 2014 and the PLO Timeline added.
- Legal Planning Meetings
- Emergency Decisions
- Letter before Proceedings
- Public Law Outline (PLO) Meetings and Reviews
- Local Authority Solicitor
- Preparing a Case
- Court Hearings
- Attendance at Hearings
- Final Hearing
- The Care Plan
A decision to commence proceedings for a Care Order or Supervision Order can only be made by the Placement Panel having regard to the requirements of the Public Law Outline or in an emergency, by the Designated Manager (Decision to Look After) - see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure.
In emergency situations, see also Emergency Protection Order Procedure.
As soon as the decision is made by the allocated social worker's manager, after consultation with the allocated social worker, that the Threshold Criteria for Significant Harm have been met, the manager will discuss the case with the Deputy Service Manager (in the first instance) or the Service Manager, to seek permission to convene a Legal Planning Meeting.
Once this is agreed, the child's social worker should convene a Legal Planning Meeting as soon as this is possible but no longer than 5 days after the initial discussion with the manager.
The purpose of a Legal Planning Meeting is to consider if there are sufficient grounds to initiate the Public Law Outline (PLO) procedure with a view to applying for a Care Order or Supervision Order. It is the first opportunity to consider the case issues in a legal context and receive legal advice.
The meeting will be chaired by the allocated social worker's manager (or in their absence, another manager at the same level or the next available manager upwards). The Chair will also take the minutes. Further invitees can include relevant professionals from other agencies. The social worker should ensure that written invitations are sent to all attendees. In the event that there is insufficient time to send written invitations, it is permissible for invitations to be issued via telephone. The reasons for this should be recorded on the case file and all telephone invitations should similarly be recorded together with the contact details of those invited.
The social worker should ensure that a room is booked for the meeting.
The following documents should be available for the Legal Planning Meeting and they should be emailed to the Legal Department one day before the meeting for their consideration:
- Child and Family Assessment.
The documents must be up-to-date, i.e. all recent significant events must be included as well as all relevant historic information.
The aim of the meeting is to exhaustively discuss the case and to recommend whether there are sufficient grounds to initiate the PLO procedure.
The format of the meeting is as follows:
- Chair's introduction, including purpose and format of meeting; confidentiality; outlining what input is requested by other agencies present;
- Social worker presents verbal report that addresses all completed sections of the Legal Planning Meeting pro-forma;
- Chair invites agency contributions;
- Agency contributions;
- Chair invites initial advice by solicitor;
- Initial advice by solicitor;
- Chair sums up.
The final outcome of the meeting should be recorded in the minutes and the advice from the Legal Department will be emailed to the manager so that it can be incorporated into the minutes.If the advice is that the PLO procedure should be instigated, the social worker needs to book the case into the next available Placement Panel and complete all the necessary Panel paperwork as required.
If the need for action to protect the child is so urgent that there is insufficient time to convene a Legal Planning Meeting, it is permissible to conduct telephone discussions with those who would otherwise have been invited to the meeting. This should only be done with the manager's agreement and recorded, together with the reasons why a meeting could not be held, on the child's record.
In the event of holding telephone discussions instead of a meeting, discussions should be held with all relevant persons prior to discussing the matter with the Legal Department. This enables the social worker to feed back as much information as possible to the the Legal Department so that appropriate advice in respect of making an application can be given.In the event of immediate protective action being considered via an Emergency Protection Order - see Applications for Emergency Protection Order Procedure.
Once the Placement Panel has agreed to the instigation of the Public Law Outline procedure, the social worker should notify the Legal Department and the social worker must discuss the decision with the relevant carer of the child, unless there is reason not to do so.
The minutes of the Placement Panel will be sent to the Legal Department for their information.
The social worker will complete the "Letter Before Proceedings" within 3 working days of the Placement Panel decision and must seek the manager's approval of the letter before sending it. Once the letter has been completed, it will be sent to the Legal Department for legal advice.
For additional guidance in relation to this letter, see Public Law Outline Procedure.
The letter, once finalised, must be sent by recorded delivery or it must be hand-delivered within one working day of its completion. The letter must give the carer at least one week's notice of the upcoming PLO meeting and must include a list of local solicitors.
The PLO letter must be addressed and sent to every person with Parental Responsibility for the child. If the parents are living together it can be a joint letter to the parents. If the people with Parental Responsibility live apart, an individual letter must be sent to each person inviting them to the meeting.
The PLO meeting must take place within 10 working days of the Letter Before Proceedings being sent to the child's carer and those with Parental Responsibility.
A PLO meeting should only be held if the carer of the child has legal representation.
Should the child's carer appear at a meeting for the second time without legal representation, the carer should be advised that the local authority may seek to make an application to the Court, due to the lack of engagement by the carer.
The local authority solicitor must always be part of any PLO meeting. The minutes of the meeting are taken by the local authority solicitor and sent to all attendees after the meeting.
The PLO meeting is only successfully concluded if a PLO plan has been agreed (as set out by the original PLO Letter Before Proceedings) by all parties at the end of the meeting.
The usual period for any PLO plan is three months, unless there are significant reasons why this timescale should be shortened. A three month period should always lapse before any review.
The review of the PLO plan will take place via a Review PLO meeting where the carer, his or her solicitor, the social worker, the social worker's manager and the local authority solicitor should be present.
Should any changes to the PLO plan be necessary before the Review PLO meeting takes place, the carer's legal representative must be informed of such changes via the local authority solicitor.
At the Review PLO meeting, the following decisions can be taken:
- To discharge the PLO process, as the PLO plan has been achieved and the local authority has no further significant concerns for the child;
- To agree a further review PLO period (Please note: this action may only be taken in rare circumstances, as a further review will certainly mean drift for the case);
- The PLO plan has been partly achieved/not achieved and the local authority's concerns remain and the child remains at Significant Harm or the concerns have increased further and therefore the local authority will be seeking an Order from the Court to safeguard the child.
If the decision is taken that the case needs to proceed to Court, the social worker will agree a very short time frame with their manager in order to prepare the Initial Care Plan, Initial Statement and Chronology - see Section 7, Preparing a Case
The local authority solicitor is employed by the borough to conduct legal business on its behalf. All applications for Care Orders and Supervision Orders are made on behalf of the local authority by a local authority solicitor. The local authority solicitor works closely with the social worker to coordinate the arrangements for the proceedings including filing of reports, statements and documents.
The local authority solicitor's responsibilities are to:
- Safeguard the legal integrity of the borough;
- Provide consistent legal input to the borough's care and supervision applications;
- Attend Child Protection Conferences, professionals' meetings and other formal planning meetings;
- Ensure that all relevant information is placed before the court in the accepted formats and that statements and reports of LA officers or experts commissioned on behalf of the borough reflect the position of those persons as accurately as possible;
- Ensure that the Judicial Protocol timescales are communicated to the social worker and plan the progress of cases, in conjunction with the social worker, so that the timescales can be met.
The social worker should meet with the local authority solicitor at the earliest opportunity to discuss the approach of the case and timetable the preliminary documents that require to be filed.
The local authority solicitor will file forms C1 and C13 required for a Care Order/Supervision Order application. The social worker will prepare the Initial Social Work Statement and the Social Work Chronology and collate other documents (such as Child and Family Assessments, Section 37 Reports, etc.) to be filed at the first hearing. C1 and C13 should be prepared on the day the application is made.
The Initial Social Work Statement (produced on the standard form) should contain the following information:
- Precipitating incident / background circumstances relevant to the grounds for making the application, including brief description of any referral and assessment processes that have already occurred;
- Any facts / matters within the social worker’s personal knowledge;
- Any emergency steps and previous court orders relevant to the current application;
- Any decisions taken by the borough relevant to the application;
- An outline Care Plan for the child
The Social Work Chronology (produced on the standard form) should contain a succinct summary of the significant dates and events in the child’s life in chronological order. It is a running record that must be updated during the course of the proceedings.
The social worker’s manager (or other manager in their absence) should check the documents by the end of the day on which the application is made. The documents will then be submitted to Legal Services on the working day after the application is made in order to be counter-checked prior to filing.
Prior to each hearing, the social worker must familiarise themselves with the case issues and the documents filed.
The local authority solicitor will prepare a file note following each hearing which forms a formal record of the hearing. This will include a summary of the hearing, issues arising and directions (and/or orders) issued. This, together with a copy of the orders will be forwarded to the child’s social worker for retention. The file note should be filed in the appropriate sections of the child’s file, i.e. Section 1: Documents Relating to Care Proceedings and the orders should be filed in Section 2: Court Orders.
The social worker should make a note of all directions to be fulfilled and dates of future hearings. These should be entered into the social worker’s diary as soon as possible. The social worker should then forward plan all the directions that must be fulfilled before the next Directions Hearing.
Directions such as planning and costing expert assessments will need to be attended to at the earliest opportunity to avoid delays on the part of the Placements Panel or experts commissioned to provide an assessment.
Statements should be prepared in good time so as to meet court deadlines.
Managers should ensure that they are familiar with the directions stemming from the last hearing and monitor their fulfillment.
Timescales in the Public Law Outline must be adhered to unless there are exceptional circumstances, in which case they must be recorded on the child’s file. Social workers must keep their managers informed of all slippage in timescales and do their best to offset delay. The timescales contained in this section are the minimum requirements. Timescales in emergency applications will be determined by the demands of the case.
Managers should endeavour to attend the first hearing and other hearings/meetings/conferences as necessary, although they may use their discretion with straightforward cases or where case responsibility is held by a senior or experienced social worker. (The opposite should apply with new social workers.) Managers should record on the child's record instances together with reasons where they decide that their presence in Court is not necessary.
In the event of two hearings involving the same social worker coinciding or where the social worker has a commitment that clashes with a Court hearing, the borough should be represented at the hearing by the social worker’s manager. If the manager is similarly unavailable, another social worker or a deputy team manager who is familiar with the case should attend.
It is the responsibility of the child’s social worker to arrange for cover and to brief their replacement on the issues for that hearing. This should be done as soon as is practicable to avoid non-attendance by the borough and to avoid the replacement being unable to contribute to the deliberations. Managers should ensure that this is done.
Non-attendance by a representative of the borough should be avoided at all costs. If this is unavoidable, the Head of Service must approve it and write a letter of explanation to the Court. The local authority solicitor should place this letter before the judge on the day of the hearing.
The social worker will meet with the local authority solicitor to discuss the preparation of the final statement and Care Plan. This should be done in good time so as to enable the line manager and local authority solicitor to counter-check the statement.
The social worker will also ensure that the legal file is up to date and that all documents are contained in it. They may wish to go through the file and use post-it stickers to flag those documents on which they intend to rely during oral evidence.
At the same time that the manager checks the social worker’s final statement, they should also go through the file with the social worker to ensure that it is in order and that all documents are filed therein.
The social worker will be required to consider all the statements filed for the final hearing, including the Children’s Guardian’s final report. The preparations for the final hearing will involve going through the statements of the other parties and identifying issues that may be referred to in oral evidence. These issues should be discussed with the local authority solicitor in order to agree how to proceed.
The social worker will meet with the local authority solicitor again at least two working days prior to the final hearing in order to complete the preparation referred to above. The social worker’s final statement will deal with all the issues that the final hearing is expected to deal with.
If a written judgement is not prepared, the social worker should consider, in consultation with the local authority solicitor and line manager whether one should be requested and, if so, who would meet the cost of it.
The social worker should submit the Care Plan to the Placement Panel for approval at least five working days prior to the date when it has to be filed with the Court.
Once approved, both the social worker and his or her manager should sign the Plan.
A separate plan should be produced for each child if there is more than one child in the application. So that the court does not overlook it, it is helpful to draw the court’s attention to those parts of each plan, which differ for different children, e.g. by underlining the differences. A statement should be added in the final Statement to this effect. Wording should be as follows:
“Separate care plans have been produced in respect of each of the sibling group named in this application. Information mutual to all the children has been reproduced in all the plans. For ease of reference, information specific to the child named in the specific Care Plan is identified by being underlined.”