Independent reviewing officers are being undermined by high caseloads and extra duties that could impact on their efficacy and create conflicts of interest, research by the National Children’s Bureau has found.
The charity’s report, published today, found that nearly two thirds (62%) of independent reviewing officers (IROs) had extra duties on top on their main task of protecting the interests of children during care planning.
Half of the 295 IROs questioned by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) had to chair child protection conferences, and a quarter had to carry out reviews, such as Regulation 33 quality assurance checks on children’s homes. A further 17% were involved in social worker training.
The IROs with additional duties said these tasks take up 40% of their time and in some cases, such as Regulation 33 checks, could result in conflicts of interest, thus undermining the independence of their role.
The report also highlighted ways in which local authorities could help IROs to work independently while remaining council employees.
They include openly giving IROs ‘permission’ to challenge the authority, implementing effective dispute resolution protocols, giving IROs access to expert advice and resources and getting IROs to focus on outcomes for children
“While there is clearly a theoretical understanding of what makes an IRO service successful, this study indicates that in practice, the IRO role in providing the best possible care planning is yet to be fully realised,” said NCB chief executive Hilary Emery.
“We must ensure that IROs are supported to provide the high-quality service that children in the care system need, taking a child-centred approach and making sure that conflicting priorities or inadequate support do not put looked-after children at risk of not being the priority,” Emery said.