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5.2.3 Looked After Reviews

REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS

See also Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 Schedule 5, and Fostering National Minimum Standards 28, 31.

RELATED CHAPTER

Appointment and Role of the Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure

Participation Procedure

Placements in Foster Care Procedure

Social Worker Visits to Looked After Children Procedure

Amendments to the Children Act 1989 Guidance; Care Planning, Placement and Case Review - Implications for BwD Procedures

AMENDMENT

This chapter was amended in August 2017 including to note the Law Society guidance ‘Attendance of solicitors at local authority Children Act Meetings’ and their Code of Conduct where the child or family who attend reviews are supported by a legal representative. (See Section 8, Independent Reviewing Officer's Responsibilities).


Contents

  1. The Purpose of Looked After Reviews
  2. Frequency of Looked After Reviews
  3. Chairing of Reviews
  4. Convening Looked After Reviews
  5. Invitations and the Child's Participation
  6. The Role of the Social Worker
  7. Supporters and Interpreters
  8. Independent Reviewing Officer's Responsibilities
  9. The Role of the Looked After Review in Achieving Permanence for the Child 
  10. Looked After Reviews Concerning Children in Long Term Foster Placements
  11. Looked After Reviews on Children who are the Subject of Child Protection Plans
  12. Recording of Looked After Reviews
  13. Review Decisions
  14. Monitoring of Review Decisions
  15. Dispute Resolution

    Appendices

    Appendix 1: IRO Challenge and Resolution Flowchart


1. The Purpose of Looked After Reviews

A Looked After Review must take place before any significant change is made to the child's Care Plan, unless that is not reasonably practicable, including a decision to cease looking after a child.

Looked After Reviews should normally be conducted at a meeting although this may not be required in respect of a child who has been in a designated Long-term Foster Placement for over twelve months (see Section 10, Looked After Reviews Concerning Children in Long Term Foster Placements below.

The purpose of the Looked After Review is to:

  • Ensure that appropriate plans are in place to safeguard and promote the overall welfare of the Looked After child in the most effective way and achieve permanence for him or her within a timescale that meets his or her needs;
  • To monitor the progress of the plans and ensure they are being progressed effectively;
  • To make decisions, as necessary, for amendments to those plans to reflect any change in knowledge and/or circumstances;
  • To ensure the needs of children looked after as a result of a secure remand are met;
  • To ensure that an Eligible Young Person moving into semi-independent accommodation is ready and prepared to move.

It is important that decisions taken at Looked After Reviews are implemented and responsibility for actions clearly defined.

The key plans that should be considered at a Looked After Review are:

The review should take account the child's Placement Plan (recorded on the Placement Information Record) and all other plans or strategies (e.g. behaviour management strategy), ensuring that they are up to date, or that arrangements are in place to update them.

The review should ensure that plans for the child / young person are based upon careful assessment of the needs of the child and have taken into account the child / young person’s wishes and feelings.


2. Frequency of Looked After Reviews

2.1

Normally, Looked After Reviews should be convened at the following intervals:

  • An initial Looked After Review should be conducted within 20 days of the child becoming Looked After;
  • The second Looked After Review should be conducted within three months of an Initial Looked After Review;
  • Subsequent Looked After Reviews should be conducted not more than six months after any previous review.
2.2 In relation to children placed with prospective adopters or where there is Authority to Place for Adoption, see the Adoption Reviews Procedure.
2.3

A review must be brought forward in the following circumstances, prior to any of the following changes being implemented:

  • Whenever there is a proposal for a child to leave care before the age of 18, i.e. for the child to become a Relevant child, rather than an Eligible child;
  • Wherever there is a proposal for the child to move from foster care, a children's home or other placement, to supported lodgings, or to other kinds of 'semi-independent' or 'independent living' before the age of 18 (i.e. from accommodation regulated under the Care Standards Act to unregulated accommodation);
  • Prior to children subject to Care Orders being discharged from custody;
  • Wherever any unplanned change is proposed to a child's accommodation that would have the effect of disrupting his/her education or training;
  • Where a change of placement is proposed that would interrupt the arrangements for the education of a child especially in Key Stage 4;
  • Where a change of placement is proposed for a child who has remained settled and established with the same carer for a period of time;
  • Proposed changes to the Care Plan.

The IRO has a monitoring and quality assurance role. In the event of a change/event in the child's life, the social worker must inform the IRO. This includes:

  • Proposed change of Care Plan arising, at short notice. For example, in the course of proceedings following on directions from the court or change of placement;
  • Where agreed decisions from a review are not carried out within the specified timescale;
  • Change to 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 not attended by the IRO;
  • Complaints from or on behalf of child, parent or carer;
  • Unexpected changes in the child's placement provision which may impact on placement stability or safeguarding arrangements;
  • Changes in birth family circumstances for example births, marriages or deaths which may have a particular impact on the child;
  • Where 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;
  • Where the child is excluded from school;
  • Where the child is running away or missing from the approved placement;
  • Where the child is considered to be at risk of sexual exploitation;
  • Health issues such as, medical events, diagnoses, illnesses, hospitalization, serious accidents;
  • Panel decisions in relation to permanence.
As part of the consultation with the social worker, the IRO will determine if a review is required depending on the change of circumstances and/or potential impact on the child.


3. Chairing of Reviews

Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO's) will chair reviews. They are based within the Review and Quality Service and located within the Safeguarding Unit.

The IRO's responsibilities are outlined in Section 8, Independent Reviewing Officer's Responsibilities.

See also Appointment and Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer Procedure.

If the allocated IRO cannot attend the meeting and it is important that the review meeting is not delayed, the meeting will be chaired/attended by a substitute IRO.


4. Convening Looked After Reviews

4.1 Arranging the first review

As soon as a child becomes Looked After, the child's social worker must notify the Safeguarding Unit by email; (Child Protection Unit) and the Children in Our Care Nurse.

This will trigger the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) for the child, and the initiation of a health assessment. The Review and Quality admin team will then arrange the date, time and venue of the child's first Looked After Review.

The venue will be agreed with the social worker and the allocated IRO – wherever possible the review should take place in the placement.

The review is the child’s meeting and the child should be integral to the organisation, planning and the agenda of the review.

4.2 Arranging second and subsequent reviews

At the end of each review the IRO will set the date, time and venue of the next review, taking account of ensuring the child’s participation and what is convenient for review participants.

Review dates cannot be rearranged unless there are exceptional circumstances and then only if the rearranged meeting can take place within statutory timescales, in which case the new date should be agreed by the social worker with the IRO. Arrangements will be made to inform the other participants by the Review and Quality admin team.

In the event of a key participant being ill or unable to attend the review, the meeting will usually go ahead but the IRO may decide that the review needs to be adjourned to a new date when all participants can attend, or conducted as a series of meetings – see Section 8, Independent Reviewing Officers Responsibilities. Should the child cease to be Looked After before the review date, the child's social worker will notify the Review and Quality admin team via the CP Unit email address who will notify the IRO and other prospective attendees that the review needs to be brought forward and conducted as a ‘cease LAC’ review and why.


5. Invitations and the Child's Participation

The IRO should visit the child between 10 - 20 days prior to the review. Discussion should take place between the IRO and the child (subject to age and understanding) about who the child would like to attend the meeting, where the meeting will be held and what they would like to discuss in the review (this will inform the agenda).

Where the child is placed more than 35 miles out of borough the visit will be replaced by a phone call or other suitable means of communicating with the child in order to gain their wishes and feelings. However, the child will always been seen prior to the review as the IRO. This would always be pre-arranged with the parent/carer and young person as appropriate.

Consultation booklets will be sent out with the child’s invite. The completed booklets will be used as a tool to elicit the child’s wishes and feelings either before or during the review.

Whenever possible the IRO should encourage and enable the child to chair their own review.

It is important that the review is child centred and only involves the necessary number of professionals alongside the child, his / her carers and parents (except where this is not appropriate).

A balance must be struck in relation to who the child wishes to be present and the need for information and input from the professionals and family members involved. A series of meetings may therefore be the best way to involve all the relevant people in the review process and this will be discussed by the IRO and the Social Worker. It may be appropriate to request written contributions from some agencies rather than invite them to attend.

Invitations to reviews will be sent by the Review and Quality Admin team following consultation with the child's social worker and the IRO, who will decide who should be invited in consultation with the child. Invitations to reviews and consultation documents should be sent out to all those participating in the review at least 10 working days before the meeting.

The following people should normally be invited to contribute to the review process:
  • The child, it is imperative that wherever possible the child attends the review. A child's disability must not be a barrier to the child's attendance;
  • The parents and those with Parental Responsibility, carers and any significant people or specialists involved in the child's case (except as set out below);
  • The child's allocated social worker;
  • The supervising social worker, if the child is placed with foster carers;
  • The link worker if the child is in residential care;
  • The most appropriate teacher at the child's school (usually the Designated Teacher for looked after children);
  • A Personal Adviser, if the child is over the age of 16;
  • An Independent Visitor, or advocate if involved;
  • An interpreter, if required;
  • Any other person with a legitimate interest in the child e.g. health care professional, GP, a representative from the Local Authority in whose area it is proposed that the child will be placed, (such attendance should always be discussed with the child before invitations are made and his/her views obtained);
  • The officer with lead responsibility for implementing the authority's duty to promote the educational achievement of looked after children.

Children and parents should also be informed that they can arrange to see the IRO separately if they wish or bring a supporter or interpreter to the review.

Where the child does not wish to attend the review, the IRO must at the very least speak to the child before the review - wherever possible in a face to face meeting and ensure that the views and wishes of the child are reflected within the review process.

The IRO must ensure that children and families have been given information about the Compliments and Complaints Procedure. They should also provide the child with details of independent advocacy services who may provide support if the child requires it.

See Section 7, Supporters and Interpreters.

If a child chooses not to attend their review this needs to be recorded, together with reasons, on the review document and child's record.

Where any other invited person cannot attend, the IRO may agree that a delegate can attend.

There may be exceptional circumstances where the child’s social worker, in consultation with the IRO, decides that the attendance of the carer at all or part of the review meeting will not be appropriate or practicable. Where this is the case, a written explanation of the reasons should be given and other arrangements made for the carer to contribute to the review process. Details of the reasons why a carer is excluded and a record of their input should be placed on the child’s case record.


6. The Role of the Social Worker

The child's social worker must discuss the purpose of the review with the child, parents and carers and consult the child about invitations at least 20 working days before the review meeting.

Where the child wishes to chair his or her own review, the social worker should inform the IRO.

In all cases, the child and parent(s) should be encouraged and supported by the social worker to prepare for the review, in writing or other ways if they wish, for example by seeing the IRO separately. The social worker should agree with the IRO how this will be achieved. This requires early consultation between the social worker and the IRO, and should be part of a thorough preparation of all the key issues for the review.

The child's social worker must also ensure the child's IRO is kept informed of any significant changes in the child's circumstances and the outcomes of any other meetings held as part of the review process, which consider aspects of the child's Care Plan. In addition, the social worker must notify the IRO if he or she believes that decisions made at a review are no longer appropriate because of a change in circumstances.

Where the child has been or is the subject of Court proceedings, the social worker should ensure the IRO has clear information of the child's legal status, the Court timetable and progress of the case.

Prior to the review, the social worker must ensure the child's records and plans are up to date, for example, that they include records of the placement visits and the last date when the child's sleeping accommodation was seen. Any changes in household membership need to be clearly recorded.

The social worker must send the IRO the following documents 3 working days before an Initial Review and 5 working days before a subsequent review:

  • Review Report;
  • Care Plan or Pathway Plan.

Copies of these documents should be brought to the review by the social worker for all review participants.

In addition, the child's social worker should bring to the review the following documents for the IRO:

  • Any consultation documents completed by the child or parent/carer;
  • Health Care Plan;
  • Personal Education Plan;
  • Any other relevant reports by professionals.

It is not necessary to copy these for all participants. The IRO will discuss and summarise relevant plans within the review. in accordance with the views and wishes of the child.

After the review, the social worker is responsible for updating the Care Plan within 10 working days, in relation to any changes to the Care Plan agreed at the review.

The social worker should also arrange for updates to the Permanence Plan, Health Care Plan and Personal Education Plan as required, and arrange for a Pathway Plan to be completed/updated, if relevant.

The social worker should also ensure that the child's Placement Plan (recorded on the Placement Information Record) is updated.

The child's Care Plan is an overarching document and should be updated to reflect the information contained in the other plan documents.

Where the child and/or the parents did not attend the review, the IRO in consultation with the social worker must ensure that they are informed in writing of the outcome.

See also Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officer Procedure, Duty of Social Worker to keep IRO Informed.


7. Supporters and Interpreters

The social worker and IRO should consider prior to the review whether either the child or parent(s) would benefit from the presence of a supporter or advocate and if so, the social worker should ensure the necessary arrangements are made. A supporter may be either an advocate on behalf of the child/parent(s) or a person with specialist skills or knowledge.

It may also be necessary for the social worker to make arrangements for an interpreter to attend. Special needs, for example those arising from disability, should always be considered and appropriate assistance arranged where relevant.

Any request by the child or parent(s) for their legal adviser to attend as their supporter should be notified to the IRO prior to the review and arrangements made where appropriate for the attendance at the review of a Local Authority legal adviser.


8. Independent Reviewing Officer's Responsibilities

The IRO's role is to:

  • Chair Looked After Reviews;
  • Monitor the performance by the Local Authority of their functions in relation to the child's case;
  • Ensure that any ascertained wishes and feelings of the child are given due consideration by the appropriate authority.

The primary task of the IRO is to ensure that the Care Plan for the child fully reflects the child's current needs and that the actions set out in the plan are consistent with the Local Authority's legal responsibilities towards the child. As corporate parents each Local Authority should act for the children they look after as a responsible and conscientious parent would act.

The IROs have some particular responsibilities during the review process these are:

  • Promoting the voice of the child;
  • Ensuring that plans for Looked After children are based on a detailed, informed assessment with a robust analysis with a clear identification of risk and needs, are up to date, effective and provide a real and genuine response to identified risk and needs;
  • Making sure that the child understands how an advocate could help and his/her entitlement to one;
  • Offering a safeguard to prevent any 'drift' in care planning for looked after children;
  •  Monitoring progress and track improved outcomes for the child;
  • Ensuring recommendations are fulfilled as agreed within the review;
  • Monitoring the activity of the Local Authority as a corporate parent in ensuring that Care Plans are given proper consideration and weight to the child's wishes and feelings;
  • Ensuring, the child fully understands the implications of any changes made to his/her Care Plan.

See also Appointment and Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer Procedure, which sets out in detail the role of the IRO outside the Looked After Review.

In relation to their role at reviews, a key task for all IRO's is to ensure that the review process is child and family centred and that the child's views are heard. They should be satisfied that disabled children's wishes and feelings are ascertained and they are able to participate and contribute to their review as far as is practicable possible.

The IRO should consult the child about their Care Plan at each review and at any time that there is a change to the Care Plan. The IRO should meet the child before the first Looked After Review and arrange to meet the child in advance of subsequent Looked After Reviews.

The IRO must be satisfied that the wishes and feelings of the child’s parents, any person who is not a parent but who has parental responsibility and the current carer (foster carer or registered person in respect of a children’s home) have been taken into account as part of the review process.

Wherever possible, the child should be encouraged to chair the meeting and in these circumstances the IRO will assist the child. In all other cases, the IRO will chair the review - see Section 3, Chairing of Reviews.

In the circumstances when the review process is completed via a series of meetings those meetings should be completed within a 20 day period. The date of the review for recording purposes will be the date of the first of the series of meetings.

The IRO is responsible for ensuring that all relevant people, including the child and parents, understand the purpose of the review and have been given appropriate opportunities to contribute and express their views. The IRO should also ensure that relevant consultation has taken place with those professionals who are not in attendance at the meeting.

Where participants' views are not followed, an explanation of the reasons why needs to be provided by the IRO and/or the social worker. Any differences of opinion should be recorded in the minutes. 

If the parent(s) or the child brings a supporter, the IRO will need to explain his or her role, ensuring that the supporter understands that he or she may clarify information but may not interrogate any contributor.

Where the ‘supporter’ is a legal representative then the IRO should note The Law Society guidance ‘Attendance of Solicitors at Local Authority Children Act Meetings’ and related 'Code of Conduct (2011)'.

All solicitors attending these meetings should be aware of the local policies and procedures in respect of Children Act Meetings and of their role in terms of ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ (2015).

The agenda for each review will be agreed with the child prior to the meeting (in accordance with age appropriateness) and at the beginning of the meeting when each participant will be invited to contribute their own items to the agenda and have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

The IRO will decide on what actions in principle are necessary to meet the child's reviewed needs and make recommendations as to how these should be achieved.

Where a review considers that adoption or long term fostering is the most appropriate way to meet the child's needs, the recommendation is then submitted to the Adoption Panel for consideration - see Placement for Adoption Procedure.

The IRO may adjourn a review meeting once, for not more than 20 working days, if not satisfied that sufficient information has been provided by the Local Authority to enable proper consideration of any of the factors to be considered.

The IRO should consider the effects on the child of delaying the meeting, and seek the wishes and feelings of the child, carer and parents where appropriate.

No proposal under consideration at the adjourned review can be implemented until the review has been completed.

It will be necessary for the IRO to ensure decisions are clear and establish who is responsible for action and the timescales agreed for completion. The IRO should ensure that the following are considered and accounted for during the review:

  1. The effect of any change in the child's circumstances since the last review, any change made to the Care Plan, whether decisions taken at the last review have been successfully implemented and if not the reasons;
  2. Whether any change should be sought in the child's legal status;
  3. Whether there is a plan for permanence;
  4. Arrangements for contact/whether there is any need for changes to the arrangements in order to promote contact between the child and parents/other Connected Persons;
  5. Whether the placement continues to be the most appropriate available, whether any change to the placement plan or any other aspect of the arrangements is likely to become necessary before the next review;
  6. The child's educational needs, progress and development and whether any change is likely to become necessary or desirable before the next review, including consideration of his/her most recent assessment of progress and development; whether the arrangements are meeting the child's educational needs: the child should have a Personal Education Plan (PEP) and the content should provide a clear framework for promoting educational achievement;
  7. The child's leisure interests and activities and whether the arrangements are meeting his/her needs;
  8. The child's health report, and whether any change in health care arrangements is likely to be necessary or desirable before the next review; whether the content of the Health Plan provides a clear framework for promoting the child's health; whether the arrangements are meeting the child's health needs;
  9. Whether the child's needs related to identity are being met and whether any change is required having regard to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural background;
  10. Whether the arrangements for advice, support and assistance continue to be appropriate and understood by the child;
  11. Whether any arrangements need to be made for the time when the child will no longer be looked after;
  12. The child's wishes and feelings and the views of the IRO about any aspect of the case and in particular about any changes made since the last review or proposed to be made to the Care Plan; whether the plan fulfils the duty to safeguard and promote the child's welfare and whether it would be in the child's interests for an Independent Visitor/advocate to be appointed;
  13. Where the child is placed with parents before an assessment is completed, the frequency of the social worker's visits;
  14. Whether the delegation of authority to take decisions about a child’s care continues to be appropriate and in the child’s best interests;
  15. Other matters which may arise should also be considered with due regard to the circumstances of the child and the placement.

Within 5 working days after the review, the IRO will complete the outcomes on protocol (ICS system) which reports on the way in which the child participated in the review, decisions made at the review and the date for the next review.

Where there is evidence of poor practice, the IRO will consider what action is needed to bring this to the attention of the relevant and appropriate managers - see Section 14, Monitoring of Review Decisions.

It is also the IRO responsibility to focus on conflict resolution - see Section 15, Dispute Resolution.


9. The Role of the Looked After Review in Achieving Permanence for the Child

The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) must check that the child's Care Plan includes a Permanence Plan with measurable milestones and a Contingency Plan should the preferred plans not progress.

At the second Looked After Review, there is a requirement to focus on the Permanence Plan, to ensure it provides permanence for the child within a timescale which is realistic, achievable and meets the child's needs. Consideration needs to be given to the value and appropriateness of having a twin track plan / parallel plan in order to achieve permanence in a timely manner.

If it is considered that the chosen avenue to permanence is not viable, the IRO should ensure that the social worker arranges a planning meeting as a matter of urgency to consider the most appropriate permanent alternative.

All subsequent Reviews should review the progress and validity of the Permanence Plan alongside the care plan.


10. Looked After Reviews Concerning Children in Long Term Foster Placements

The March 2015 Statutory Guidance “Permanence, long-term foster placements and ceasing to look after a child” sets out that where a child is placed in a designated long-term foster placement and has been in this placement for more than a year consideration should be given to whether it is necessary to hold a meeting as part of each review.

The guidance requires that the social worker should consult the IRO and the child (where appropriate to age and understanding) in reaching a decision on whether to hold a meeting. Where it is agreed that a meeting will not be held as part of every review a meeting should be held at least once a year. The factors leading to a decision to hold review meetings on a less frequent basis must be recorded in the child’s Care Plan.

Where a decision is taken that the review process will not include a meeting the IRO must ensure that full consultation with all relevant individuals, including the child, has taken place to inform the review of the child’s case.


11. Looked After Reviews on Children who are the Subject of Child Protection Plans

Where a looked after child remains the subject of a Child Protection Plan, there should be a single planning and reviewing process, led by the IRO, leading to the development of a single plan.

The IRO will chair the Child Protection Conference where a looked after child remains subject to a Child Protection Plan.

The timing of the review of the child protection aspects of the Care Plan should be as in Section 2, Frequency of Looked After Reviews.

An overarching review process will take place which will consider whether the criteria continue to be met for the child to remain the subject of a Child Protection Plan and whether any changes need to be made to the Children in Our Care Plan. The overarching plan will address all aspects of the child's identified needs, including the need for protection.

Consideration must be given to ensuring that the multi-agency contribution to the review of the Child Protection Plan is addressed within the review of the Care Plan.


12. Recording of Looked After Reviews

It is the responsibility of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) to record the review. A written record of the outcomes and decisions will be completed and circulated to the social work area team manager by the Independent Review Officer within 5 working days of the meeting. The team manager has 5 working days to respond. After this time the outcomes and decisions will be finalised on ICS - see Section 13, Review Decisions.

The full written record of the review will be completed within 20 working days of the review. The full record should contain an accurate and comprehensive record of the meeting, or meetings, which constituted the review and of the views of all those who attended or were consulted as part of the review process. The record should also reflect the review process for a designated long term foster placement where a meeting did not take place. The Review and Quality administration team will distribute the review record to all relevant parties as indicated by the IRO within 25 working days of the completion of the review.

Where parents do not attend the review/part of the meeting and contribute their views in some other manner, a discussion should take place between the social worker and the IRO as to whether it is in the child's interest for the parents to receive a full record of the review, and, if not, what written information should be sent to them. Examples of where this should be a consideration are where there is a 'no contact order'.


13. Review Decisions

The social worker's area team manager should consider the decisions made at each Looked After Review within five working days of receiving them and advise the IRO if they are unable to agree them.

If no response is received the decisions should be considered agreed by the Local Authority and should be implemented within the timescales set out in them.

If the area team manager disagrees with any of the decisions within that initial five working day period, this should be notified in writing to the IRO and all those who attended the review. In the first instance the IRO should attempt to resolve the issue informally. If this is not successful the IRO can consider activating the local dispute resolution process - see Section 15, Dispute Resolution.


14. Monitoring of Review Decisions

The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) plays an important part in the quality assurance function of the Local Authority's service for looked after children, it will be important that they recognise and report on good practice by individuals or teams.

It is important for the IRO to have a collaborative relationship with the social workers and their managers.

Where there is evidence of poor practice, the IRO should, wherever practicable, address these issues through the normal channels, contacting the social worker's manager and where necessary the Service Leader Review and Quality.

Click here to view LAC Review Flowchart


15. Dispute Resolution

Challenge and Resolution Process

Introduction

One of the key functions of the Independent Reviewing Officer’s role is to resolve problems arising out of the care planning process for both children looked after and children subject to child protection plans.

The IRO handbook statutory guidance for independent reviewing officers and local authorities on their functions in relation to case management and review of looked after children, only focuses on the care planning of looked after children. However, the handbook acknowledges that there is a correlation between both children subject to a child protection plan and children who become looked after. Therefore, as the care planning is interlinked, many local authorities have adopted the same standard with regard to care planning for both groups of children.

It is with this principle in mind that Blackburn with Darwen’s IRO Challenge and Resolution Process has been designed.

Process for Challenge and Escalation

Where the IRO believes that 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, the Challenge Procedure will be applied.

Within Blackburn with Darwen’s IRO Challenge Procedure there is a differentiation between challenge and escalation. Escalation to the next stage will only be necessary where a challenge, either informal or formal, cannot be resolved. Thus, the Challenge and Escalation Processes configure the Dispute Resolution Procedure (See, Appendix 1: IRO Challenge and Resolution Flowchart).

The IRO will, in the first instance, seek to resolve the issue informally with the Social Worker and/or the Social Worker’s manager. The IRO will place a record of this on the ICS system and it will be saved in ‘forms’ 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 escalating this through to the next stage. 

The Formal Challenge Process within this procedure should take place within timescales totalling no more than 20 working days. The IRO can refer a concern to CAFCASS, at any point in the Dispute Resolution Procedure and may consider it necessary to make a concurrent referral to CAFCASS at the same time that he/she instigates the Challenge Process. 

The individual IRO is personally responsible for activating the challenge procedure, 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 interests and welfare of the child in addition to 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 the control or beyond the control of the Local Authority, for example; in relation to staffing, interagency or resource issues. However, if these are impacting on the ability of the department to meet the needs of the child as identified in the child’s care plan, the IRO should continue to escalate the issue.

When there are serious safeguarding concerns the IRO must initially bring this to the attention of the Service Lead, Review and Quality, who will advise and agree an escalation strategy. All challenges challenges will be recorded on the child’s ICS file and saved in ‘forms’ by the IRO.

Stages of Challenge and Escalation

Stage One

The initial challenge is to occur in the first instance between the IRO and the Social Worker. If necessary, the Area Team Manager will be included. A deadline of 5 working days will be set for responses. The initial informal challenge and all pursuant challenges will be completed on dispute resolution template and saved on the child’s file under ‘forms’.

Stage Two

This stage is for Area Team Managers who will have 5 working days to respond. In some cases Area Team Managers may have been involved at the initial challenge stage. However, if the issue has not been resolved, this stage of the Challenge Process provides a further opportunity for resolution prior to the challenge being escalated further.

Stage Three

This stage is for Service Leads who will have 5 working days to respond.

Stage Four

This stage is for Heads of Service who will have 5 working days to respond.

Stage Five

This stage is for the Director of Children’s Services who will have 5 working days to respond.

Once the Formal Challenge Process is initiated, the IRO will seek to resolve issues at each stage wherever possible in order to reach a resolution, in a timely manner, in the best interests of the child. 

The Formal Challenge Process will be initiated at the appropriate stage by the IRO and recorded on The IRO Formal Challenge Template which will then be sent to the appropriate manager for response within the identified timescale. The template will then be returned to the IRO. If the issue is not resolved to the IRO’s satisfaction then a challenge will be initiated to the next stage, with the IRO completing the next part of the form. The template includes all five levels of the Formal Challenge Process, thus providing evidence to each appropriate manager of what has already been undertaken at each stage in order to attempt to reach a resolution.

At each stage of the process there will be a principle of trying to resolve issues as soon as possible. Where appropriate, it is good practice to convene a meeting to include the IRO, their Service Lead, the Area Team Manager and their Service Lead to consider the areas of dispute and try to resolve them by discussion. 

All documentation in respect of the Challenge Process will be saved on the ICS system on the child’s file under forms.

Positive Feedback

In order to ensure that the IRO provides a wider perspective in respect of the quality assurance of the Local Authority’s service, it is important that the IRO recognises and reports on good practice by individuals or teams. This is undertaken by the IRO completing IRO Positive Feedback Template which is then sent to the appropriate manager(s). The manager responds and returns the template to the IRO. All documentation in respect of Positive Feedback will be saved on the ICS system.

Performance Data in respect of Challenge and Resolution

Performance data will be collated on a monthly basis in respect of the activity regarding Challenge and Resolution. The data will evidence the number of challenges that have occurred, how many have been resolved, at what level and in what timescale. This information will support the Local Authority in identifying more clearly, emerging themes and issues, such as gaps in resources In addition, the number of Positive Feedback reports will also be collated in order to evidence and report on examples and themes in respect of good practice.


Appendices

Click here to view Appendix 1: IRO Challenge and Resolution Flowchart