The Role of the Independent Review Officer
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
In Hull, the Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) undertake Looked After Child Reviews, and undertake other duties including Child Protection Conferences; Strategy Meetings and other responsibilities. However, this guidance refers specifically to the IRO role in relation to reviewing the cases of looked after children and young people.
Please read in conjunction with Dispute Resolution Procedure which 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).
The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review
1. Duties of the Local Authority
If a local authority is looking after a child (whether or not the child is in their care), it must appoint an IRO for that child's case.
The local authority has a number of duties in relation to this appointment:
- The local authority should have a system in place to ensure that the manager of the IRO service is advised that a child has become looked after within 2 working days;
- The IRO must be appointed to the child's case before the first Looked After Child Review and, as a matter of good practice, should be appointed within the first 5 working days;
- Sibling groups, whether or not placed together, should have the same IRO and should be informed that they share the same IRO as their siblings, except where conflict of interest between siblings makes this inappropriate or the size of the sibling group makes this unmanageable. The issue of sibling contact should also be addressed in the IRO's annual report;
- The child should be given notification of their IRO, along with details about how to make contact with them. This could be by email or text. If the child is only informed verbally, then the date that they were given this information must be placed on the case record;
- The IRO should be allocated for the duration that the child is looked after and should continue as the IRO if a child returns to care of the same local authority at a later date, if reasonably practicable;
- Where a mother and/or father and their child are looked after, the child should have a different IRO;
- The local authority must have a written policy regarding the manner in which the child's case will be reviewed and provide the child, the parents and any other person whose views the authority consider to be relevant (e.g. the child's foster carer) with a copy. This should include information on the role of the IRO and action that can be taken in the event that decisions made at a review are not implemented;
- At no time, apart from in the first 5 working days, should a looked after child be without a named IRO;
- The name of the IRO and their contact details must be recorded on the child's case record;
- The IRO should meet the child before the first review.
N.B. The Guidance for Independent Reviewing Officers provides that a caseload of 50 to 70 looked after children for a full time equivalent IRO, would represent good practice in the delivery of a quality service.
2. Role and Responsibilities of the IRO
There are 2 clear and separate aspects to the function of the IRO:
- Chairing a child's review, and;
- Monitoring a child's case on an ongoing basis including whether any safeguarding issues arise.
As part of the monitoring function, the IRO also has a duty to identify any areas of poor practice; including general concerns around service delivery /collective experience of looked after children (not just around individual children). If any such concerns arise, the IRO should immediately alert senior managers.
The responsibilities of the IRO include:
- A responsibility to consult the child about their Care Plan at each review and at any time that there is a significant change to the Care Plan; check that the social worker has given the child the opportunity to present his or her views prior to meetings;
- Ensuring that Care Plans for looked after children are based on a detailed and informed assessment, up to date, effective and provide a real response to each child's needs;
- Identifying any gaps in the assessment process or delivery of service;
- Offering a safeguard to prevent any 'drift' in care planning and the delivery of services;
- Monitoring the activity of the local authority: that Care Plans have given proper consideration and weight to the child's current views, wishes and feelings and that they fully understands the implications of any changes to their Care Plan, and;
- Ensuring that, having regard to age and understanding, the child has been informed of the steps they may take under the Children Act 1989, and in particular, where appropriate;
- The right to apply, with leave, for a Section 8 Order/discharge of a Care Order, and if the child wishes to take legal proceedings under the Children Act 1989, the IRO must establish whether an appropriate adult is able and willing to assist the child to obtain legal advice or bring proceedings on their behalf, and, if there is no such person, assist the child to obtain such advice;
- The right to access representations/complaints procedures; making sure that the child understands how an advocate could help and his or her entitlement to one.
- Advising the child of their right to apply for an order or seek discharge of an order;
- In relation to short breaks:
- Being sensitive to the close and active involvement of parents of a child looked after in a series of short breaks;
- Problem-solving where there might be difficulties or issues;
- Alerting the local authority if there are concerns that the placement is not meeting the child's needs.
- Giving consideration during the review to whether the placement safeguards and promotes the child's welfare, and identify whether any safeguarding concerns have been raised.
The IRO, as review chair, should decide what actions, in principle, are necessary to meet the child's reviewed needs & can recommend how these might be met. (The local authority decides how any recommendations from the review will be implemented). The IRO should also check that the local authority has taken the necessary steps to ensure that actions are implemented and changes implemented, and ensure there is no undue delay in implementing Care Plans.
The IRO should ensure that any failure to review a case in accordance with the regulations is brought to the attention of a person of appropriate seniority within the responsible authority.
In cases where the IRO identifies poor practice they will negotiate with local authority management up to the most senior level.
The IRO may direct an early review of case. They are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the review process; ensuring that relevant consultation has taken place and that the meeting is properly informed. They must also, as far as is reasonably practicable, attend any meetings held in connection with the review of the child's case and chair any such meeting they attend.
The IRO also will ensure;
- That there is no undue delay in implementing the care plan, and that it is meeting the child's needs;
- That any concerns about the care of the child are investigated;
- That the child's views and those of all relevant people are heard and taken into account, without the meeting becoming too large. That the review is conducted in accordance with the regulations and that the integrity of the process is maintained;
- That the child, their parents and anyone else, as necessary, are informed of the outcome of the review.
3. Legal Issues - Referral to Cafcass
The IRO has the authority to refer a case to Cafcass if they 'considers it appropriate to do so'.
The IRO must consider whether it is appropriate to refer a case to Cafcass if:
- In their opinion, the local authority has failed in any significant respect to prepare the child's Care Plan; review the child's case or effectively implement any decision in consequence of a review; or are otherwise in breach of their duties to the child in any material respect, and;
- After having taken the decision to draw this to the attention of persons of appropriate seniority in the local authority, the issues have not been addressed to IRO's satisfaction within a reasonable period of time.
NOTE: The IRO has the power to refer the matter to Cafcass at any point in the dispute resolution process (regulation 45) and may consider if necessary to make a concurrent referral to Cafcass at the same time that they instigates the dispute resolution process.
See Referral to Cafcass Procedure, and Dispute Resolution Procedure.
If a child whose case is reviewed wishes to take proceedings under the 1989 Children Act on his own account, it is the function of the IRO to a) assist a child to obtain legal advice or b) establish whether an appropriate adult is able and willing to provide such assistance or bring the proceedings on the child's behalf.
4. Children Subject to Legal Proceedings
The IRO will need to consider together with the Children's Guardian what communication is necessary in order to promote the best possible care planning process for each child. As soon as the IRO has been appointed to a child subject to proceedings:
- The IRO service should provide the legal department for the local authority with the name of the IRO and with their contact details; and;
- The legal department for the local authority should advise the court of the name of the IRO and of their contact details.
The legal department of the local authority should have a system in place to:
- Pass on the name and contact details of the Children's Guardian, once appointed, to the IRO; and
- Provide copies of all relevant court documents to the IRO, including court orders and directions, the reports of experts and the reports of the Children's Guardian, within 5 working days of receipt of them.
The Children's Guardian should be advised of each review meeting and invited, where appropriate.
Each local authority should have a system in place to ensure that the legal department of the local authority and the Children's Guardian receive a copy of each review record.
The record of each review that takes place during the proceedings should be submitted to court.
The IRO should ensure that they are in discussion with the Children's Guardian at intervals, as is appropriate for each child's case and that the topics of discussion include:
- The wishes and feelings of the child;
- The current Care Plan;
- Whether details of the Care Plan are subject to a formal dispute resolution process and if so details of this;
- Any complaints that have been received about the case; and
- Any issues raised in court in relation to the implementation of the current Care Plan.
Prior to the Issues Resolution Hearing, the local authority should inform the court of any dispute between the local authority and the IRO about the plan for the child and of any issues subject to the local dispute resolution process.
Appendix 1: Duty of Social Worker to keep IRO Informed
The Social Worker must inform the IRO of significant changes/events in the child's life including:
- Any proposed change of the Care Plan, for example arising at short notice in the course of the proceedings following directions from the court;
- Discharge from care by a person with parental responsibility when the child is section 20 Accommodated;
- Where agreed decisions from the review are not carried out within the specified timescale;
- Major changes to the contact arrangements;
- Changes of allocated social worker;
- Any safeguarding concerns involving the child which may lead to enquiries being make under Section 47 of the 1989 Act and outcomes of Child Protection Conferences or other meetings that are not attended by the IRO;
- Complaints from or on behalf of the child, parent or carer;
- Unexpected changes in the child's placement provision which may significantly impact on placement stability or safeguarding arrangements;
- Significant changes in birth family circumstances for example births, marriages or deaths which may have a particular impact on the child;
- If the child is charged with any offence leading to referral to youth offending services, pending criminal proceedings and any convictions or sentences as a result of such proceedings;
- If the child is excluded from school;
- If the child has run away or is missing form an approved placement;
- Significant health, medical events, diagnoses, illnesses, hospitalisations or serious accidents; and
- Panel decisions in relation to permanency;
- Where a placement is a Placement at a Distance.