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CoventryChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Looked After Reviews

RELATED CHAPTER

Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure.

Note that different provisions apply to children who acquire Looked After status as a result of a remand to local authority accommodation or Youth Detention Accommodation. In relation to those children, please see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure, Care Planning for Young People on Remand or Youth Detention Accommodation.

AMENDMENT

In March 2019, Section 9, The Role of the Looked After Review in Achieving Permanence for the Child was amended to reflect the outcome of a High Court Judgement in respect of children who were subject to Section 20 and where there were concerns of significant delays in their planning for permanence. The court noted the IROs’ recognition and action over a number of reviews but acknowledged that a more robust response had been needed.

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. Management Escalation

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).

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 them within a timescale that meets their 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;
  • For a young person living in foster care, the first Looked After Review following their 16th birthday should consider whether a Staying Put arrangement (whereby the young person remains in the foster home after the age of 18) should be an option.

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:

  • Care Plan;
  • Permanence Plan;
  • Health Care Plan;
  • Pathway Plan if applicable;
  • Personal Education Plan (PEP);

The review should also take account of the child's Placement Plan (recorded on the Placement Information Record) and any 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.

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 working 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

Looked After Reviews should be brought forward by an IRO where the circumstances of an event has a significant impact upon the child’s care plan, as suggested in the following sorts of circumstances:

This is not an exhaustive list and the IRO may judge that other events are significant and require an earlier review. The parents and child should also be consulted about the need for an additional review.

  • 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.

    (DfE, Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review)

3. Chairing of Reviews

Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO's) will chair reviews. They are located within the Independent Review Unit.

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

See also Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers 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 Independent Review Unit by telephone and/or email.

This will trigger the appointment of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) for the child. The Independent Review Unit 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 - ideally the review should take place in the placement.

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 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 and the Independent Review Unit who will inform the other participants.

In the event of a key participant being ill or unable to attend the review, the meeting will go ahead but the IRO may decide that the review be adjourned to a new date when all participants can attend - see Section 8, Independent Reviewing Officer's Responsibilities.

Should the child cease to be Looked After before the review date, the child's social worker will notify the Independent Review Unit who will notify the IRO and other prospective attendees that the review is cancelled and why.

5. Invitations and the Child's Participation

Discussion should take place between the social worker and the child (subject to age and understanding) at least 20 working days before the meeting about who the child would like to attend the meeting and where the meeting will be held.

Invitations to reviews will be sent by the Independent Review Unit 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:

  • The child. There is a presumption that the child will attend the review. A child's disability must not be a bar 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 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, if involved;
  • If required, an interpreter;
  • 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 its looked after children.
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. Efforts should be made to keep the number present at the review as small as possible. It may be appropriate for information to be provided in writing or at a separate meeting where the contribution is strictly factual.

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.

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

See Section 7, Supporters and Interpreters.

A decision not to invite a child or parent(s) to a review should only be made in exceptional circumstances and in consultation with the IRO, prior to the review. The decision should be recorded, together with reasons, on the review document and child's record.

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.

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

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 their 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 they believe 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 and the Court timetable.

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 of Arrangement 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:

  • All completed consultation documents (the social worker is responsible for sending these to the child, carers and family members as appropriate).
  • Health Care Plan;
  • Personal Education Plan;
  • Any other relevant reports by professionals.

It is not necessary to copy these for all participants. The IRO may have a pre meeting with the social worker to review the relevant aspects of the Health Action Plan and Personal Education Plan. The IRO will then summarise these documents during the review and provide information about the discussion with the social worker as appropriate.

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 update 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.

Where the child and/or the parents are unable to attend the review, the social worker must ensure that they are informed in writing of the outcome.

See also Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers 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 and monitor the appropriateness of the Care Plan (on an ongoing basis including whether any safeguarding issues arise), its implementation and to establish whether the milestones set out in the plan are being achieved in a timely way.

See also Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure, which sets out in detail to 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 contributions are obtained and effectively presented in the review.

The IRO should consult the child about their Care Plan at each review and at any time that there is a significant change to the Care Plan. The IRO should meet the child before the first Looked After Review and arrange to meet the child as appropriate 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.

More than one meeting may be required to ensure the views of relevant people inform the review without the meeting becoming too large. For example it may be appropriate to hold a meeting involving the child prior to a meeting involving the parent to obtain information and ascertain the views of both where the child does not wish to attend a review with their parents present.

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 their role, ensuring that the supporter understands that they may clarify information but may not cross-examine 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 at the beginning of the meeting and 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 agreement or any other aspect of the arrangements is likely to become necessary before the next review;
  6. Whether the placement safeguards and promotes the child's welfare, and whether any safeguarding concerns have been raised;
  7. 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; whether the child has a Personal Education Plan (PEP) and whether its content provides a clear framework for promoting educational achievement;
  8. The child's leisure interests and activities and whether the arrangements are meeting his/her needs;
  9. 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;
  10. 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;
  11. Whether the arrangements for advice, support and assistance continue to be appropriate and understood by the child;
  12. Whether any arrangements need to be made for the time when the child will no longer be looked after;
  13. 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 to be appointed;
  14. Where the child is placed with parents before an assessment is completed, the frequency of the social worker's visits;
  15. Whether the delegation of authority to take decisions about a child's care continues to be appropriate and in the child's best interests;
  16. Other matters which may arise should also be considered with due regard to the circumstances of the child and the placement.

After the review, the IRO will notify the Independent Review Unit of the way in which the child participated in the review, together with the outcome 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 Management Escalation - see Section 15, Management Escalation.

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 materialise.

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.

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

At the third Looked After Review there will be a need for a Twin Track/Parallel Plan to be made where a Permanence Plan has not been achieved. For example where a plan for rehabilitation of the child has not been achieved, the Review should seek to establish whether the lack of progress is as a result of drift or whether there are valid child-centred reasons, properly recorded and endorsed by the social worker's manager. No further rehabilitation plan should be recommended unless there are exceptional reasons justifying such a plan or where further assessment is specifically directed by the Court. In this case, the Parallel Plan must include the active pursuit of an alternative placement for the child.

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

Children who are Section 20 Accommodated (Children Act 1989): IROs should pay particular regard to children accommodated under Section 20 to ensure there is appropriate progression of their plans and that there are no delays in respect of them having ‘permanence’, (which should include a return home). A High Court judgement (see Herefordshire Council v AB [2018] EWFC 10 rtf) was critical of protracted delay in a child’s planning and failure to respond to a parent’s request to have a child return home to their care under Section 20(8). Further, that the IRO, whilst recognising the issues of delay and planning, and highlighting these to managers, did not respond more robustly (see Section 15, Management Escalation).

The judgement considered that in circumstances where the threshold criteria (for Care / Supervision Orders) under Section 31 Children Act 1989 are met, (i.e. where a child is at risk of significant harm, or the likelihood of significant harm), then care proceedings should be issued without delay.

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

Paragraph 4.17 of The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015) 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.

Consideration should be given to the IRO chairing the Child Protection Conference where a looked after child remains subject to a Child Protection Plan. Where that is not possible, it will be expected that the IRO will attend the Child Protection Review Conference.

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.

The Looked After Review, when reviewing the child protection aspects of the plan, should consider whether the criteria continue to be met for the child to remain the subject of a Child Protection Plan.

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 decisions and recommendations will be completed and circulated by the Independent Review Officer to all participants within 5 working days of the meeting. This should also be sent to the designated senior manager who will consider the decisions made at the review - see Section 13, Review Decisions.

The full written record of the review will be completed within 15 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 Independent Review Unit will send copies out to all relevant parties who have provided their full name and address on the attendance sheet within 20 working days of the completion of the review.

The decisions should have any identifying details removed as necessary, for example, exceptionally, the address of the placement.

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' or supervised contact only.

13. Review Decisions

A designated senior member of staff should consider the decisions made at each Looked After Review within five working days of receiving them and to advise the IRO and all those who attended the review 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 senior member of staff 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, Management Escalation.

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.

Monitoring sheets must be completed by the IRO after every review meeting in order that accurate data is reported for audit, quality assurance and individual performance management. This information is then coordinated by the Independent Review Unit and sent on a monthly basis to the relevant 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 Independent Review Unit Manager.

15. Management Escalation

Introduction and Legislative Framework

Section 26 of the Children Act 1989 and the associated guidance and regulations recommended that Looked After Children's reviews should be chaired by officers of the local authority who are at a more senior level than the case-holding social workers. The intention was to bring a degree of objectivity and oversight to practice and decision-making for children in care, and to monitor the activity of the local authority as a corporate parent. 

Section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 amended Section 26 of the Children Act 1989 to make the Independent Reviewing Officer's role a legal requirement in Looked After Children's reviews. Statutorily, IROs must participate in the review of children's cases, monitor the authority's functions in respect of the review, and may refer a child's case to the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (CAFCASS) if the failure to implement aspects of a Care Plan might be considered in breach of the child's human rights. CAFCASS has the power to undertake legal action.

As with all the IRO's responsibilities and powers, the power to refer a case to CAFCASS applies to all Looked After Children, including those Looked After under a voluntary agreement (Section 20 of the Children Act 1989) and those Looked After under a Care Order (Section 31 of the Children Act 1989). Such legal proceedings might be further family proceedings (for example, for the discharge of a care order or for contact), a freestanding application under the Human Rights Act 1998, or an application for judicial review. 

One of the key roles of the IRO outlined in the protocol is the Dispute Resolution Process in cases where the IRO has identified that the Care Plan for a child is not being progressed in a timely way to meet the child's needs or where there is poor practice impacting on the child's needs being met. In these situations, the IRO has the duty to negotiate with the local authority management up to the highest level, and ultimately to refer the case to CAFCASS if they believe this process has not resulted in the desired outcome. This protocol addresses this escalation process

Wherever possible, the IRO will attempt to resolve a problem concerning the child's Care Plan by negotiation, including contacting the team responsible for the child and attempting to resolve the problem directly with the team. If this proves unsuccessful, the IRO will take the case to senior management, then the Assistant Director, the Director, the Chief Executive. Where necessary the IRO may refer to CAFCASS. The IRO will also work with the local authority complaints officers and advocates where necessary for the resolution of a problem. 

The IRO Management Alert process sets out a clear pathway for communication between the IRO and the child's allocated social worker and their management, to ensure that satisfactory resolution of concerns is achieved without delay

This protocol aims to promote good practice, attempting to minimise any time delay for the child/young person but hopefully ensuring a fair time frame for the LA to review and consider its decisions. The process for seeking problem resolution is set in stages. The time frames stated should be seen as setting minimum standards and every opportunity for taking less than the proposed times should be encouraged.

The maximum time taken for problem resolution within the authority should be no more than 3 months. The proposed timescales are maximum timescales and the IRO may set earlier timescales for each component of the process if they feel that this is necessary to achieve resolution in a timescale that meets the child's needs. 

The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) will make a decision about the timescale in which the problem should be resolved and make this clear to the operational managers at each stage of the resolution process.

The IRO and/or the Team Manager may wish to discuss the issues informally with their local CAFCASS Manager and the IRO may wish to seek independent legal advice at any stage of the process. The Local Authority will be expected to acquire funding for this.

This protocol will provide a clear and agreed quality assurance framework for;

  • To provide information about the status and quality of Care Planning for all LAC and to act as a management monitoring tool for QA purpose;
  • The recognition and acknowledgement of good practice;
  • A clear process for the escalation and resolution of concerns about poor practice;
  • To provide Managers with information where there are concerns about the quality of practice or other issues of poor practice impacting on the child's needs being met, serious drift or delays in implementing plans for children subject to looked after processes;
  • To make the process more robust and objective.

Recognition of Good Practice Notification

Recognition of good practice will be issued via the quality assurance RAG notification when there is evidence of excellence in the practice / management of plans for children looked after. Such practice may be characterised by:

  • Clear, Timely, and Comprehensive Case/Care Plans being progressed effectively;
  • Effective relationships with children and young people;
  • Effective relationships with parents and carers;
  • Significant Foresight/Effort in progressing complex issues and Care Plans;
  • Responsibility and Ownership in practice;
  • Quality/Comprehensive information systems.

Where there is evidence of excellent practice/management of Care Plans the IRO will send a 'Recognition of Good Practice' notification to the Social Worker, copied to the Team Manager and to the Service Manager.

Coventry IRO Management Alert Process

The IRO Care Planning Escalation process in Coventry is knows as the "IRO management alert process". An IRO management alert will be issued when there is evidence that there is drift or delay in implementation of care or pathway plans; i.e. they are not being progressed within appropriate timescales, or when there is evidence of poor quality service to service users, particularly when these impacts on the overall best interests of the Looked After Child being met appropriately.

Situations where an IRO might have concerns and initiate the management alert process would include:

  • Issues about the appropriateness of the LA's proposed Care Plan;
  • Serious delays in Care Planning e.g. permanency or pathway plans not progressing;
  • Care Proceedings or Permanency Plans not initiated in a timely manner;
  • Looked After Review recommendations critical to timely decision making not being progressed and leading to serious drift/delay e.g. report to adoption panel;
  • Lack of adequate preparation for the Looked After Review;
  • Failure to initiate services and assessments within timescales set out in the care plan;
  • Statutory visits not undertaken within required timescales;
  • Appropriate Contact Plans not being formulated/enacted;
  • Failure to follow anti-oppressive principles;
  • Lack of or poor supervision of a Social Worker;
  • Concerns about allocation history;
  • Delays in family finding/placement search;
  • Inadequate health provision;
  • Inadequate education provision;
  • Evidence of poor placement choice/standard of care;
  • Little or no evidence of management discussion or direction in agreeing / steering Care plans;
  • Lack of, or inappropriate engagement/communication with child / young person;
  • Lack of, or inappropriate engagement/communication with parents / carer / partner agencies;
  • Regular failure to meet recommended Plan timescales/tasks;
  • Clear lack of basic case or procedural knowledge/competence;
  • Absence or ongoing inadequacy of information systems.

When an IRO identifies that there are concerns about planning or practice which warrants the Management Alert, the following process will be triggered.

There are six stages to the escalation process within the Local Authority. The IRO has the discretion to proceed directly to stage 3 in more serious or urgent cases. The stages are:

Stage Responsible Officer
Stage 1: Team Manager
Stage 2: Service Manager
Stage 3: Strategic Lead
Stage 4: Director, Children's Social Care
Stage 5: CAFCASS
Stage 6: Chief Executive of the Council 

At any stage in this process the IRO may refer the concerns to CAFCASS if the issues indicate a serious breach of the child's HR. The IRO will always consult with the Service Manager and Strategic Lead for Quality Assurance before making a referral to CAFCASS.

Stage 1-3

At the end of every statutory review, the IRO will identify a set of decisions which were formulated within the review meeting, determine the timescales for each decision to be completed and identify those decisions that are of sufficient concern to warrant notification by the social worker to the IRO of completion.

These are known as 'starred' recommendations. IRO to notify the Team Manager of every starred recommendation made. Starred recommendations should not be used lightly and this 'star status' should be crucial to the Care Plan and/or crucial to the child/young person's needs.

Star status can be considered in 3 categories:

  1. Implementation of Significant action within the Care Plan;
  2. Accessing resources;
  3. Inadequate / poor practice.

IRO produces 'starred' decisions with clear timescales that indicate a date for completion

IRO electronically forwards the decisions to the Allocated Worker, the Team Manager and the Service Manager within 72 hours (three days)

The IRO must submit the relevant form with the child's records on Protocol to initiate stages 1 - 3 of the Care Planning Escalation Process.

At each of these stages, a response is required within 5 working days of receipt. 

Stages 4 – 6

These will be managed through a meeting, which should be chaired by the Manager who has received the alert. The meeting should have independent minutes to record the agreed way forward. All key personnel should be invited to the meeting.

The IRO may be invited to attend the meeting but is required to provide a statement of what would be required to prevent the matter progressing to the next dispute resolution stage. 

Should the IRO exhaust all stages of the dispute process (or deem that the time it is taking to exhaust the stages is unreasonable and (s)he believes there is still a danger that the child's human rights may be being breached due to action or inaction of the local authority, (s)he may make a Section 118 referral to CAFCASS. CAFCASS is able to bring legal proceedings to achieve a remedy. 

Legal proceedings should only be considered as a last resort - i.e. in extreme cases where all other attempts to resolve the problem 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.

Referral to CAFCASS

These guidelines are not designed to hinder or minimise concerns. However, given the impact on the Department should the management alert process reach the referral to CAFCASS stage, it is crucial that there is clear and transparent evidence of the IRO management and supervision process for senior managers, the Director of Children's Services / Chief Executive, and/or members.

This procedure should be followed in a way that is proportionate to the level of concerns raised.

In exceptional circumstances, where the concern is about an extremely serious level of delay in planning or drift the Safeguarding Service may take the decision to escalate the concern to the Head of Service, or above and/or CAFCASS at an earlier point in the process, to seek resolution of the issues in as effective and timely a way as possible. If this decision is taken the Service Manager and Head of Service should be informed in writing of the intention to do this.

Except in the exceptional circumstances outlined above, the IRO should only make the referral to CAFCASS if:

  1. The IRO has made every attempt to resolve the problem with the local authority, up to the level of the Chief Executive, and there is still a risk of the child's human rights being breached;
  2. There is no other suitable adult able and willing to take the case on the child's behalf (when the child is under age 18) or the child is not of sufficient age and understanding and wanting to bring proceedings on their own behalf.

Where the child brings proceedings on his or her own behalf, the role of the IRO is only to assist the child in obtaining their own legal advice from a suitably qualified and experienced lawyer. Where a suitable adult brings proceedings on behalf of the child, the role of the IRO is only to establish that this is done. 

Where the child is not in a position to initiate proceedings on their own behalf, no adult is able or willing to do so on their behalf, and where there is a risk of the child's human rights being breached, the IRO should refer the matter to CAFCASS Legal Service where a duty lawyer is available at the following address:

CAFCASS Legal
8th floor, Wyndham House
South Quay Plaza
189 Marsh Wall
London
E14 9SH

Tel: 020 7510 7000
Email: legal@cafcass.gov.uk

Recording and communicating that a Child's Care Plan has been Subject to Alerts

The IRO should verbally inform the members of a child's Looked After Review meeting of any management alerts they have initiated since the previous meeting or which they intend to initiate subsequent to the current meeting.

The IRO should record details of any prior management alerts in the Background and Update section of the discussion summary in the Chair's Report. The IRO should record details of any intended future alerts in the Legal section of the discussion summary of the Chair's Report. 

The IRO should place all Management Alert forms on the child's electronic file on Protocol.

The Service Manager of the Service will report on the number of management alerts that have been initiated and the timescales for resolving them. This information will be included in the annual IRO Management Report. 

Informing the IRO of any Significant Change in the Child's Circumstances

Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 IRO Guidance (Regulation 8), the Local Authority must inform the IRO of, "Any significant change of circumstances occurring after the review that affects arrangements". 

This is not an exhaustive list but the following changes should be communicated by the case holder to IROs.

  1. Significant delays in completing any child care review decisions;
  2. Any period of more than three days missing from care (minutes of any missing from care meetings should also be forwarded to the IRO);
  3. Unplanned or unexpected changes in the child's placement provision (which may significantly impact on placement stability);
  4. Court Orders and outcomes from Directions hearings;
  5. Outcomes from LAC or medical consultations that identify/confirm any serious previously undiagnosed conditions;
  6. Planned and unplanned discharges from care;
  7. Outcomes of Joint Agency Panels;
  8. Outcomes of presentations to the Fostering Panel, Adoption and Permanency Panels;
  9. Change of placements, including the relevant Ofsted report if it is a residential provision;
  10. Updates of Adoptions Action Plans;
  11. Any period of exclusion from school for more than five days;
  12. Unexpected changes in the child's family circumstances;
  13. Arrests, bail, and convictions;
  14. Serious accidents;
  15. Changes of allocated social workers;
  16. Unplanned proposed or actual discharge from care;
  17. Complaints from or on behalf of the child, parent, or carer.

As a result of receiving any of the above information, the IRO may decide to convene a review at an earlier date than was scheduled. The 2010 Care Planning regulations intend to strengthen the IRO role by specifying that a review must be held before any change in the Care Plan can be carried out. 

Following on from this requirement, Coventry has identified four circumstances under which a change in the Care Plan cannot take place before a review meeting is held and the change has been endorsed by the IRO: 

  1. Wherever there is a proposal (which has not already been endorsed by the IRO) for the child to move from a regulated placement (e.g. foster care or children's home) to an unregulated placement (e.g. a semi-independent unit or "independent living" facility) before the age of 18;
  2. Wherever any unplanned change is proposed to a child's accommodation that could significantly disrupt his or her education (e.g. having to move school during the academic year or during a programme leading to recognised qualifications such as during the run up to GCSEs in years 10 and 11);
  3. Wherever there is a proposal to move a child from a placement in residential care where reports have previously indicated that the placement is appropriate and the child is settled and going to school;
  4. Prior to a child being discharged from a secure children's home or leaving custody.

The Role of the Service Manager and Strategic Head of Quality Assurance during the Management Alert Process

The Service Manager is responsible for management and supervision of the IROs.

The role of these managers during the management alert process shall be:

  • To provide clear supervision to the IRO, taking into consideration the issue being raised and providing feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the case being brought forward;
  • To ensure that throughout the process, lines of communication remain open and clear and that the issue does not become clouded, personalised, or lost in other processes;
  • To ensure that meetings take place on time and that they are present at all relevant meetings above Service Manager level;
  • To provide briefing to senior managers as to the view of the SCS on the issue being raised and possible routes to resolving the issue;
  • To ensure that legal advice has been sought by the IRO from the Legal department at the appropriate time; to discuss this advice in supervision and consider its possible implications for the issue being raised;
  • Overall, to encourage resolution prior to the issue reaching Service Manager stage.

The Management Alert form can be found on the child's records in Protocol so forms part of the child's records.