We are republishing a post we shared last week inviting parents to share their experiences of care proceedings with a focus on which stages of the process they felt were unfair.
Researching Reform will show social work staff how the framework used in care proceedings sets parents up to fail and enables unjust child removals, at an event hosted by Neath Port Talbot social services.
The Public Law Outline (PLO) is a legal framework which acts as a form of guidance for the family court about how to manage care proceedings.
It contains the order of the different stages of the process; the matters to be considered at the main case management hearings; and timescales for each stage of the process which should be followed by the family courts and social work staff in order to resolve the proceedings within 26 weeks.
Initially created to prevent children from staying too long inside the child protection system, the outline has been heavily criticised in recent years.
One of the key concerns stems from its use of time limits to try and push cases through the courts in instances where more time would have allowed parents to demonstrate their ability to care for their children, and keep them in their care.
Social workers also struggle to meet the deadlines in an increasing number of cases. Extensions are supposed to be granted in cases where additional time would resolve the case fairly, but many parents say they are simply refused more time to make the changes being asked of them.
And despite a growing number of social work experts acknowledging that the system does set parents up to fail – and even using the term, which was coined by deeply frustrated families inside the system experiencing this unfairness – the system has not done anything to address the problem.
Researching Reform decided that the best way to show social work staff the problems with this guidance and its timeframes was to collect real-life experiences of the families who have been exposed to them, and we would be so grateful for your help.
We are looking to gather experiences of families and children who have gone through care proceedings and felt that the stages and time limits set them up to fail.
This post includes questions below which you are welcome to email or post your answers to if you would like to share your experience. There is also an accessible breakdown of the PLO so that you can point to which bits of the guidance affected you, and how.
The conference takes place at the beginning of February, so we would welcome as much input as you can offer over the next two weeks. We will keep sharing this post as well, so that you can come back to it whenever you would like to.
Questions we would love the answers to:
- Did you feel you the care proceedings process/ PLO was setting you up to fail, and if so, why?
- How did the timelines in your case affect your ability to carry out tasks, courses and assessments ordered by the court?
- Did any of the courses run over any of the time limits and prevent you from showing the results to a court?
- Were any of the timelines extended?
- Which part/s of the PLO do you think should be scrapped and why?
- Which parts of the PLO do you think are useful, and why?
- Was some of the PLO ignored or not carried out at all during your case?
- Was some/ all of the PLO wrongly carried out during your case?
Breakdown of the Public Law Outline:
- Pre-proceedings Checklist – submission of documents, evidence and records to the court
- Stage 1: Issue and Allocation – On day 1, a local authority files the application form, then 24 hours later a court must consider an application and give directions
- Stage 2: Case Management Hearing – advocates meet including litigants in person, no later than 2 business days before the case management hearing. Not before day 12 and not later than day 18 is a further case management hearing to be held only if necessary, and must listed as soon as possible and in any event no later than day 25.
- Stage 3: Issues Resolution Hearing – advocates meet including litigants in person, no later than 7 business days before the issue resolutions hearing. Court identifies key issues and evidence, and gives final case management directions including the filing of the final evidence and care plan, skeleton arguments and a listing for the final hearing.
If you would like to see the PLO in full, you can access it here.
There is also a good page explaining the PLO and the documents related to it on the Family Rights Group website.
You can post your comments below (we review comments before publication to ensure we don’t publicly share any confidential information) or you can email Researching Reform at Sobk13 at gmail dot com.
Researching Reform has not accepted any payment for taking part in this conference.
[Name Withheld] said:
Set up by SW, telling you are doing a fantastic job, then change in procedures even when we are cleared” you will never be supported by services it will go on for years (a lifetime)
Breaking parents to the point of no return damaging physical and mental health
[Name Withheld] said:
I never had PLO. I refused CIN, they escalated it to CP. We asked for respite of my eldest, then they took us to Court with 30 minute notice and took both my boys. My youngest, there had never been any concerns. I later found in January 2019 in the appeal paperwork to the making of the full care order for my eldest, that my youngest was removed following a “secret meeting that took place between the Local Authority and the Guardian”. The appeal paperwork further said,” no minutes from this meeting has ever been shared”.
I still ask and have no response to how PLO was ever skipped in my case. I have evidence of all of this I am willing to share for , ‘research purposes’, which I understand legally I can do.
The actual Court process, well, almost every parent I know , is told they refused support they know nothing about. They also get signposted to therapy which either isn’t available at all, or they have to pay private for , and can’t afford. Then , the therapy is always recommended to last 12+ months, which everyone knows exceeds the 26 week time limit for Court.
What shocks me is how many people who may have previously had quite long involvement with mental health services, get told they have a diagnosis (often BPD) which noone outside of Court says they have.
It’s all massively set up.
[Name Withheld] said:
What I find even more funny, when we consider risk. When I first had my youngest home , the LA said I was not allowed alone with him. He was 21 months. Every time I left the house, he cried.
Me not being alone with him, meant we had to pay for extra childcare until my partner could pick him up. We said in Court, we pay for 3 days per week, they need to fund the other two. This lasted all of a month before they stopped all that and I was allowed alone . Why? They didn’t want to pay the childcare.
To show the social worker, who is now a team manager , the damage it was doing to my child I filmed his reaction as I left the house.
She told me this was abuse and I should have been comforting him instead.
I believe it was because they hate having things evidenced against them.
In a similar manner with my eldest, whilst he was in care, I had no unsupervised contact for 22 months. Anytime I raised safeguarding concerns, the now service manager for the council threatened to reduce my 1.5hours contact every fortnight, to 6 times a year.
When I told her on one occasions , CCTV would disprove her accusations from the contact , the told me she “knows what happened”.
Once I won my app, we had to pick my son up near an airport for a 7 day reunification plan. Straight from no unsupervised to unsupervised. Then 2 weeks later, the frequency of visits from the SW swapped from weekly to fortnightly, and the next month, they stopped completely. Again, what unicorn have their concerns magically disappeared on?
They appear to get a kick out of psychologically abusing parents. They provoke a reaction and use the child as a weapon, knowing how much it kills the parent.
Since my son has been home (nearly 14 months), not one bit of family support has been provided. My son left care with a profound vocal and motor tic and trauma from the restraint and seclusion that was used against him, and hid by the LA.
Thank you for the comments so far. These are really appreciated, and have been added to our file for the conference.
[Name Withheld] said:
The judge said she needs to leave the court by 4 did not allow any evidence to be showed in court got character refrence from my abusive ex partner saying I’m a drunk 2 phycologist report but only the bad one was the witness , was abused by my ex in court even though there was meant to be measured in place
[Name Withheld] said:
The PLO process came into “play” in 2014
However there was no PLO process in place when all 4 of my sons were taken in 2016.
My new solicitor has stated they took my sons through the back door of the family courts!
[Name Withheld] said:
LA SEND officer, Social workers and their team including school and NHS staff set my child and myself up. The whole Family court system is corrupt and they didn’t adhere to our human rights. Every professionals lied against us in order to keep my child away from us. The police refused to investigate foster carer ( foster carer physically broke my child’s wrist) and professionals who lied against us (Incl.my child)💔
Ian Josephs said:
In my opinion the UK Criminal courts are mostly very fair. The only way to stop parents being “set up to fail” would be either to replace family courts by criminal courts (That is how it used to be ) or to have family courts bound by the same rules as criminal courts . Facts should only be found against parents “beyond reasonable doubt “not merely “more likely than not ” No punishment (children confiscated) without crime.
No adverse judgements based on the likelihood of possible future emotional harm etc etc
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‘The Hyenas Children’ by Annie Stirch gives a very detailed account of a mother being set up to fail in numerous ways. It is also a powerful story – well worth supporting the brave author by spending £7.99 on Amazon.
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[Name Withheld] said:
My friend’s daughter is subject to a care order since 2017, she is now nine. My friend is in court fighting for more contact. The proceedings up to the final hearing n 2017 were like being steamrollered. The local authority told her about the application for care hearing two days before. The hearing was, predictably, on a Friday. I’ve noticed they do a lot of these applications on Friday! This left my friend not even two full working days to find a solicitor. We eventually found one but the barrister he used was basically a bully, not to SS but to my friend. The old chestnut of “in the child’s best interest” is then used to propel you through all the hearings to get to the final one quickly, leaving very limited time to obtain evidence, a subject access request to an organization whose records would have helped her case was delayed and could not be submitted in court. My Friend had little time to compile, check and double-check statements. She was suffering from depression at the time and really struggled.
She felt bullied, harassed, and coerced into decisions and statements she now regrets. Justice? I think not. In the best interests of the child? I sincerely doubt it.
What has speed to do with making the best decision about a child’s life?
[Name Withheld] said:
i felt harassed and bullied i did everything asked on the PLO i was not offered any help no assessments was done on myself and my 2 sons 1 who has learning disabilities the social worker told me my 4 year old was the ideal adoption target as he was so lively sociable and chatty, she even told me after court that no one wanted my oldest they only wanted my 4 year old. since 2017 my sons have been separated my eldest sent to live with his father who assaulted him then he was moved in to a care home he was held face down in a ground hold, after this he was moved to another home where he was sexually assaulted by another child there since i questioned them they have made my contact very difficult i see my youngest 6 x a year for 2 hours my eldest 1 hour a month yet there fathers and siblings get more contact than me
The facts speak for themselves.
Published 16th December 2021.
80,080 children in care 31/3/20 compared with 69,470 in 2015
Adoptions went down to 3,440 from 5,360 & the percentage of children that stopped being looked after went down from 17% to 12%
White children were less likely to be looked after (74%) & more likely to be adopted (83%) compared with their share of the population of all under 18 year olds. (79%)
Black children were more likely to be looked after (7%) & less likely to be adopted (2%) compared with their share of the under 18 year old population (5%)
Asian children were less likely to be looked after (4%) & less likely to be adopted (1%) compared with their share of under 18 year old population. (10%)
Im not sure parents really understand what a PLO means & the significance of that meeting. I would be very interested to know how many PLOs were carried out & how many resulted in care proceedings & of those, how many children were taken from their families & how many returned home. That would give real insight into how likely it is that families are set up to fail in the U.K. I would suggest it’s very high. Further comparisons with other countries would show how the U.K. is very quick to take children into care. Something must be incentivising this practise & it’s not in the child’s best interest.
It’s true there are tragic cases of people who have murdered children but those cases represent a small percentage overall & doesn’t justify taking so many children into care on the assumption that removal equates to the rescue of the child as is commonly thought by the general population.
According to the NSPCC, in the past 5 years (2015-2019) there have been 58 child homicides (murder, manslaughter & infanticide) caused by assault or undetermined intent in the U.K. 33 England. 2 Scotland. 1 Northern Ireland. 3 Wales.
Estimated 1 child (under the age of 18 years) a week is killed in the U.K.
Relationships to a son or daughter killed could be birth parent/step parent or adoptive parent.
Child homicides are most commonly caused by parents or step parents. (27%) Child homicides are likely to be under 1 year old.
In 2019-2020) there were 68 child (under18) homicides. 61 England 4 Northern Ireland 2 Scotland. 1 Wales. 16% were killed by strangers. (Year ending Mar 2020)
As of 15th Dec 2020, 20 victims aged under 16 years (44%) no suspect had been identified but investigations were on going.
A shocking scandal hit the news September 19th 2019. A BBC report stated 14 Children in care have died whilst living in unregulated supported accommodation in England since 2018. This is where local authorities have place a vulnerable child. A ban on placing vulnerable children under 16 in unregulated accommodation was implemented September 2021. The government informed BBC Newsnight that 53% of those who died took their own lives.
It should be noted that children as young as 11 years old were being placed in unregulated accommodation illegally.
It should also be noted that many children were recognised as being at risk of child sexual exploitation or from “county lines” criminal exploitation.
Anne Coffey MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) said placing a child with these needs in an unregulated placement is “an astonishing abdication of responsibility. A child is often assessed for a secure placement for their own safety, it is a serious step to take………It is unbelievable & shameful that we have taken these children into care & placed them here”. The BBC revealed there were over a dozen investigations launched into so called ”organised & complex abuse” involving young people who lived in unregulated homes in the past FOUR years.
One wonders who, if any, were held accountable for placing the children in danger of exploitation & who, if any, took responsibility for the deaths.
An American study, the first of its kind, published by JAMA Paediatrics found that Children in foster care are 42% more likely to die than children in the general population.
The study that highlighted the younger they were the higher the risk of death compared with the general child population. They believe that the pandemic is likely to result in more deaths, not necessarily through Covid but due to diminished services & medical treatment.
My children weren’t even on CP plans when they were removed. The chair refused to allow a CP conference as there was no clear plan…less than 24 hours later they took us to court. We had 3 hours to find solicitors.
There was plo for my baby but it was started very late and ended after 4 weeks, social never stuck to timelines and then stated we had not made enough progress even though we are doing everything they asked. They started plo when I was about 35 weeks, they knew about the pregnancy from approximately 8 weeks.
The allocated social workers kept quitting, one was allocated and then quit before even contacting us. We now have to wait for an independent social worker to assess us. The prebirth assessment wasn’t completed, the blanks were filled in using the last assessment. Social had to apply for an extension of time to complete assessments which meant there was no time to find the courses and get on them. They were supposed to help and refer us but they never did. I found the courses, I put referrals in. One agency said that they’ve had many families referred to them by social in the past and yet with us, there was no one. We received the pre birth assessment 2 days after the baby was due to be born, we were never told what was expected of us, were told to wait for the outcome of the assessment. The stress the delays induced was used as a reason to take my baby at birth. I had harmed them by being stressed.
Baby has been placed so far away that the older children have not met the baby and it’s been over 2 months. The older children’s carer (grandmother) refuses to drive them and blames one of the children’s behaviour. Behaviour which was blamed on my parenting but almost 12 months later, his behaviour has gotten worse
[Name Withheld] said:
Delays with assessments meant there was no time to complete the recommended work.
Not following timescales and then blaming us for the lack of progress even though it was started 5 weeks before my due date. Not being given reports until after the due date. Being told.over the phone that my baby is being removed at birth. No support given at all, no visits or calls. Messed around with contact, travelling 2 hours away to arrive and find out it’s been cancelled due to their disorganization. Not helping financially and then using the debt it’s caused against us.
Not having a plan for a CP conference and then putting in an emergency application to remove the kids less than 24 hours later. Not helping to refer us to the courses they recommended. Not promoting sibling contact. Ignoring concerns and calling the children liars. The list goes on and on
Thank you for your courage in sharing your story. I’m so sorry to hear about what happened to you and your family.