Independent Reviewing Officers
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter describes the role and responsibilities of the Independent Reviewing Officer.
The Independent Reviewing Officer is referred to as the IRO throughout.
AMENDMENTIn September 2017, this chapter was updated in relation to the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer in line with the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations - Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review, June 2015. In particular, the IRO being sensitive to the close and active involvement of parents of a child looked after in a series of Short Breaks and problem-solving where there might be difficulties or issues.
There are two clear and separate aspects to the function of the IRO: chairing the child's Looked After Reviews, and monitoring the child's case on an ongoing basis. The circumstances in which a referral can be made to CAFCASS are widened.
An IRO must be appointed for all Looked After children. This includes children who are in an adoptive placement prior to an adoption order, children who are the subject of a Care Order (under Section 31 of the Children Act 1989) or who are provided with accommodation on a voluntary basis for more than 24 hours (Section 20 of the Children Act 1989) or who are placed for adoption under the Adoption and Children Act 2002. Regulations also cover placements made by voluntary organisations under Section 59 of the Children Act 1989 where the voluntary organisation is the responsible authority.
An IRO must be a registered social worker; must have sufficient relevant social work experience with children and families to perform his/her functions in an independent manner and having regard to the child's best interests; must not be a person involved in preparing the child's Care Plan or the management of the child's case, the representative (for visits), the child's personal adviser; a person with management responsibilities for any of the above or a person with control over the resources allocated to the case.
It should be noted that the Guidance refers to IRO's - Independent Reviewing Officers. In Walsall the designated title for this role is Co-ordinator Child Protection and Independent Review Officer.
Appointment of the IRO
If a local authority is looking after a child (whether or not the child is in their care) they must appoint an individual as the IRO for that child's case.
The local authority has a number of duties in relation to this appointment:
- It 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 two working days;
- The IRO must be appointed to the child's case before the first 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, 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 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;
- Each 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;
- 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;
- At no time, apart from in the first five working days, should a Looked After child be without a named IRO;
- The name of the IRO and his/her contact details must be recorded on the child's case record;
- The IRO should meet the child before the first review.
Role and Functions of the IRO Manager
Each IRO should be managed by a designated manager who will be accountable for the quality of the service that is offered to each individual Looked After child. The role will include providing oversight, professional advice and management support to each IRO.
The manager will be a qualified social worker who should be able to demonstrate a sound understanding of the legal framework and care planning process governing how the local authority meets its responsibilities towards Looked After children.
The manager should have the independence, ability and confidence to support the IRO through the dispute resolution process and to ensure that the IRO's employment is not put at risk, should the IRO progress a matter to a more senior level and/or outside to Cafcass.
The manager in each local authority should ensure that there are policies in place to ensure the quality of service delivery. This should include regular and routine feedback from parents, children and social workers and an audit of the records and direct observation of the IRO.
Alongside other colleagues in children's services, the IRO manager should be responsible for establishing effective arrangements for Looked After children to communicate with senior managers in children's services and across the local authority and other agencies.
The manager should ensure that the size of the caseloads enables each IRO to comply with primary legislation, the Regulations and relevant guidance in order to achieve the outcomes for every Looked After child that a conscientious and caring parent would seek for their own children. This may include having the authority to limit requests made by the local authority for the IRO to undertake additional tasks, which are not part of the IRO role.
The manager should be responsible for ensuring that IRO's receive appropriate training on a regular basis.
The manager should be responsible for the production of an annual report for the scrutiny of the members of the corporate parenting board. This report should identify good practice but should also highlight issues for further development, including where urgent action is needed. It should make reference to:
- Procedures for resolving concerns, including the local dispute resolution process and it should include an analysis of the issues raised in dispute and the outcomes;
- The development of the IRO service including information on caseloads, continuity of employment and the make up of the team and how it reflects the identity of the children it is serving;
- Extent of participation of children and their parents;
- The number of reviews that are held on time, the number that are held out of time and the reasons for the ones that are out of time;
- Outcomes of quality assurance audits in relation to the organisation, conduct and recording of reviews; and
- Whether any resource issues are putting at risk the delivery of a quality service to all Looked After children.
The report should be available as a public document from the local authority. It would be good practice to publish this on the local authority's website so that Looked After children can easily access their corporate parent's assessment of the quality of its parenting.
The IRO manager should take into account the following in relation to the size of caseloads:
- Anticipated requirements set out in primary legislation, regulations and guidance;
- Caseloads in comparable boroughs;
- Outcomes of quality assurance audits; and
- Capacity to support developments within the service, especially in relation to increasing the active participation of children in the review process.
The provision of a quality service to each Looked After child requires the IRO to have sufficient time to:
- Consult with all the relevant adults, including foster carers, before each review;
- Read all the relevant documentation before each review;
- Meet with the child in a meaningful way before the review (this may involve meeting with the child on a different day in advance of the review);
- Chair all meetings that make up the review;
- Provide a full record of the review;
- Complete quality assurance documentation;
- Undertake any follow up work after the review;
- Monitor drift;
- Alert the local authority in writing of areas of poor practice;
- Consult with the social worker and the child, following a significant change;
- Resolve concerns informally, implementing the local dispute resolution process where necessary;
- Travel to meetings; and
- Undertake training and attend meetings for the purpose of consultation and professional development.
It is estimated 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, including the full range of functions set out in this handbook. This range should reflect the diversity and complexity of cases across different local authorities.
2. Care Planning and Review Process
2.1 The Review Record and the IRO
The Review record supports the following processes which link closely with the role of the IRO in monitoring the local authority's review of the case:
- Monitoring the child or young person's developmental progress over time and identifying where needs are being met, partially met or unmet;
- Updating key information on the child or young person's progress;
- Considering the impact of services on a child or young person and identifying where planned services have not been provided;
- Considering whether the care plan and placement continue to meet the needs of a looked after child.
2.2 Guidance Principles for Reviews
- What have been the outcomes of the last review?
- Is a new assessment of need called for?
- Has the Care Plan been called into question by developments?
- Do its objectives need to be reformulated?
- Or is it a question of choosing new means to achieve the same ends?
- How integrated does the care plan now appear?
- How is the principle of sensitive, open and shared planning being upheld?
- How cogent is the planning process?
- How is the current planning process being recorded so that it can be monitored as part of a flexible but continuous long term process?
Agreement has been reached in specific circumstances for Internal Reviews to be held. These reviews take place between the Social Worker and Co-ordinator. Information in respect of the above is provided and the process is then written up. These Reviews only take place where there is agreement from all review participants who should all be given the opportunity to provide information to the meeting or direct to the Co-ordinator. It is agreed that there can only be one internal review between fully attended meetings.
3. Role of Independent Reviewing Officer
The statutory duties of the IRO are to:
- 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.
The responsibilities of the IRO include:
- 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 authority, ensuring that Care Plans have given proper consideration and weight to the child's current views, wishes and feelings and that the child fully understands the implications of any changes to their Care Plan; and
- Making sure that the child understands how an advocate could help and entitlement to one;
- Initiating the Dispute Resolution Process where appropriate;
- 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.
As part of the monitoring function, the IRO also has a duty to identify any areas of poor practice, including more general concerns around service delivery (not just around individual children).
- Where the IRO is of the view that the 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 at an appropriate level of seniority.
The IRO's role involves chairing the review meetings, and monitoring the local authority's performance in respect of all looked after children. This chapter looks at the role of the IRO as chair of a review meeting, including working with the child and all other participants, the role of the IRO in monitoring the local authority's performance, including the relationship with social work staff and management, the role of the IRO in the timing of review meetings, the role of the IRO in deciding which children will have an IRO, and the qualifications, competencies and status an IRO should have. The role of referring a case to CAFCASS is covered in Chapter 5, Resolution of Problems.
|2A (5)||The Independent Reviewing Officer must:
It is agreed that good practice would suggest that co-ordinators would be aware of meetings that may be scheduled in respect of a child or young person's care. Clearly it would not be appropriate for them to attend all of these meetings. However there are specific meetings which should involve co-ordinators as chair of the meeting.
Child Protection Conferences : Held in respect of Looked After Child
There are very few children who would have this dual status, good practice would suggest that these are chaired by the same person. The review in these cases should follow the Child Protection Conference.
Child Protection Conferences in respect of Unborn, or non-Looked After Siblings of Looked After Children
As there may well be two different child care social workers, involved in this situation, it may be appropriate for the Co-ordinator of the Looked After Children to attend or provide a report for conference as the to the risks in respect of non looked after children as they will have historical background information in respect of the family.
Joint LAC / Education Statement Review
It is considered appropriate that with planning the co-ordinator would chair these meetings annually, opportunity would also be available for the PEP to be updated at this time.
Permanency Planning Meetings
It would not be common practice for co-ordinators to attend these meetings, however it may be appropriate for them to be involved where discussion is being held with regards to sibling groups that may be separated so that contact issues can be further explored.
Case Planning Meetings
It may be that discussion is proposed with respect to changing the Care Plan or trying court processes up that would include the professionals involved with a child. Where these meetings are being held, regardless of who calls them, Legal Services or the Children's Guardian. The social worker or appropriate person should advise the co-ordinator of this meeting with a view to them attending.
Pathway Plan Meetings and the LAC Review process
Section 20: Accommodated Young Person
The review prior to the leaving the Looked After system can be used to implement the Pathway Plan. There would not be duplication of paperwork and all review attendees would be invited as updates will be required. The Co-ordinator would write the meeting up to reflect both sets of information.
Section 31: Young people on Care Orders
It is anticipated that the review format between 16 and the review prior to the leaving care will be that of a statutory review although it is recognised that it may be appropriate to incorporate Pathway Plan issues into this as they will be operational once a young person has a personal advisor. Issues of risk / child protection concerns may continue to be on the agenda and those need to be appropriately recorded in review paperwork distributed by co-ordinators.
Pathway Plans and Young People who are no longer Looked After
Co-ordinators will be responsible for overseeing these plans. It is anticipated that allocated co-ordinators will see young people through the Pathway Plan process. There is a front sheet to be completed with recommendations where appropriate. There is a 10 day turnaround process built into this.
Meetings with respect to Secure Units, Psychiatric Hospitals, Young People on Care Orders, Remanded or Serving Custodial Sentences
Young People subject to Care Orders who offend and receive custodial sentences remain Looked After children. Young people aged 16+ will be "eligible" children as define in the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000. Therefore, the authority has a responsibility to continue to review their Care Plan It will be particularly important that care planning includes arrangements to support the young person, provide them with suitable accommodation and minimise the risk of re-offending. The local authority responsible for the child's care will need to make arrangements with the Secure Training Centre (STC) / Young Offender Institution (YOI) for care planning reviews to continue. The IRO should chair these.
Section 20: Accommodated Young People Remanded or Serving a Custodial Sentence
Where a young person has previously been an Accommodated child under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 is subsequently detained in custody, they do not remain looked after. However, the local authority that was responsible for their care must, as far as possible, make arrangements for their care on release. They may need to resume their "accommodated" status or, depending on their age, they may be Relevant care leavers. Where the local authority will resume responsibility for the care of a young person in custody on discharge, then it will be important that contact is maintained with the young person. Arrangements should be made with the Local Authority Secure Children's Home (LASCH) / STC / YOI to ensure that before their discharge the authority, in partnership with the assigned Young Offending Team worker, has drawn up a through care plan. This plan is to co-ordinate the agencies involved so that they are aware of their responsibilities to provide support to the young person once they are released from custody. It would be good practice if the IRO chaired any through-care planning meeting, especially if the IRO will resume responsibility for chairing care plan or pathway plan reviews once the young person has been released.
N.B. With regards to Section 3.1, Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer and Section 3.2, Chairing of the Review Meeting a review should be held within 20 working days of placement.
See also Responsibilities Of The Local Authority To Former Looked After Children And Young People In Custody Procedure; and Looked After Children And Young People In Contact With Youth Justice Services Procedure.
Children subject to Secure Accommodation Orders
When children are placed in secure accommodation, subject to a Secure Accommodation Order under Section 25 of the Children Act 1989, the local authority must appoint a panel of at least three persons to review the keeping of a child in such accommodation for the purposes of securing the child's welfare. The persons appointed to the panel in reviewing the child's case and having regard to the welfare of the child, must satisfy themselves as to whether or not (a) the criteria for keeping the child in secure accommodation continues to apply, (b) the placement in secure accommodation continues to be necessary and (c) any other type of accommodation would be appropriate. At least one member of this panel must be independent of the local authority. Whilst IRO's are independent of the case, they would usually not be sufficiently independent to meet this requirement as the regulations state that the independent panel member must not be employed by the local authority. Often the independent role would be carried out by an advocacy organisation if the panel concludes that the criteria for restricted liberty no longer apply, the placement is no longer necessary or another type of placement would be more appropriate, the local authority looking after the child must immediately review the child's placement.
A "Secure Accommodation Panel" review is not the same as a review of the child's overall care plan and is restricted to the specific question about the necessity of a placement in secure accommodation for an individual child.
It should be noted that regardless of whether the young person is Section 20 Accommodated or subject to a full Care Order then the statutory review process will continue throughout the period of their placement. A review should be held within 20 working days of this placement.
It is imperative that co-ordinators are advised without delay of young people being placed in secure accommodation on welfare grounds as the process for investigating the secure accommodation panels can be lengthy. It is unlikely that young people will be placed locally, a number of other arrangements may also be needed.
Young People Sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983.NOTE:
Whilst a review may have confirmed that a young person meets the criteria for Sectioning unlike the process of Secure Accommodation Panels there is not a similar process under mental health legislation and any challenge to the section comes from the young person who is entitled to legal representation within this.
It is considered appropriate that there is no differentiation made between Section 20, young people and those of full Care Orders and that the Looked After process should continue with a review being held within 20 working days of admission. Again where a young person has been sectioned the co-ordinator should be advised without delay as placements are unlikely to be local.
3.3 Monitoring the Local Authority
The independent reviewing officer must:
- Monitor the performance by the local authority of their functions in relation to the child's case.
To meet the expectations of this regulation the monitoring forms completed at each looked after review has been amended to include information about a child's or young persons participation in the review process.
A request has been made to the Mosaic Team to amend the current decisions LAC sheet to reflect designated tasks and timescales.
3.4 Notifying the IRO of Significant Changes
In the event of a significant change/event in the child's life, the social worker must inform the IRO.
Such changes include:
- A proposed change of Care Plan for example arising at short notice in the course of proceedings following directions from the court;
- Where agreed decisions from the review are not carried out within the specified timescale;
- Major change 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.
A request has been made to the Mosaic team to develop an appropriate recording form to advise of this. A discussion has been held regarding the Co-ordinators need to anticipate change of circumstances when making decisions and record these appropriately. There will be a greater standardisation of decisions with regards to terminology.
It is expected that notification issues, are likely with regards to:
- Best Interests decisions;
- Court Issues;
- Placement issues.
Notification of Decisions made at the Review Meeting
3.5 Timing of Review Meetings
- Each case must first be reviewed, within 20 working days of the date on which the child begins to be looked after or provided with accommodation by the responsible authority;
- The second review must be carried out no more than three months after the first and thereafter subsequent reviews must be carried out no more than six months after the date of the previous review;
- A review must be carried out before the time specified in paragraph (1) or (2) if the Independent Reviewing Officer so directs.
See also: Looked After Reviews Procedure.NOTE:
The following reviews will be held within 20 working days of placement.
- All new Looked After admissions;
- Children/Young People sent home under rehabilitation packages who continue to be Looked After;
- Unplanned placement moves;
- Moves Out of Borough;
- Where there has been a Care Plan change;
- Young people in secure Accommodation of whatever kind as discussed in 3.0 and 4.0.
To ensure that reviews are held in appropriate timescales, Team Managers will receive monthly spreadsheets advising them of due reviews.
Where reviews are bought forward at the request of the co-ordinator this will be recorded in the review documentation.
3.6 Qualifications of IRO's
The Independent Reviewing Officer must be registered as a social worker in a register maintained by the Health and Care Professions Council under Section 56 of the Care Standards Act (2000) (a) or in a corresponding register maintained under the law of Scotland or Northern Ireland.
The IRO must have sufficient relevant social work experience with children and families to perform the functions of an independent reviewing officer set out in Section 25B(1) Children Act 1989 and under the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 in an independent manner and having regard to the child's best interests.
4. Maintaining Independence
4.1 Independence of IRO's
The responsible authority must not appoint any of the following as the IRO:
- A person involved in preparing the child's care plan or the management of the child's case;
- The authority's representative (for visits);
- The child's personal adviser;
- A person with management responsibilities in relation to a person mentioned in sub-paragraphs (a) to (c); or
- A person with control over the resources allocated to the case.
The requests of this regulation are met.
5. Engaging With Review Participants
This chapter emphasises the responsibility of the co-ordinator to ensure that all those involved in the meeting can contribute to the discussion process. Where invitations have not been sent to 'key people' it is the co-ordinators responsibility to ensure that the designated worker has provided feedback from them, it is noted that co-ordinators may be involved in this process but will discuss this with the allocated worker.
The Guidance makes comment in respect of :
- Involving children;
- Involving disabled children;
- Involving children whose first language is not English;
- Involving family;
- Involving carers;
- Engaging other professionals.
6. Resolution of Problems
One of the IRO's key roles will be in problem resolution. In cases where the IRO identifies poor practice, they will negotiate with the local authority management up to the highest level, and will have the power to refer a case to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). The IRO will also work with the local authority complaints officers and advocates where necessary for the resolution of the problem.
For further information, see: IRO Dispute Resolution Process and Route for Referring Cases to CAFCASS Procedure.
Where problems are identified in relation to a child's case, for example in relation to care planning, the implementation of the Care Plan or decisions relating to it, resources or poor practice, the IRO will, in the first instance, seek to resolve the issue informally with the social worker or the social worker's managers. The IRO should place a record of this initial informal resolution process on the child's file. If the matter is not resolved in a timescale that is appropriate to the child's needs, the IRO should consider taking formal action.
The local dispute resolution process for the IRO to raise concerns involves escalating the matter in dispute through a number of levels of seniority within the department with identified timescales for a response at each stage (of no more than 20 working days). The IRO may bypass any stage and progress the dispute to the level s/he considers most appropriate.
The IRO has the power to refer the matter to Cafcass at any point in the dispute resolution process and may consider it necessary to make a concurrent referral to Cafcass at the same time that s/he instigates the dispute resolution process.
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.
There will be times when the IRO may be advised that obstacles in the way of resolving the issue are outside or beyond the control of the local authority, for example in relation to staffing, interagency or resources issues. However, if these are impacting on the ability of the department to meet the needs of a child as identified in the child's care plan, the IRO should continue to escalate the issue.
The IRO should ensure that all actions s/he takes in an attempt to resolve a dispute are recorded on the child's case record.
6.1 Links between Children's Services complaints procedure and the Independent Reviewing Officer
The IRO has a responsibility to ensure, where appropriate, that the child understands his/her right to make a complaint to the local authority and to have an advocate to provide support with the complaint, should the child so wish.
In circumstances where the child does not have the ability or understanding to instigate a complaint, consideration will need to be given to who is best able to do so on behalf of the child. The right to make a complaint extends to parents, those with Parental Responsibility, local authority foster carers and anyone else that the local authority considers has sufficient interest in the child's welfare. This could include the IRO.
An outstanding complaint being addressed within the local authority's complaints procedure should not prevent the IRO from continuing to work to resolve the matter, either informally or by using the local dispute resolution process.
The local authority's complaints manager should advise the IRO of any complaint brought by or on behalf of the child and may enlist the help of the IRO to resolve the problem.
In all cases the welfare of the child is the primary concern. The IRO will need to make a judgement about whether a problem raised as a complaint is sufficiently serious to make a referral to Cafcass appropriate. Alternatively, the IRO may consider that it would be reasonable to await a resolution through the formal complaints procedure, and/or use of the local dispute resolution process.
It has been agreed that:
- Complaints section will advise 'The Child Protection Unit' of all complaints re the Child Care Division;
- Co-ordinators will need to decide:
- Whether they have a role in resolution, if not the matter will be noted for information only;
- Whether the issue could be resolved at Review and with their involvement agree participation/timescales with the designated complaints officer;
- Whether the matter requires immediate resolution with direct Co-ordinators involvement.
6.2 Links between the Advocacy Service and the Independent Reviewing Officer
To strengthen the links between the two services it has been agreed that:
- The Advocacy Service will advise the Child Protection Unit of all young people they are providing a service to and whether or not they will be attending Looked After Reviews. Where they will not but it is appropriate to do so they will send comments to the Co-ordinator;
- Where there is an issue that needs to be resolved, where appropriate they will discuss this with the Co-ordinator who will decide:
- Whether they have a role in resolution, if not the matter will be noted for information only;
- Whether the issue could be resolved at Review and with their involvement agree participation/timescales with the designated complaints officer;
- Whether the matter requires immediate resolution with direct Co-ordinators involvement.
- Should advocates have concerns that review decisions have not been actioned or where there are Care Plan concerns they will advise the appropriate co-ordinator;
- Where Co-ordinators feel that a child/young person requires the services of the advocate they will inform the Advocacy Project;
- It is recognised that the advocate is an appropriate adult who is able to support young people in seeking legal advice/services and making applications following this they would not give legal advice;
- The monitoring form have been amended to reflect whether the child/young person is aware that the Advocacy Service can be accessed by them.
6.3 Where Care Plan issues need to be resolved
It is important to remember that this process does not apply solely to Children's Services and incorporates good practice, issues of Corporate responsibility, whereby other statutory and voluntary agencies assist in promoting the best care for a child. Processes involving both Health, Education and Social Care and Supported Housing are included.
Legal proceedings should be considered only as a last resort, in extreme cases where all other attempts to resolve a problem within the local authority have failed. The additional delay associated with legal proceedings is not in the interest of the child, and every effort should be made to resolve the problem before such action is taken.
Where there are immediate issues that require resolution that do not allow for the designated process to become operational, the co-ordinator should in the first instance seek the advice of the Service Manager as to how they should respond to the situation.
6.5 Referral to CAFCASS
Since 2002 IRO's have 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 the IRO considers it appropriate to do so.
The IRO must consider whether it is appropriate to refer the case to CAFCASS if:
- In the opinion of the IRO, the Authority have 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 Authority, it has not been addressed to the IRO's satisfaction within a reasonable period of time.
When considering whether 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 dispute resolution process 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 whether 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 dispute resolution process to meet the needs of the child, the IRO should explain the reasons for this to the senior officer.
When considering whether to make a referral, the IRO should have access to management advice and support in addition to independent legal advice where necessary. Cafcass Legal operates a duty helpline which is available to IRO's for the discussion of possible referrals. The lawyers at Cafcass Legal cannot give IRO's legal advice, but will discuss with the IRO whether any other steps can be taken before a referral is made.
The IRO can make a referral to Cafcass by contacting Cafcass Legal initially by telephone but the referral should always be confirmed in writing to the duty lawyer who will provide contact details to the IRO. The Cafcass Legal duty helpline telephone number is available from the Cafcass National Office, the contact details for which can be found on the CAFCASS website.
Documentation needed for a referral to CAFCASS Legal
The information listed below should accompany a referral to Cafcass:
- Copies of any final Care Order and the final Care Plan filed in proceedings;
- The report of the children's guardian immediately preceding the making of any care order;
- The review records from the preceding 12 months;
- A report by the IRO explaining why the matter is being referred at this stage and setting out what steps the IRO has taken to resolve the position with the local authority;
- Where the child is of sufficient age and understanding, a report by the IRO on the child's wishes and feelings, including the child's views in relation to any potential court proceedings;
- Names and contact details for relevant professionals in relation to children's social care and any other agencies involved, for example another local authority or an NHS Trust;
- Any other relevant documentation including a chronology and statement of issues, a list of important people in the child's life and their relationship and involvement with the child; and information about diversity issues for the child and family including whether the child or family members will need additional assistance to aid communication; and
- The most recent Care Plan.
CAFCASS decision to issue proceedings
Once a referral has been made, Cafcass will enter into final dispute resolution with the local authority before proceedings are instituted. While Cafcass cannot refuse to accept any referral, it is the responsibility of Cafcass and not the IRO to determine whether 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; and
- Other proceedings (for example under the 1989 Act).
6.6 Legal Proceedings
The IRO must ensure that, having regard to the child's age and understanding, the child has been informed by the responsible authority of the steps he/she may take under the Children Act 1989 and in particular, where appropriate, of:
- His/her rights to apply, with leave, for a Section 8 order (Child Arrangements Orders, Contact and other orders with respect to children) and, where he/she is in the care of the responsible authority, to apply for the discharge of the care order; and
- If the child wishes to take legal proceedings under the 1989 Act, the IRO must;
- Establish whether an appropriate adult is able and willing to assist him/her to obtain legal advice or bring proceedings on his/her behalf; and
- if there is no such person, assist C to obtain such advice.
Where it is felt that a child or young person needs assistance to undertake this, consideration should be given to significant others in their lives who would assist or bring proceedings on their behalf, this could include family members but may be an employee of the Local Authority, a foster carer or independent visitor, or advocate for children in external placements it could be a worker from within the Independent sector.