Local authorities would not be able to employ independent reviewing officers (IROs) if judges were to stop scrutinising care plans for children and young people, according to the children’s commissioner.
In its response to the Family Justice Review Interim Report the Office of the Children’s Commissioner said: “In the [interim report] there are proposals to reduce the court’s scrutiny of the care plan with indications that this will fall to the IRO. We have concerns about this reduction in the court scrutiny and that of the guardian and concerns about placing additional responsibility on the IRO.”
IROs would be unable to have an impartial oversight of the plan if they remained employed by local authorities and would also need much lower caseloads than currently stipulated in guidance, the report said.
“The IRO must have sufficient independence to challenge the local authority without prejudice to their position as local authority employees. They might also need separate status from other employees of the local authority if they are to report to the court.”
Also in the report, the children’s commissioner called for more resources so guardians had more time with each child and social workers had more support when giving evidence to court.
Foster carers and other carers of looked-after children also needed far more information and support about decisions and care plans as they were often the ones having to explain unpalatable decisions to upset children. There was also no current guarantee that children’s views were heard in alternatives to court such as family group conferences, the report pointed out.
Children must also be given options about more creative ways to contribute their views and court processes adjusted to ensure children can speak directly with judges. Following a court process each child should also be offered therapy through child and adolescent mental health services the commissioner said.
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