Children’s services directors welcome call to scrap independent reviewing officers

The call to give local authorities the freedom to scrap IROs was made in the recent fostering stocktake

child and professional
Photo: Photograph.eu/Fotolia

Directors of children’s services would welcome the freedom to scrap the independent reviewing officer (IRO) role.

The fostering stocktake, published in February and written by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers, controversially proposed allowing local authorities to scrap the IRO role, enabling them to merge the supervising and children’s social worker roles in long-term fostering arrangements. It also called for a review of the effectiveness of fostering panels.

A response to the fostering stocktake from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said it was right in principle that local authorities “are given the flexibility to put in place arrangements to best suit local children”.

Child’s rights

The ADCS said it welcomed the proposals, but “would want to ensure that a child’s right to request his/her own social worker remains in place”.

It said while some local authorities would not use the flexibilities, “many” would welcome the opportunity to “reinvest potential savings from these areas into other parts of the business according to local needs and priorities”.

The proposals in the stocktake prompted a furious response from organisations and academics, under the umbrella of ‘Together for Children’, who said it would “greatly weaken” children’s legal protections.

The ADCS said it would “resist” standardised payments or allowances to special guardians or adopters and was concerned that large fostering agencies were making “substantial profits” from fostering.

It added it would welcome a trial of ‘support foster care’, which would see children access additional support and respite opportunities without becoming legally looked-after children.

The government is currently considering the stocktake’s recommendations before formally responding.

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34 Responses to Children’s services directors welcome call to scrap independent reviewing officers

  1. Vivien Freeman April 9, 2018 at 11:41 am #

    As an Independent Reviewing Officer of children placed in Secure Accommodation I am in no doubt that it is the LA IRO who usually has the best knowledge of the child/YP and who is certainly in a better position than the SW to ensure their rights

    • Gloworm April 11, 2018 at 3:00 pm #

      Somewhat patronising to assume an IRO knows a YP better than their SW!

      • Jeanne Schofield April 15, 2018 at 1:02 pm #

        I totally agree a ludicrous comment in my experience

    • Bob April 11, 2018 at 9:19 pm #

      Is this a serious comment ? IROs knowing yps more the SW? Be lucky to get one to visit, let a alone know the child better. How can they be in better position when do not know the child ? Ridiculous comment.

      • Laura April 15, 2018 at 12:37 pm #

        I thought the same! Have attended many SAO reviews and not yet known an IRO to have made the time prior to the review to visit the child, yet alone get to know them. This attitude is perhaps the problem, we continue to dismiss the role of hardworking, conscientious SW’s – no the wonder they’re looking to get rid of this role.

    • Harriet April 13, 2018 at 2:56 pm #

      As a long term foster carer we feel the IRO does an amazing job and would not know what to do with out your input to our young peoples lives .We feel at the reviews we are being listened too and the IRO makes sure everyone carries through what is in the best interest for that young person. Would this happen if we did not have the back up off the IRO’s. Thank you for all your hard work We are the voices of some of the most vulnerable children.

  2. Katie Politico April 9, 2018 at 11:42 am #

    All part of the ‘business’ plan for privatisation. SSWs acting as the child’s SW will represent a conflict of interest. Having no IROs to oversee this conflict of interest is in the worst interests of looked after children.

    • kim evans April 10, 2018 at 9:55 am #

      i totaly agree

    • Emma April 14, 2018 at 9:34 am #

      I agree with this , especially as I have basn in both roles during my social work career . I know that there can be tensions between the social worker and the IRO at times but do think the IRO role is an important one , not least because they ensure that the child stays at the forefront of decision making . As a child’s social worker , IROs have on occasion helped me challenge senior management decisions and that support has been invaluable

  3. Paul April 9, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

    This is,in my opinion, a balanced opinion from the ADCS. IROs certainly do have a place in some looked after children’s cases but it remains unclear how effective they have been overall in all looked after children practice. To say that IROs know children in care better than any other professionals is,I think, stretching their role somewhate – what about the child’s carers who see them everyday or in a SW that has been involved for many years (albeit an exception). I have seen one looked after child case where it was the foster carers doing the advicacy – taking the case to a judicial review when the IRO failed to do this. In other cases SWs and their managers have such a good grip on the child’s case that IRO is surplass to requirements. The research (1998) before IROs came into place on a statutory footing found a case for IROs in some cases but not all. Now we have a bureaucracy where IROs have to be allocated to every case and this has taken experienced social workers away from operational (case holding / team manager) practice. It is an expensive serivce wilhere the evidence for their effectiveness remains unclear (in all cases) and where there may well be better ways to use this money – to reduce SW caseloads and offer better case supervision.

    • Anita Singh April 10, 2018 at 8:54 pm #

      Paul, you have posted these arguments in previous posts. I must emphasise that the IRO role is NOT geared to social working the case, but to independently Review the child’s care. It is interesting that you seek to quote one case where the foster carers took a case to Judicial Review where the IRO should have been doing this in the hundeds of cases and IROs to justify your case for getting rid of the IRO. This seems to be a giant leap don’t you think?

      You do not say how you would replace the IRO Role’s functions but suggest that in some cases the foster carers and in others social workers can undertake the role. This seems to be arbitrary, piecemeal and chaotic in service delivery. Nor do your arguments address the reasons that the IRO role was created in the first place, if SWs and Foster Carers had been able to provide this, there would never have been a need to create the role in the first place.

      In your previous post you present the same argument that the IRO being allocated to every child is taking experienced social workers away from operational case holding/team manager practice, yet you have still failed to explore the reasons for this. Do you really think that getting rid of the IRO will magically bring experienced workers back to the front line? You need to explore the reasons experienced workers wanted to leave. Again you argue that there would be better ways of using the money being spent on IROs to reduce SW caseloads. WHO WILL DO THE JOB OF THE IRO? If SWs are now bridging the gap then their work loads will increase. There would be more bums on seats, but the quality of service will deteriorate, given the multiple/numerous foster placements and social workers that children now go through in the care system, I am deeply concerned that you think that these measures are remotely adequate.

      Your central concern Paul seems to be about saving money and not about quality of service.

      • Anita Singh April 11, 2018 at 1:56 am #

        P.S How come you have not thought about saving money by axing the jobs of Children’s Services Directors, Other unnecessary senior Managers and the layers and layer upon layer of administrative managers? What research and assessment has been done to really assess the value for money they bring to the service? What do they actually do that really makes a difference? Do we really need these managers or would we be better to use their very high wages to pay for more bums on seats at the front line?

        • Heather Johnson April 14, 2018 at 8:57 am #

          Absolutely agree my thoughts exactly while carers are being expected to take on more of the paperwork and tasks previously carried out by sw’s and also expected to do this on a lower budget the management are still being paid ridiculous money and getting pay rises for doing what exactly other than putting more and more pressure on carers and they have the nerve to say they treat us as professionals that will be the day.

        • Nell April 15, 2018 at 1:19 pm #

          I agree with some of this Anita. I have long believed that Directors roles could go without a major impact on quality of service. Heads of Service could run the department just as efficiently between them having, as they do, that closer relationship with workers on the ground and the decision making which goes with the role. I can’t agree that ‘layers’ of management could be lost and it shouldn’t be a choice between more front line workers and managers – now that WOULD be all about savings. But fewer layers certainly.

      • C April 14, 2018 at 9:10 am #

        You all have views on the role of an IRO, but yet do not appear to understand the role of an IRO!!!
        The role of the IRO is to independently review the care plans for children. This is a vital role in ensuring the childs needs are met. Whilst IROs consult with children, the role of an advocate is their voice. Yes the IRO will promote the childs wishes and feelings, earlier posts her suggest IROs are advocates!!!
        Without IROs, not all children would get the services they need, in addition its the role of the IRO to quality assure a case, so that a child has for example a care plan and is being regularly seen, you be suprised how many LAs think they can get away with not ensuring statutory requirements are undertaken.
        Hearing that the role of an IRO has taken experience workers off front line is somewhat hilarious. IROs have to be experienced to the level of a team manager, which is why in most authority’s they are effective!!!!

        Lets face it, LA dont like the IRO service, as they expose poor pracrice. Of course directors are going to vote to get rid, this is so they dont have to deal with all the complaints IRO raise, wont have to deal with the case being reported to CAFCASS for not following care plans.

  4. simon April 9, 2018 at 12:47 pm #

    It is very easy to forget that the key word is ‘independent’, and the role of the IRO is not just about ensuring the best outcomes for some of our most vulnerable members of the community, it is also about ensuring that those involved in a child’s life are in fact doing what they should be doing to a standard which is both proportionate and acceptable and above all – Safe.

  5. Sonia April 9, 2018 at 3:57 pm #

    As a foster carer I have seen IROs play a huge part in advocating what is in the child’s best interest. I have to say it does depend on the IRO, we have dealt with some who are pretty ineffectual, but others who were worth their weight in gold. I think it would be dangerous to do away with Independent Reviewing Officers.

  6. Eboni April 9, 2018 at 5:39 pm #

    Ineffectual social work practice is found in all levels of social work. The issues raised about IRO’s is about councils being able to save money. The issue of saving money is a business model therefore the next level of ‘saving money’ ideas will be how many SW can a service afford. The next ‘saving money’ ideas will be how many team manager’s can a council afford in fact do we even need team manager’s at all? The business model and saving money is not about effective or ineffective practice it is about saving money. I recall some years ago there was the same ‘saving money’ idea about the children’s guardian role and how many senior managers could be released to ‘save money’ and make the services more effective. Money was saved by having less administration support years ago. It saved money however it also saved social workers from doing their jobs as the administrative saving meant that social workers did more administration work which directly impacted upon social worker practice and time spent with vulnerable children, young people and adults. Could we ‘save money by not having directors or chief execs should also be included in any viable Business Plan. Any viable business plan does not make the business vulnerable or unable to do its business which in Children Services terms means safeguarding children in need and in need of protection. Any business plan that places those terms at risk is not a business plan it is a saving money plan. The difference between those two plans is intelligence and good outcomes versus the exact oppposite.

  7. Sw111 April 9, 2018 at 5:56 pm #

    IROs play a significant role in the overall planning, placement and other relating issues particularly when the LA is reluctant to spend money on specialist placement, when LA is trying to save money.
    Some IROs ditto what the management states but some of them take an independent stand and advocate the needs of the child.

  8. Phil Sanderson April 9, 2018 at 8:31 pm #

    Reinvesting in other parts of the business? Like pouring more money into the pockets of the hedge funds that have got the ADCS over a barrel and will continue it’s the market after all for deeply damaged children. Why on earth do we need any scrutiny of that!!

  9. Social Worker April 9, 2018 at 8:45 pm #

    I doubt scrapping the IROs role will impact outcome for children massively. The Reviews do serve as reminder to achieve certain benchmarks, however, they also add to bureaucracy and take toll on resources. Social workers will do the things on review outcomes anyway.
    Besides, instead of producing reports and attending reviews, SW could use the same resources do more direct work with looked after children.

    • Laura April 15, 2018 at 12:39 pm #

      Well said!

  10. kim evans April 10, 2018 at 10:00 am #

    my point exactly , the role of the IRO is to ensure that decisionmaking is in the Childs best interest. Thankfully i live and practice in Wales

  11. john simpson April 10, 2018 at 10:19 am #

    Part of the current difficulty with the IRO roles is that they are in no way independent. The management structure of the local authority has IRO’s under their umbrella of services and routinely pressure is applied by senior managers to wriggle out of escalations which highlight the local authority has not only failed to follow their own policy, but have also misunderstood the legislation. A good example (in my area) is where a child’s S.20 agreement was closed without any reference to the IRO (or indeed the published policy!). It is almost as if they made it up as they go along….

    What needs to happen is that the IRO service is hived off from local authority’s and then they can truly be independent.

  12. londonboy April 10, 2018 at 6:29 pm #

    Wonder if Directors of Children’s Services own biological children were in Care, they would feel the same way? Shameful.

  13. C Jones April 11, 2018 at 2:31 pm #

    I think this view is very short sighted and the IRO has a critical role is the oversight of the Child’s Care Plan and arrangements. The statutory responsibilities are more than a tick box exercise and IRO’s are also critical in providing a quality assurance role across children’s services.

    • Jo April 13, 2018 at 12:14 am #

      I agree and surely a non biased opinion based on fact and not emotion or conflict of ineterst or the pressure of carers or an organisation is a voice a child needs and deserves.

  14. Andy April 11, 2018 at 6:32 pm #

    As Short-Term Foster Carers my Wife and I relied on the Reviewing Officers to listen and balance the care plan with the needs of the child. To give us a voice and listen. Allow us to advocate for the child.
    In 14 years I would say less than half have been useful but when they were supportive they made a big difference. We changed from short-term to long-term 18 months ago because we didn’t feel supported as Short-Term Carers. There is a huge difference in the need for experienced Social Workers when you are short-term Foster Carers. You need someone to balance the child’s needs, our assessment of progress and the Social Worker’s fleeting glance into the child’s life once a month. Not to mention the numbers of Social Workers each child can have in a short period of time. Experience has shown us that case files are rarely read before something goes wrong. The reviewing Officer was our only steady point of contact at those times and important for the child.

    I would say our present need (as Long-Term Foster Carers) for an Independent Reviewing Officer is minimal or not at all. Nothing much changes and when we’ve needed support the child’s Social Worker usually gets back to us and it’s normally only date changes or review dates. Nothing like we used to experience. When we offered two Short-Term placements we always had complicated and challenging behaviours and/or sexualised behaviour to test us. Back then the Reviewing Officer was a very important professional to have at Reviews.

    As a Short-Term Foster Carer you take all of the risk and you need all hands on deck. The worst experiences we had were with inexperienced Social Workers and ineffective Reviewing Officers.

  15. Simon April 11, 2018 at 10:34 pm #

    Supervising Social Workers are a waste of time. They do very little and won’t in the majority of cases take on any real case work. The IRO’s however I feel should remain as they are best placed to affect change for children independent of Social Worker direction if appropriate.

  16. Jeannette Wade April 12, 2018 at 2:11 am #

    IROs often follow a Childs life throughout their journey away from parents and family. Social workers change often. To consider removing this role fails to understand their independent role in challenge and drift in care planning. It fails to recognise the consistent role they hold in ensuring best interests of the child is maintained.

  17. Ann Edwards April 12, 2018 at 9:28 am #

    I think Eboni is absolutely correct with her comments. Of course as a previous contributor says, some reviewing officers are ineffectual but so are many social workers and their managers. It is not just having reviewing officers – but the whole process – preparing for and holding a review – that is an important check and safeguard. I despair of the way things are moving. We need more social workers and resources but scrapping the IRO service is not the way to do it.

  18. ria April 12, 2018 at 3:14 pm #

    the IRO service is not independent as they often get manipulated & shut down by senior management & it is also inconsistent depending on what IRO you get! there also seems to be alot of changes of IRO’s due to employing agency IRO’s which is frustrating for SW’s & children/young people/carers/families! also it is pot luck if you get a good one as some of them are clearly inexperienced, egotistical & deluded!

  19. Nick Wheddon April 12, 2018 at 11:27 pm #

    I do wonder if the money saved by ending the IRO role would then be redirected to another part of the local authority and would not result in an increase in front line social workers.
    If the model for LAC reviews could be the same as in CP cases and the IRO was only involved at the initial stages when a child is made looked after and their involvement would end when the child is settled. The case could be re allocated if there was a crisis and an IRO assigned again. This could mean that only high risk cases would be monitored by IRO and a more robust auditing process could be used by management and safeguarding or quality control to monitor children’s progress.

  20. Disillusioned April 13, 2018 at 12:28 am #

    I work in a so called “good authority” where children over 13 are getting a variable service . I am in constant battle in my role as an IRO with poor managers ignoring some of their social workers poor practice. I would welcome being employed by the local authority, but not managed directly by the director.

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