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What is the Public Law Outline (PLO) in child care?

By Sana Mahmood

Published In: Child Care

A Public Law Outline (PLO) is designed to protect children. It can feel daunting as a parent to be told that the local authority want to be involved with your children. In this blog we talk about what the PLO is and the different steps that are involved as well as what help is available to you.

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What is the Public Law Outline?

Public Law Outline (PLO) is a process that takes place when the local authority are concerned about a child’s wellbeing. If they feel that positive steps are not taken to reduce those concerns, the local authority may consider making an application to the court. If the social worker feels the risk to the child is so great, or matters are so urgent, the local authority might bypass the PLO process and make an immediate application to court.


What is the PLO process?

When the local authority wants to start the PLO process, they will follow these steps:

  • They provide parents with a “letter before proceedings”. This outlines the main concerns, and the help that has been provided by children’s services so far.
  • After this a meeting is scheduled with the local authority. During the meeting, the social worker’s team manager will explain to the parents why the PLO process has started. They also talk through what support can be offered by the local authority to help them.
  • It’s likely that the local authority will want parents to sign a document called a ‘Written Agreement’ or a ‘Safety Plan’. This sets out what’s expected of the parents and what the parents and social care agree to do. This document is not legally binding, but if it is not followed, the local authority is more likely to go to court.  

If parents engage and make the necessary changes to reduce the concerns, the local authority may no longer consider and the PLO will end. If it is felt that further progress can be made through pre-proceedings work, a recommendation could be made to give more time for changes to be effective.


What if there isn’t enough progress on the PLO?

If the parents don’t make enough progress against the agreed actions, the case will be referred to the Children’s Social Work Decision and Review Panel to consider if should start.

The local authority may also ask you to sign a voluntary agreement called a section 20. This agreement makes a child a part of the care system without a court order. It is typically offered for a child when the local authority has made an application to court for a care or supervision order or is thinking about making an application.

If parents agree to this, their child will move into foster care (if there is no possibility of a kinship placement) whilst the local authority carries out further investigations or the court case starts.


What should I do if my child in involved in the Public Law Outline (PLO) process?

It is essential to have legal representation throughout the PLO process. You can receive free legal aid from us to advise and represent you.

A member of our specialist child care department will be able to explain the concerns the local authority has about your child. We can also offer expert advice to you on how to resolve the matter most efficiently. All you need to do is bring the Letter Before Proceedings to us so that we can apply for legal aid on your behalf.

To speak to a member of the team call us on 0800 138 0458 or email us at


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Sana has worked in the legal sector for one year. She is a Paralegal in Switalskis’ Child Care Law team.


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