Q: I have received a ‘Letter Before Proceedings’ from Children’s Services asking me to attend a meeting to discuss my child’s welfare. I am really worried but I am too frightened to ask them what it is about. Why are such letters are sent, and do I need to do any preparation for the meeting?
A: When a Letter before Proceedings is issued it unfortunately means that the Local Authority (Social Services) thinks there are issues with the way in which a child is being cared for. By sending you this letter, the Local Authority is informing you that they are considering making an application to the Family Court to potentially take your child into care, or make any other arrangements in relation to your child’s welfare or accommodation, as they see fit. These are called Care Proceedings.
There are various reasons why the Local Authority may be concerned about your child and this could involve concerns regarding issues such as the child’s safety, health or education. The letter you have received should tell you why the Local Authority has concerns.
The meeting to which you have been invited is known as a PLO meeting. It will involve you and the Local Authority discussing their concerns and trying to reach an agreement on the best way forwards. Sometimes it is possible for a parent to prove to the Local Authority that they can make the required changes and prevent the matter from going to Court. Conversely it may be too late to change their minds.
Local Authorities actively encourage that a Solicitor is present at such a meeting and you may be able to get Legal Aid to help you fund this. You might therefore consider appointing a specialist lawyer who can attend the meeting with you, advise you of your options and put your points across in the best possible way.
(Article published 13/03/2017)