Caseloads hinder care plan ambitions

Looked-after children may be missing out on support because the practitioners who monitor their care plans are overloaded, according to new research.

A survey by the Department for Education and Skills and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service warned of “very high” ratios of looked-after children to independent reviewing officers in some councils.

The report said this made it “difficult to see” how the officers, who review the implementation of care plans, could do their job well.

It said the proportion of looked-after children to officers varied significantly across England, ranging from 185 to one to 40 to one. It warned this was likely to affect officers’ capacity to manage the review process effectively and ensure care planning for each looked-after child was adequate.

The research also found a significant number of councils were failing to tell looked-after children how to raise concerns about their care plans.

The reviewing officers can refer cases to Cafcass if they feel unable to resolve them locally but so far none has done so, a fact that has prompted concerns over their independence from councils, which typically employ them.

However, less than 5 per cent of councils claimed the reviewing officers faced a conflict of interest in referring cases to Cafcass, with three-quarters citing their dispute resolution systems as the reason behind the lack of referrals.

A draft Cafcass practice note on the function of the body in relation to referrals from reviewing officers has been published for consultation.

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