- Appointment of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)
- Extended Role of the IRO
- Referral to CAFCASS
- Key Changes to the IRO Function from 1 April 2011
- Role of the IRO in Relation to Children Subject to Care Proceedings
- Duty of Social Worker to Keep IRO Informed
1. Appointment of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)
If a Local Authority is looking after a child, it must appoint an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) for that child's case. The name of the IRO and his/her contact details must be recorded on the child's case record.
The IRO must be appointed to the child's case and meet the child before the first Looked After Review and, as a matter of good practice, should be appointed within the first five working days.
Sibling groups, whether or not placed together, should have the same IRO, except where conflict of interest between siblings makes this inappropriate or the size of the sibling group makes this unmanageable.
The child should be given notification of his/her IRO, along with details about how to make contact with him/her. This could be by email or text. If the child is only informed verbally, then the date that s/he was 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.
If the IRO leaves the employment of the local authority, or for any other reason stops being the IRO for a particular child, s/he should introduce the new IRO to the child in person.
2. Extended Role of the IRO
There are now two clear and separate aspects to the function of the IRO: chairing a child's review - see Looked After Reviews Procedure, 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 (not just around individual children).
The IRO should immediately alert senior managers if any such areas are identified.
The responsibilities of the IRO now include:
- A responsibility to consult the child about his/her Care Plan at each review and at any time that there is a significant change to the Care Plan;
- 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 he/she 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 he/she may take under the Children Act 1989, and in particular, where appropriate, of
- The right to apply, with leave, for a Section 8 Order/discharge of a Care Order - 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 his/her 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.
3. Referral to CAFCASS
IROs have previously had the authority to refer the case of any looked after child to CAFCASS if they are of the view that the child's human rights have been breached and all attempts to resolve the matter have been exhausted. The scope for such referrals is now extended.
The IRO now has the authority to refer a case to CAFCASS if he/she 'considers it appropriate to do so'
The IRO must consider whether it is appropriate to refer a case to CAFCASS if:
- In his/her 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
- Having drawn 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.
4. Key Changes to the IRO Function from 1 April 2011
This shows the changes introduced by the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 ('the Regulations').
|Statutory provision||Key change||Rationale|
Section 25A(1) 1989 Act
When a child first becomes looked after, a named individual must be appointed by the local authority as the IRO for the child.
The intention is that each looked after child should have a named IRO to provide continuity in the oversight of the case and to enable the IRO to develop a consistent relationship with the child.
Section 25B(1)(a) 1989 Act
IRO to monitor the local authority's performance of its functions in relation to the child's case.
This duty extends the IRO's monitoring role, which was previously confined to the Local Authority's functions in respect of the review. The intention is to give the IRO a more effective independent oversight of the child's case and ensure that the child's interests are protected.
Section 25B(1)(c) 1989 Act
IRO to ensure that the local authority give due consideration to any views expressed by the child.
This requirement is intended to reinforce the local authority's duty under section 22(4) and (5) of the 1989 Act to ascertain and give due consideration to the wishes and feelings of the child when making any decision with respect to the child.
Regulation 36(2) of the Regulations
IROs have the authority to adjourn review meetings if they feel that the process would be unproductive
This new flexibility is meant to prevent the meeting becoming a 'tick box', exercise. So, for example the IRO might use this flexibility because there is a lack of key documentation or because the child has not been consulted about the purpose of the review.
Regulation 36(1)(b) of the Regulations
IROs must speak in private with each child prior to each review so that the IRO personally establishes the child's wishes and feelings about the issues to be covered at the care planning meeting
This requirement is intended to ensure that the child is properly consulted on matters relating to his/her care and is given the time to contribute to the content of the meeting.
Section 25B (3) 1989 Act
Referral by an IRO of a case to CAFCASS should no longer be seen a last resort, but can be considered at any time.
The intention of this change is to reinforce the authority of the IRO to challenge poor practice around the child's case.
5. Role of the IRO in Relation to Children Subject to Care 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 should provide the local authority legal adviser with the name of the IRO and with his/her contact details; and
- The Children's Guardian should be advised of each review meeting and invited, where appropriate;
- The local authority legal adviser and the Children's Guardian should receive a copy of each review record.
The IRO should ensure that s/he is 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.
6. 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 Care Plan, for example arising at short notice in the course of the proceedings following directions from the court;
- 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 made under Section 47 of the 1989 Act ('child protection enquiries') 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 from an approved placement;
- Significant health, medical events, diagnoses, illnesses, hospitalisations or serious accidents; and
- Panel decisions in relation to permanency.