Local Authority Responsibilities in the Appointment of IROs and Establishment of an Effective IRO Service
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter summarises guidance regarding the appointment of Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) as set out in Children Act Section 25A and the IRO HandBook. It should be read in conjunction with Looked After Reviews Procedure.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was entirely revised and updated in March 2023.
1. The Responsibility to Appoint an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)
If a Local Authority is looking after a child (whether or not the child is in their care), it must appoint an IRO for that child's case The Local Authority has a system in place whereby the Brokerage service ensures that the e IRO service is advised within two working days that a child has become looked after. An IRO is appointed to the child's case within the first five working days of the child becoming Looked After. When a child is accommodated under Section 20, the child's status as a child looked after does not commence until a continuous period of 24 hours has passed.
If the allocated IRO is no longer in post, the Local Authority must appoint another IRO to the child's case as soon as practicable.
Sibling groups, whether or not placed together, will have the same IRO wherever possible, except where conflict of interest between siblings makes this inappropriate or the size of the sibling group makes this unmanageable.
The child's case worker will inform the child 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.
Wherever possible, the IRO will be allocated for the duration that the child is looked after and will wherever possible continue as the IRO if a child returns to care of Hertfordshire at a later date. Where the IRO leaves the employment of the local authority, or for any other reason stops being the IRO for a particular child, wherever possible s/he will introduce the new IRO to the child in person.
The IRO will meet the child before the first review and Children and families are provided with information regarding the review process and role of professionals involved in care planning. A copy of Review Minutes are also provided to families.
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;
- 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.
The new Guidance provides that a caseload of 50 to 70 Children Looked After for a full time equivalent IRO, would represent good practice in the delivery of a quality service.
2. Administration of the review process
The local authority should provide sufficient administrative support to facilitate the delivery of an efficient and effective review process, enabling review meetings to take place in accordance with the Regulations and good practice. Invitations to reviews and consultation documents should be sent out to all those participating in the review at least ten working days before the meeting and the record of the review should be distributed within the required timescales. The manager of the IRO service should inform the local authority of any shortfalls in the provision of this aspect of the service.
3. Role and Functions of the IRO Manager
Each IRO is managed by a designated manager who is 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 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 will 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 IROs receive appropriate training on a regular basis.
The manager is responsible for the production of an annual report for the scrutiny of the members of the corporate parenting board. This report will identify good practice but should also highlight issues for further development, including where urgent action is needed.
4. Role of the Director of Children's Services
IROs are in the front line of ensuring that the local authority acts as a responsible and conscientious corporate parent for the children that it looks after. For this reason it is essential that the director of children's services (usually through his/her delegated senior manager responsible for corporate parenting, whose responsibilities will include quality of care, rather than operational or resource management) is accountable for the effective performance of the IRO function.
It will be important that the director is able to demonstrate that the child's voice has been placed at the heart of the authority's strategic planning for looked after children. His/her behaviour will provide real evidence that the local authority is committed to providing high quality personal services to every child looked after by them, which strive to be excellent in everything they aim to achieve and are good enough for any child in the community.
The director of children's services will need to:
- Understand the rationale and statutory functions of IROs and have the capacity to appreciate and support IROs in their role and in the execution of their duties;
- Have a sound understanding of the legal framework and care planning process governing how the authority meets its responsibilities towards looked after children; and
- Be satisfied that policies and procedures are in place to ensure direct communication between senior managers across the departments and partner agencies.