SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter deals with the process for Resolution of Disputes between IROs and the Local Authority regarding Care Planning for Looked After Children (including Referral to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service / CAFCASS).
OTHER RELEVANT CHAPTER
OTHER GUIDANCEThe Advocacy Services and Representations Procedure (Children) (Amendment) Regulations 2004
To ensure that resolution of disputes about looked after children’s care plans, rights and needs is achieved in a timely manner and at appropriate management levels within the Council or by referral to Cafcass by Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs).
If the Council adequately implements its corporate parenting duties towards Looked After Children, abuses of children's rights should not occur or should be rectified by actions taken within the Council and its partner agencies. Where disagreements or differences in opinion arise, every effort should be made to resolve matters on an informal basis and at the lowest tier of management however, the child's welfare is paramount and therefore the IRO should address matters at the level of management appropriate to achieve a timely resolution, taking into account factors such as authority to access resources and the severity of the concern. The IRO authority to refer to Cafcass can be utilised at any point in the process and does not have to wait until all other options have been exhausted if this would result in delay for the child, but internal negotiation and dispute resolution must have been commenced for a referral to Cafcass to be made.
It is important to ensure that consideration is given to the location of timings and venues of meetings, any specialist aids, adaptations that might be required for people with a disability. People who do not have English as their first language will require the use of the interpretation service and may request that they are accompanied by an advocate.
The Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO) Handbook requires that IROs provide robust, appropriate challenge to ensure that looked after children’s needs are met in a timely manner. Where the IRCO is of the view that the local authority:
The IRO must advise staff at an appropriate level of seniority of this failure and these managers must then work towards resolving the failure within a timescale that meets the needs of the child.
here therefore needs to be a mutually accepted process for resolution of any disputes with case management staff about how best to achieve this for a looked after child. The authority to refer looked after children's cases to Cafcass for resolution of abuses of their rights is invested in the IRO role. They also have the authority to negotiate up to the highest level of management in the Council, i.e. to Chief Executive where necessary. They should also work with the LA Complaints Officer and advocates where necessary to resolve problems.
The IRO must take into account the child’s wishes and feelings, subject to age and understanding, in determining which actions should be taken to address problems on their behalf. The IRO may determine that the child’s wishes and feelings are not in accordance with their best interests, and may still need to pursue a course of action with which the child disagrees.
If a referral is made to Cafcass, details of the legal documentation required, good practice and how to resolve problems may be found on the Government website.
Also, there is a privileged Legal Advice helpline (via Cafcass national office, 08443533392) for informal advice about whether any particular situation may possibly amount to a breach of the child or young person's human rights. IROs are advised to consider this option before embarking upon the formal referral process.
The timescale for the resolution of disputes will depend on the nature of the concern, level of resources to be allocated to resolve this and level of risk/need but the IRO Handbook maximum timeframe of 20 working days applies. Examples of reasons for use of this procedure and approximate timescales are given in Appendix 1: Examples of Dispute Resolution Types / Timescales.
The allocated IRO who undertakes Looked After Reviews for any child or young person who is the subject of ongoing Family Court proceedings, at any point:
There may also be times when IROs will need to clarify legal advice on cases where proceedings have ceased e.g. contact arrangements agreed when Care Orders were granted, and may approach the Council Legal Section to access this information.
If the reason for the IRO seeking legal advice is due to a concern that the Council may be breaching the child or young person's human rights and the IRO has not been able to resolve this internally, the Legal Services Manager will act to provide independent legal advice to the IRO and/or will attend a joint meeting with both the IRO and the social work team staff. If the Legal Services Manager considers that they would still have conflict of interests due to their line management of the solicitor for the case, the IRO will seek independent legal advice in accordance with arrangements for this which are established by the Council. Note that independent legal advice will not be commissioned before the procedures for resolution have reached at least Group Manager level.
These examples are provided for guidance only as each individual child's needs and the timeframe for resolution of disputes will vary substantially depending on the level of risk and need. They will usually fall into three main categories: practice concerns, resources and delay or drift.
|Subject of Dispute||Type*||Level of process**||Timeframe (Working days/hrs)|
|Parent or child not informed of plans, invited or consulted for review.||P||SW/TM||48 hrs|
|Non attendance at review by social worker.||P||TM||7 days|
|No social worker allocated to case.||R||GMSM||7 days|
|Children's Social Care Assessment, Care Plan, Pathway Plan, PEP not provided or inadequate.||P or R||SW/TM||14 days|
|Health Assessment not completed or inadequate.||P or R||LAC Health Nurse||14 days|
|Level/arrangements for contact with parents - review recommendations not implemented.||P or D||TM or GMSM||7 days|
|Contact with siblings - ditto.||P or D||TM or GMSM||7 days|
|Discharge of Care Order/Child Arrangements Order not progressed.||D or R||GMSM(AHoS if needs resource)||20 days|
|Plan to move child, not in line with care plan/child's needs ( plans for move or be halted during DR process).||P||GMSM OR AHoS||7 days|
|Delays in family finding/placement identification.||D||GMSM (LAC)||20 days|
|Education provision not meeting needs.||R||AHoS/Virtual Head teacher||20 days|
|Need for specialist agency provision (to be requested via P & S Panel).||R||GMSM and AHoS||20 days|
|Care plan (i.e. main intended placement) not appropriate.||P or R||TM/GM||14 days|
|Risk to child in placement - safeguarding concerns.||P||TM/GM||24 hours|
|Poor or dangerous practice by any professional. (Sensitively recorded on the child's file with any personnel issues dealt with outside the case record).||P||Line Manager or above depending on severity||24 hrs - 5 days|
|Placement visits to child not being undertaken.||P||TM||20 days|
*Type: Practice – P; Resources – R; Delay or drift - D
**Level of process: TM – Team Manager; GMSM – Group Manager; AHoS – Assistant Head of Service
Only valid for 48hrs