Independent reviewing officers face pressure and intimidation when they try to challenge local authority care plans for children, according to the national body that represents them.
In a letter to children’s minister Tim Loughton, the national association of independent reviewing officers (NAIRO), warned some managers are trying to suppress or discourage challenges made by independent reviewing officers (IROs), compromising their independence.
As a result, some IROs fear challenging poor practice while some have even lost their jobs, stated the letter, signed by Maggie Duggins, NAIRO's lead on management issues.
In one authority, IROs feel they are “prevented from exercising an independent role due to a head of service who has, on two occasions, threatened IROs with disciplinary action because they have raised (in their opinion) legitimate concerns regarding children’s cases”, Duggins wrote.
In another, IROs were told they could only make a challenge with the permission of a senior manager.
One IRO claimed they were forced to take redundancy following a clash with a director of children’s services who tried to edit and suppress their report.
“We accept that performance management of IROs is vital and there may be some IROs who do not perform to a satisfactory standard.
“However, where IROs are suffering disciplinary or other measures and believe this is due to them making legitimate but unwanted challenges, it is essential that some kind of independent arbitration is available,” Duggins wrote.
NAIRO now hopes to agree a management protocol with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which would include such a provision, and is urging the minister to support this.
The association is also calling on the government to support closer Ofsted scrutiny of management arrangements for IROs and issue further regulations or statutory guidance to protect them at work.
“We hope the government will demonstrate its commitment to looked-after children by ensuring IROs are protected when they are in dispute with their local authority,” Duggins said.
What will the extra powers for independent reviewing officers achieve?
Reviewing officers want to move out of children’s services