In May 2017, a link was added to ADCS/Cafcass Agreement about how local authorities and Cafcass can work effectively in a set of care proceedings and pre-proceedings in the English Family Courts.
- Appointment of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)
- Role of the IRO
- Referral to CAFCASS
- 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 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.
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. Role of the IRO
There are 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/collective experience of looked after children (not just around individual children).
The IRO should immediately alert senior managers if any such areas are identified.
The responsibilities of the IRO 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:
- 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 and how to do this.
- 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.
3. Referral to CAFCASS
The IRO 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. 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;
Where there is a disagreement between the Local Authority social worker and the children’s guardian, the IRO should be involved in discussions to resolve any disagreements; and
- On those occasions where the permanence plan cannot be determined during the care proceedings and key issues for the child cannot be resolved, viz. placement details, contacts etc. ‘the guardian and the IRO should discuss the level of oversight needed by the IRO after the court case concludes’.
Note: The IRO should ensure these discussions are recorded in the case notes.
5. 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;
- 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 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;
- Where a placement is a Placement at a Distance.