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3.3.3 The Role and Expectations of Independent Reviewing Officers

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter outlines the duties of the Local Authority and the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) and provides specific guidance on the expectations and standards required on engagement with children, recording of information and supervision.

RELATED CHAPTER

The Review of the Child's Plan for Looked After Children

The Review of the Placement Plan (Looked After Child)

RELATED GUIDANCE

IRO Handbook

This chapter was introduced to the manual in July 2015.


Contents

  1. Duties of the Local Authority
  2. Core Functions, Tasks and Responsibilities
  3. Direct Engagement with Children
  4. Recording of Information
  5. Supervision


1. Duties of the Local Authority

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 designated Team Manager will allocate an IRO within 48 hours of notification that a child becomes Looked After, ’Looked After Child’). The IRO will take responsibility in ensuring that an introductory letter is sent to all children over the age of 4 within 48 hours. The IRO will make contact with the allocated social worker in order to gather more information and ensure that a date is identified for the first review which will take place within 20 working days. 

Sibling groups, whether or not placed together, will 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 will 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 meet the child before the first Review.


2. Core Functions, Tasks and Responsibilities

The changes to the statutory framework are intended to enable the IRO to have a more effective and independent oversight of a child's case.

The statutory duties of the IRO are to Section 25B(1), 1989 Act:

  • Monitor the performance by the local authority of their functions in relation to the child’s case;
  • Participate in any review of the child’s case;
  • Ensure that any ascertained wishes and feelings of the child concerning the case are given due consideration by the appropriate authority; and
  • Perform any other function which is prescribed in regulations.

For further information on the responsibilities of the IRO and the LAC Review, please refer to The Review of the Child's Plan for Looked After Children Procedure.


3. Direct Engagement with Children

An integral part of the IRO role is to establish a professional relationship with the child which would enable the child or young person to feel comfortable about approaching them to discuss any issues or concerns. It is important that the IRO has a clear understanding of the extent and limitations of the role and does not seek to undermine the role of the social worker.

With this in mind it would be expected that the IRO is able to communicate within a child centred way in order to build trust and ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child.

Where a child is under the age of four years, communication with them may prove more difficult, however meeting, alongside observations with the child, would be considered an important method of ensuring that the IRO has some personal knowledge of the child and can make a judgement on their communication skills and understanding. This will assist in creating strong foundations for a longer term relationship.

Where a child has a disability which impacts on their ability to communicate verbally it would be expected that the IRO has a discussion with other professionals or carers who will be able to assist in providing information as to how effective communication might be achieved to ensure the views of the child are captured. Please refer to Section 3.1, Children with Additional Communication Needs for further guidance.

There will be various key points when the IRO will be required to ascertain some level of communication with the child in respect of their Care Plans, these can be summarised as follows:

  • On allocation: it is expected the IRO will have a meeting with the child prior to the day of the first review;
  • Midway between reviews it is expected the IRO will have direct contact with the child /young person  in order to gain an understanding as to how the plan is evolving and if the child remains happy with the plan;
  • Prior to the review the IRO will ensure they are aware of where the child would like the review to be held, and whom they would like to attend. The IRO will also address with the child any issues which they would like to be addressed in order to facilitate their participation in the meeting. This responsibility can be delegated to any other individual with whom the child has established a trusting relationship. It will be the responsibility of the IRO to ensure they are provided with sufficient feedback to ensure the review meeting meets the needs and wishes of the child; 
  • The IRO will ensure that they are aware and record what a good care plan looks like from the child's perspective.

As a matter of course the IRO will ensure the child/young person is aware of:

  • The extent of the IRO sharing information with others, (children and young people should not believe that their discussions with the IRO are confidential but that the information provided will be acted upon in order to secure the best interests of the child);
  • How they can contact the IRO if required. This will include being given all contact details;
  • Aware of and contributes to the frequency of meetings;
  • In the absence of IRO being available what actions the child/young person might take in order to discuss any pressing issues;
  • His/her rights to Advocacy services and entitlements;
  • How to make a complaint in respect of any aspect of care which they have received including raising issues in respect of the IRO;
  • The child/ young person's rights to legal representation if this is required and details of how this can be accessed;
  • The views of the young person have been sought in respect of all aspects of the plan;  (where the young person is in dispute with the plan that the IRO has been clear as to what action can be taken and what supports can be offered either directly by the IRO or through an Advocate if necessary).

It would be acceptable in only the rarest of occasions for the IRO to meet with the child immediately prior to the review in order to ascertain their wishes and feelings.

3.1 Children with Additional Communication Needs

Children with additional communication needs have the same rights as all Looked After Children in the care planning process to have their wishes and feelings ascertained and given due consideration by the local authority. The principles underpinning the involvement of children with communication needs are the same as for all children. However, this group of children require additional action by IROs.

If a child has additional communication needs, the IRO should be informed and the child’s preferred communication method should be recorded in his/her assessment and care plan.

The IRO Team Manager should consider the child’s preferred method of communication when allocating the referral. This means allocating such a referral to a specialist IRO with knowledge and experience of children with communication needs or an IRO with experience of the child’s specific communication method.

Where specialist expertise is not available within the IRO team a presumption should be made that a child with communication needs will be supported by an independent Advocate who has the appropriate expertise, with the child having the right to opt out or choose someone else to support him/her if s/he wishes. The allocated IRO should ensure from the outset that the child has access to this specialist support so that his/her wishes and feelings can be elicited effectively. This support should be made available throughout the care planning and review process including when any significant changes are proposed.

 In relation to obtaining the wishes and feelings of the child, there is an expectation that the IRO will see the child alone where possible to ascertain their wishes and feelings. For some children this is not always possible, due the nature of their disability, health and safety considerations or it may cause some children and young people significant distress. The IRO must therefore evidence in recording on the child's file and review reports the ’voice’ of the child-how this has been ascertained-observations by whom and in which settings etc. If it is not appropriate for the IRO or Social Worker to see the child, or see the child alone, this also needs to be recorded detailing reasons.

There is a presumption that every child where possible will attend their review or participate in some other way. If the child or young person does not attend their review then the IRO must ensure that at the end of every review there is a discussion formally recorded  and a decision as to the best way and whether even appropriate to feedback to young people. This will then require a tailor made response appropriate to that young person, including appropriate record left with child/young person and copied to IRO.


4. Recording of Information

An important role of the IRO is ensuring that children and young people who are looked after have all their needs met. This will require that any information received from the child will need to be shared in a sensitive manner with others in order to ensure the best interests of the child are secured.

The IRO will need to be able to evidence their interactions with both the child/young person and all others involved in the life of a child. To this end there should be a clear ‘foot print’ of the IRO on the file outlining their actions and interventions. The IRO will ensure that they provide factual details of all these events including the following:

  • All direct communications with the child including visits, phone calls and texts;
  • Evidence that consideration has been given to the child's stated wishes and feelings in respect of the review process. (Where this has been delegated to another person there should be a clear record of the IRO receiving this feedback.);
  • All communications directly with the parents, this will include details as to why they may not have been invited to the review meeting;
  • All communications with other members of the child/young person family or origin who continue to be involved with the child;
  • All communications with members of the birth family who remain involved;
  • All communications with professionals who are involved with the child;
  • Any escalations which may have been initiated in respect of the child;
  • Consideration to calling  early/re-arranging reviews.

At all times the IRO will remember that the record is the child/young person's record and that this should be reflected in quality of the recordings. The record therefore should not include any details in respect of issues which may arise regarding other professionals practice. It should however be a succinct factual summary of what is discussed and any analysis in terms of care planning which might follow from this.


5. Supervision 

Independent Chairs and IRO's will receive formal monthly supervision in order to provide support for staff, to encourage reflective practice, and facilitate workers remaining highly focused on the best interests of children. A distinction is made between professional supervision which relates to the needs and development of the worker and case supervision which relates to the matter specific to the child. It is accepted and acknowledged that the high case level of case load of IRO is such that it is not possible to deal with every case in each supervision session.

Prior to the supervision the IRO will identify 5 cases that are causing concern or subject to both informal/formal disputes within the auspices of:

  • Drift and delay;
  • Children's views not reflected in the plan;
  • Lack of effectiveness of LA support;
  • Lack of evidence of contingency planning;
  • Compliance within the legal framework including the Human Rights Act.

In order to ensure that the supervisory time can be spent effectively the IRO will ensure that they attend supervision session fully prepared and will provide the following:

  • Written documentation one day before the supervisory meeting including:
    1. Child's name;
    2. Child's date of birth;
    3. Date child last seen;
    4. Date child became looked after;
    5. Date of next review;
    6. Brief synopsis of the case history;
    7. Identification of the issues to be addressed.

The supervisor will identify a minimum of a further 10 cases (this will include Child Protection cases) which will be based on the following criteria:

  • Any child who has come into care since the last supervision session;
  • Children who are subject to Section 20 Accommodation;
  • Children who are placed under placement with parents regulations; 
  • Cases which have been subject to an inadequate or requires improvement quality audit;
  • Children who do not have an identified school place;
  • Cases where reviews have taken place outside of timescales.

The supervisor will offer rigorous challenge in order to facilitate reflection and discussion in respect of the following areas:

  • Whether child participation in conference and review process can be further enhanced;
  • Ensuring that the views of the child are appropriately captured;
  • Evidence of holistic care planning which appropriately addresses the needs of the child;
  • Quality and timeliness of recommendations;
  • Evidence of appropriate consultation with the operational teams and Cafcass and other professionals;
  • Reviewing the issue of delay and how this might be minimised;
  • Ensure that there is a clear ‘footprint’ of the Independent Chair IRO on the child's file;
  • Evidence of how improved outcomes might be achieved for each child;
  • Evidence of preparation planning and recording;
  • Evidence of defensible decision making;
  • Evidence of legal compliance.   
The supervisor will take responsibility for ensuring that all decisions in respect of the child are clearly recorded on the child's electronic file. This will ensure that there is clear evidence of robust management oversight and support of the worker thereby facilitating improved outcomes for children.

End