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IRO Escalation Process


This policy relates to escalations by Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) and includes escalations of child protection cases as well as looked after cases.

Thanks to Southwark Children's Social Care for letting us adapt their policy for use in Hull.

1. Background

The IRO Handbook is the updated Statutory Guidance in force from April 2011 which amends Section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and Section 26 of the Children Act 1989. It states:

'It is the task of each local authority to put in place a formal process for the IRO to raise concerns and to ensure that this process is respected and prioritised by managers. The process is referred to in the guidance as the local dispute resolution process...... it will involve escalating the matter in dispute through a number of levels of seniority within the department with identified timescales for a response at each stage. The IRO may bypass any stage and progress the dispute to the level s/he considers most appropriate. The formal dispute resolution process within each local authority should have timescales in total of no more than 20 working days.'
(Section 6.2, IRO Handbook)

2. Criteria for IRO Escalation

The IRO Handbook states: 'the individual IRO is personally responsible for activating the dispute resolution process, even if this step may not be in accordance with the child's wishes and feelings, but may, in the IRO's view, be in accordance with the best interest and welfare of the child, as well as his/her human rights'. (Section 6.4 IRO Handbook)

The updated Statutory Guidance for Care Planning, Placement and Review Regulations 2010 states:

'Where the IRO is of the view that the responsible authority:

  • Has failed to address the needs of the child set out in the revised plan; and/or
  • Has failed to review the case in accordance with the regulations; and/or
  • Has failed to implement effectively any decision made at a review; or
  • Is otherwise in breach of its duties to the child in any significant way.

The IRO must advise staff at an appropriate level of seniority of this failure. It will be important that senior managers then work to resolve the failure within a timescale that meets the needs of the individual child.
(Section 4.40 Volume 2 Care Planning Placement and Case Review)

The Handbook also makes it clear that IRO escalations should be made regardless of whether 'obstacles in the way of resolving the issue are outside or beyond the control of the local authority e.g. staffing, interagency or resource issues... if these are impacting on the ability of the Department to meet the needs of the child as identified in the child's Care Plan'.

Therefore criteria for initiating an IRO escalation are solely related to the needs of the child and not capacity of operational teams, resources or specific workers' performance or behaviour.

3. Hull IRO Escalation Policy

The IRO Escalation Form should be completed whenever there is a concern (see Appendix 1: IRO Escalation Form). It may be triggered following a CLA review, Initial child protection conference, review child protection conference, fostering review or as a result of routine IRO case tracking.

The criteria for IROs to initiate the escalation process are summarised in the following 8 categories:

  • Incomplete or inadequate Care Plans:
    • Care plan not completed or approved in LiquidLogic and so work flow stalled;
    • Care Plan or Pathway Plan of poor quality.
  • Drift or delay in care planning:
    • Drift/delay in legal planning or permanence.
  • Concerns Around Social Work Provision:
    • Delay in allocating cases; lack of stability and/or consistency of social work input; social work absence; child raises concerns; discriminatory practice; frequent transition between social workers/teams/services.
  • Placement Concerns:
    • Including poor placement planning; quality or appropriateness of placement.
  • 18+ planning:
    • Including staying put decision making; and
    • Transition to adult services.
  • Poor Practice:
    • Including non-participation of child and parents in decision making, discriminatory practice, not informing child of rights, not seeking parent's consent/restricting their contact if child looked after under Sec 20 etc. Lack of consultation when changing the Care Plan.
  • Non completion of previous recommendations/decisions;
  • Other.

4. Hull IRO Escalation Process

The IRO will determine when and to whom an escalation based on the criteria above will be initiated. They will aim to address any issues at as low and informal a level as possible. The IRO will determine the appropriate level of management at which to initiate and /or progress the escalation to. However, it is anticipated that for the majority of cases, the escalation will begin with the Team Manager responsible for the case.

An IRO Escalation Form will be completed including:

  • Summary of concerns;
  • Requested action and timescale;
  • Which management level representation is addressed;
  • Management response;
  • Outcome;
  • Date concluded.

The procedure is an interactive process between IROs and managers. In order to be easily tracked, collated and quality assured, the concern will be sent initially by an e-mail to the manager concerned and brief details recorded on a LiquidLogic note with type of note chosen as 'IRO - escalation'. The e-mail should always be copied to the IRO Team Manager.

When the IRO Escalation Form is completed it should be saved and forwarded to the lead social worker and appropriate manager(s).

The Team Manager contacted should respond to the IRO within the time-scale set by the IRO or at least within 10 working days.

If the IRO is not satisfied with the response or does not receive a reply at all, they will escalate the concern to the Group Manager. Responses from the Group Manager should be returned within 5 working days. If the issue is not resolved or no response received, the concern will be escalated to the relevant Head of Service. A response from the Head of Service should be received within 3 working days. If the issue is not resolved or no response is received, the concern will be escalated to the Assistant Director. A response from the Assistant Director should be received within 2 working days. The whole process should take no longer than 20 working days. The IRO may, at their discretion, bypass any of the above stages if doing so is felt to be in the child's best interests.

If the subject of the escalation is a looked after child, the IRO may choose to initiate the Dispute Resolution Procedure. The IRO has a duty to inform the Guardian of any matter subject to a dispute resolution process if one is involved.

In respect of looked after children only, the IRO has the discretion to refer matters to CAFCASS at any time. They will inform their manager if they are considering this. The IRO Team Manager will inform the Director of CSC and the Head of Service.

The IRO Handbook states that all IROs must have access to independent legal advice at any time. This can be provided via an existing arrangement with Leeds City Council legal services should it be necessary. CAFCASS and the Children's Legal Centre provide information and guidance on legislation, regulations and legal options but do not provide legal advice.

An IRO escalation does not exclude a child or another adult on the child's behalf taking separate action which could include:

  • Making a formal complaint;
  • Making an application to the courts.
The IRO has a duty to inform the child of their rights and assist in obtaining an advocate and/or legal representation. The IRO will also consult and keep informed the child and other relevant persons at each stage of the representation as appropriate.

5. Complaints about an IRO

If there are concerns about the performance of an IRO or about the organisation and conduct of a Looked After Review or fostering review, the matter should be referred in writing to the IRO Team Manager who will arrange an investigation and feedback within 10 working days. If the matter is not resolved satisfactorily the concern should be escalated to the Head of Service. There is a separate procedure relating to complaints about child protection conference. Child Protection Case Conference – Procedure (see Representation and Complaints Procedure)

6. The IRO's Responsibilities

  • To complete all representations/escalations, issuing at the relevant level of manager and notifying IRO Team Manager. All escalations to be recorded on LiquidLogic case records;
  • To consider, and if in agreement, act on requests from managers for further time in the IRO escalation process;
  • To progress IRO representation to the next appropriate level of management if the matter is not satisfactorily resolved;
  • To seek independent legal advice if required (IROs only);
  • To advise the court appointed Guardian and Hull City Council Legal of the issuing and resolution of any representation/escalation if the child or young person is subject of court proceedings (IROS only);
  • To update the child (subject to age and understanding) and relevant parties as appropriate on the escalation process and seek updates from them as necessary.

7. Managers' Responsibilities

  • To respond (within the time-scale set by the IRO or at least within 10 working days) to the concerns of the IRO specifically addressing the requested action;
  • To request from the IRO further time if required to resolve the escalation;
  • To alert their manager if it's likely that the escalation will be progressed.

8. IRO Manager's Responsibilities

  • To advise IRO should they be acting outside regulations or Hull City Council procedures;
  • To support and assist the IRO in making an escalation as necessary;
  • To facilitate IRO request for independent legal advice if required;
  • To monitor and track IRO escalation responses and advise senior managers of those that remain outstanding;
  • To monitor and quality assure the performance of IROs and operation of the IRO service;
  • IRO Team Manager to report on IRO escalation themes to Children's Social Care SLT on a monthly basis;
  • IRO annual report to include a summary of key themes in representations and escalations.

Trix procedures

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