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3.3.4 Quality Assurance Process and Escalation of Professional Concerns Process (Dispute Resolution Process)

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter relates to the Quality Assurance Process and the Escalation of Professional Concerns Process, for the care planning of Looked After Children and children within the Child Protection Conference arena.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated and revised in August 2015 to provide amended Appendices 1-3.


Contents

1. Role of Independent Chairs / Independent Reviewing (IRO)
2. Purpose of the Process Guidance
3. The Quality Assurance Process
4. Quality Assurance Process for Independent Chairs and Team Managers
  4.1 Informal Quality Assurance Process
  4.2 Escalation of Professional Concerns / Dispute Resolution Process (Formal)
5. Referrals to CAFCASS
6. Guidance on the Quality Assurance Process and Escalation of Professional Concerns / Dispute Resolution Process Responsibilities
  Appendix 1: Quality Assurance Process Form
  Appendix 2: Escalation of Professional Concerns/Dispute Resolution Process Form
  Appendix 3: Referrals to CAFCASS Form


1. Role of Independent / Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO)

The Independent Chairs primary focus is to quality assure the child protection process, care planning and review process for each child and to ensure that his/her current wishes and feelings are given full consideration. To be successful, the role must be valued by senior managers and operate within a supportive service culture and environment. An effective Independent Chair /IRO service should enable the Local Authority and the wider Children’s Services to achieve improved outcomes for children.

The Independent Chair should identify areas of good practice as well as areas that need to be improved and a comprehensive quality assurance process is essential to underpin this. In some instances the Independent Chairs may have professional concerns in relation to a child’s care plan or enter into dispute with responsible officers in relation to care planning. In such circumstances an effective Escalation of Professional Concerns Process (EPCP) or Dispute Resolution Process (DRP) is essential to aid the prompt resolution of the concerns or dispute, to get the care plan back on track and to maintain healthy working relationships.

The IRO Handbook (2011) refers to the need for a Dispute Resolution Process, however this implies that IROs are in dispute with the Local Authority and this is not the case. More often the IRO wishes to address a professional concern relating to the care plan for a child whether this is due to delay or other practice issues. Therefore the process identified can be referred to as either the Escalation of Professional Concerns or the Dispute Resolution Process.


2. Purpose of the Process Guidance

The Quality Assurance and Escalation Process are two separate but interdependent processes which allow Independent Chairs to monitor and raise quality assurance issues in a timely manner and also to escalate and resolve concerns in relation to the care planning for Looked after Children (LAC) and children within the Child Protection Conference arena at the very earliest opportunity.

This guidance has been produced to support the continuous improvement of care planning and safeguarding in Lincolnshire with the overall aim of improving outcomes for Children and Young People.


3. The Quality Assurance Process (QAP)

As part of the child protection and monitoring function (for IROs), the Independent Chair has a duty to monitor the performance of the Local Authority’s function as a corporate parent and to identify any areas of good and poor practice. This should include identifying patterns of concern emerging not just around individual children but also more generally in relation to the collective experience of the Local Authority’s looked after children and children within the child protection process in respect of the service they receive.

In Lincolnshire more general issues of concern and areas of good practice will be addressed in a performance report to the Senior Management Team. The report will also summarise any specific cases that are currently being managed within the formal stages of the EPCP/DRP. Senior managers should ensure that all matters identified in the monthly performance report are addressed through supervision and appraisal arrangements with the responsible Social Workers and line managers. All matters of general concern will remain on the performance agenda until resolved.

General areas of concern and good practice will also be discussed by Independent Chairs with operational teams as part of Quality Assurance meetings which take place on a regular basis.


4. Quality Assurance Process for Independent Chairs and Team Managers

4.1 Informal Quality Assurance Process (QAP)

Prior to the review/conference the Independent Chair reviews the electronic record as per the requirements of the IRO Handbook and local procedures. Any concerns that are identified are addressed with the Social Worker and/or their Practice Supervisor either by phone or email. All actions should be recorded on the child’s file. If the matter is not resolved to the Independent Chair’s satisfaction then the Independent Chair decides whether to access the EPCP/DRP.

In respect of Looked after Children the Independent Chair has a duty to monitor the progress of the case. Should any issues arise during this time such as review decision timescales not adhered to or any other issues which are/or may impact upon the child then these should be addressed as above.

If the Independent Chair is not satisfied that the issues raised are being addressed in a timely or satisfactory manner then they can chose to utilise the Quality Assurance Process. After confirming that actions proposed have not been addressed then they should complete a QAP form (see Appendix 1: Quality Assurance Process Form) and forward to the Social Worker and their Practice Supervisor, copy to the Team Manager. The Team have 5 days to respond to the concerns/actions requested.

All QAP actions should be recorded on the child’s file and logged on the escalation monitoring system.

4.2 Escalation of Professional Concerns/Dispute Resolution Process (formal)

The EPCP/DRP is seen to be a formal process. There has potentially been a breach of the child’s human rights.

The IRO has the powers to enter into dispute at any of the 3 stages of the EPCP/DRP. This is determined by the urgency of the matter and the appropriateness of the stage where decisions can be carried out to resolve the matter. It is for Team Manager level and above.

Once the EPCP/DRP has been accessed, the resolution period is 20 working days.

The Senior IRO Manager is kept fully informed throughout the EPCP/DRP.

The 3 EPCP/DRP stages involve social work and IRO practitioners at different levels:

Stage 1

This stage is used for cases where attempts to address the issues informally have been unsuccessful or the concerns are such that the Team Manager is best placed to address them. The Independent Chair makes written representation on the Escalation of Professional Concerns/Dispute Resolution Process Form (see Appendix 2: Escalation of Professional Concerns/Dispute Resolution Process Form) within the stage 1 formal section. This is recorded within the child/ren’s electronic records. The form is then sent to the relevant Team Manager and copied to the Social Worker and Practice Supervisor. This also needs to be recorded on the escalation monitoring system.

The Team Manager must respond on the form within five days and send the form back to the Independent Chair, copied to the Social Worker and Practice Supervisor. Details of response to be recorded on the child’s electronic file (by Independent Chair). If at this stage the Independent Chair is satisfied by the response, they should record this in the final section of the form, notify the Team Manager and file the document if appropriate on the child’s electronic record.

The escalation monitoring system should also be updated. Should the Independent Chair not be satisfied then the matter can be escalated to stage two.

Stage 2

Formal (Stage 2) Responses within five working days of receipt.

The same form is used and the formal section is completed or updated and sent to the relevant Children's Service Manager for the locality (CC Locality TM, Independent Chair TM and Senior IRO Manager).

This also needs to be recorded on the escalation monitoring system.

The Children's Service Manager must respond on the form within five days and send the form back to the Independent Chair, copied to the Team Manager, Social Worker and Practice Supervisor. Details of response to be recorded on child’s electronic file (by Independent Chair). If at this stage the Independent Chair is satisfied by the response, they should record this in the final section of the form, notify the Children's Service Manager and Team Manager and file the document if appropriate on the child’s electronic record.

The escalation monitoring system should also be updated. Should the Independent Chair not be satisfied then the matter can be escalated to stage three.

Stage 3

Formal (Stage 3) Responses within five working days of receipt.

Referral to be sent to Assistant Director of Children’s Services (cc Children's Service Manager and Team Manager, Senior IRO Manager).

The Assistant Director must respond on the form within five days and send the form back to the Independent Chair, copied to the parties as above. Details of response to be recorded on the child’s electronic file (by Independent Chair). If at this stage the Independent Chair is satisfied by the response, they should record this in the final section of the form, notify the Assistant Director and Team Manager and record and if appropriate file the document on the child’s electronic record.

The escalation monitoring system should also be updated. Should the Independent Chair not be satisfied then the matter can be escalated to CAFCASS.

Total timescale for the EPCP/DRP is 20 working days (IRO Handbook) for formal process if resolution not achieved sooner.

The Independent Chair may bypass any stage and progress the escalation process to the level s/he considers most appropriate at any point.


5. Referral to CAFCASS

If the matter is not resolved through the EPCP/DRP, the Independent Chair has the power to refer the matter to CAFCASS, using the agreed Referrals to CAFCASS Form (see Appendix 3: Referrals to CAFCASS Form). This is in respect of looked after children only. The Independent Chair must inform Local Authority Nominated Officer prior to the referral being made. The Independent Chair can refer to CAFCASS at any time and does not have to wait until the escalation process has been completed.

When considering whether or not to make a referral to CAFCASS, the IRO should consider the impact that a referral would have for the child. In some cases, there will be time available first to pursue the full dispute resolution procedure within the Local Authority (for example where the dispute relates to educational provision for the next academic year and it is currently still the autumn term). In other situations, the matter will be of sufficient urgency that the EPCP needs to be curtailed (for example where there is a plan to change the child’s residential placement within a matter of weeks). It is the responsibility of the IRO to make the decision about if and when a referral is necessary, based on the timetable for the child.

As part of any dispute resolution procedure and prior to making a referral, the IRO should notify a nominated Local Authority Senior Officer (to be identified in the local authority dispute resolution protocol) that a referral to CAFCASS is being considered. Where the IRO has reached a decision to curtail the EPCP/DRP to meet the needs of the child, the IRO should explain the reasons for this to the Senior Officer.

Once a referral has been made, CAFCASS will enter into final dispute resolution with the local authority before proceedings are instigated. While CAFCASS cannot refuse to accept any referral, it is the responsibility of CAFCASS and not the IRO to determine whether or not a legal remedy should be sought. If the problem is not resolved to the benefit of the child and within the child’s timeframe, CAFCASS has the power to initiate the following types of action (under regulation 3 of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Reviewed Case Referral Regulations 2004):

  • Proceedings under section 7(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998;
  • Claim for judicial review; other proceedings (for example under the 1989 Act).
If you have any queries regarding this dispute resolution process please contact the Independent Reviewing Service on 01522 553680 in the first instance.


6.Guidance on the Quality Assurance Process and Escalation of Professional Concerns / Dispute Resolution Process

Guidance on the Quality Assurance Process (QAP) and Escalation of Professional Concerns (EPCP) / Dispute Resolution Process (DRP) provides further guidance on the QAP and EPCP/DRP together with summary of the functions, key responsibilities and recording and sharing information within the processes.


Appendix 1: Quality Assurance Process Form

Click here to view Appendix 1: Quality Assurance Process Form.


Appendix 2: Escalation of Professional Concerns / Dispute Resolution Process Form

Click here to view Appendix 2: Escalation of Professional Concerns/Dispute Resolution Process Form.


Appendix 3: Referrals to CAFCASS Form

Click here to view Appendix 3: Referrals to CAFCASS Form.

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