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Sector lines up against IRO abolition 

Date June 18, 2022

Last month Mithran Samuel editor at the Community Care group Community Care approached NIROMP Chair, Sharon Martin, for comment on the recommendations of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s final report month. You can now view Mithran’s piece, along with the unedited comments submitted by NIROMP Chair.

Yesterday, Community Care published ‘Should the IRO role be abolished?’ including an extract from the piece submitted by NIROMP Chair, which is now available to read below. Do have a read of both pieces.

Community Care said that of the 80 recommendations in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s final report last month, ‘the one that has met with the greatest opposition is its proposed abolition of the independent reviewing officer role.’

Read NIROMP Chair, Sharon Martin’s comment to Community Care:

A handful of twitter and Linkedin reactions to the recommendations include the following. More can be found on twitter, Linkedin and other social media platforms. We offer you a small splattering below:

@_LisaCherry Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) are often the only consistent professional in the life of a child in care. I have learnt this many times in my conversations with care experienced YP and also with other professionals. I’ve heard there will be a recommendation to replace them

@AquilaPipp1e: Who will approve changes in the child’s plan? Also I have found them to be really helpful. As a carer I find they can be a wonderful advocate for the child.

@PLHeera : There was a suggestion for this, and a fairly strong backlash from most who work in care. From my perspective, the IRO is one of the people we go to when we are just not getting what we need for the child from the LA.

@garethkthomas : Definitely our experience. 5 years in and still have the same IRO. Every other professional hasn’t lasted anywhere near as long. However, they do only see the kids once every 6 months (or less).

@CICADAServices : Also .. “Advocates would also take on the functions currently carried out by regulation 44 visitors” I really don’t think there was an understanding of what R44 actually involves! Covering both R44 and the IRO duties?! I can’t get me head around it.

Martin Dearlove : They should stay. Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO) are essential in English child protection and children who are cared for by alternate families (LAC). Having been a social worker, team leader and IRO their presence and oversight is important for children and their families. They hold the department accountable and ensure appropriate time keeping for a child so safety and support is found, in place and evaluated in reviews. Direction and Guidance that is objective and distanced from the teams is critical. If anything I would view Ofsed taking a step back and IRO’s role being enhanced.

A few of the responses from social work bodies and children’s charities:

Coram Voice response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care : ‘The Care Review’s recognition of the importance of independent advocacy in ensuring children and young people’s voice is heard and as a protective factor is excellent.  We welcome the focus on an opt-out model of advocacy, available as a proactive offer to children and young people at times of transitions and when they need it.  Whilst the review highlights children in care and those in public law proceedings being eligible for this new model, there is no mention of advocacy for care leavers, children in need and homeless young people.  This may be an omission in the recommendations, but any new advocacy offer must recognize that independent advocacy is especially crucial for these groups of children and young people.

‘Advocates are highly skilled, specialist, professional roles whose purpose is to ensure that children’s and young people are heard and their rights protected. They act on the wishes of the child; do not make decisions about the child’s best interests and act only on instruction from the child (where children are unable to direct the work of an advocate children’s rights are protected through non instructed advocacy –Non-Instructed Advocacy for Children and Young People).  Therefore Advocates cannot provide professional oversight to care planning (which is the remit of IROs for every looked after child) as this conflicts with their core role

‘Regulation 44 visits are independent monthly visits to all registered children’s homes to make sure children are effectively safeguarded; and that the way the home operates promotes children’s well-being.

‘As proposed, the increase of advocacy, however, comes at a cost to the rights of children in that it aligns the increase in advocacy with the ending of the role of the Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) and the Regulation 44 visits. In doing this the report shows a misunderstanding of the differences of these roles. It will be important to recognize these differences in any proposed reform programme.

Children England responds to the final report of the Care Review : ‘Regarding the Review’s preferred option of advocacy services being commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, we have concerns that a conflict of interest may arise where the Children’s Commissioner is both commissioning children’s charities and performing a critical role as a champion of children themselves, and would hope to see this addressed by any consultation. Like many of our members, we are extremely concerned at the suggestion of removing the IRO role in its entirety, and subsuming these important duties into a mix of advocacy and social work responsibilities.’

Nagalro voices opposition to Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommendation to retire role of Independent Reviewing Officers : “Chapter three of the report suggests that a reason for dismantling the IRO service is to provide the necessary experienced social workers to fill the need for Expert Child Protection Practitioners. Nagalro deprecates any attempt to remove the ongoing and authoritative monitoring and oversight of the looked after child’s care to simply meet a staff shortfall.”

Independent Review of Children’s Social Care – LGA initial view, 26 May 2022 at Chapter 5 : ‘We are keen to discuss recommendations around Independent Reviewing Officers, Regulation 44 Visitors and independent advocacy further with our members, children’s rights groups and others in the sector.’

Family Rights Group Response to the final report from the Independent Social Care Review in England : ‘the significance of state intervention in a child and family’s life, resulting in the potential removal of the child into care or adoption, means that there must be robust checks and balances within the system.  We are not persuaded that the Review has got the balance on this right and are keen to explore this in further detail with those working in the system and those with experience of it.’

Article 39 Care review urges major reorganisation of children’s social care : ‘Removing independent reviewing officers (IROs) from all children in care is a drastic and dangerous move. IROs are experienced social workers who scrutinise local authorities’ care and decision-making in respect of individual children. They were introduced to make sure there is an experienced social worker not connected to the child’s care who holds the local authority to account.’

National charity for children in care and young care leavers responds to Independent Review of Children’s Social Care and urges Government to put care-experienced young people at the centre of reform : Become also has concerns about proposals to reduce the amount of independent scrutiny of the decisions that social workers make about the care and support children in the care system receive. Whilst the current system could undoubtedly be improved, checks and balances are necessary and play an important role in keeping children safe. They should not be abandoned lightly.

The removal of Regulation 44 and the IRO (Independent Reviewing Officer) role presents a double-edged sword. On one hand, it will reinforce the role of independent advocates who support young people. However, it also presents the danger of diluting opportunities for safeguarding children and young people. 

Through the Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015, Regulation 44 visits were born out of necessity to protect the most vulnerable children and make sure they are being listened to where they live. NYAS’ dedicated Regulation 44 staff carry out inspections in 700+ homes across England and Wales, with the large majority of these in England. Monthly inspections operate as a vital safeguarding tool, as Regulation 44 staff check if the children and young people’s homes are safe places for them to live.   

NYAS Welcomes Advocacy as a Key Focus of Care Review Recommendations : NYAS urges the review team, as well as the UK Government, to ensure that whatever roles replace these ones prioritise safeguarding children and young people, listening to their voices, and ultimately upholding their rights.  

Opinion piece – Zara Clench in The Independent ‘I grew up in care – and I have two things to say to the government’ : ‘While there are some promising parts of the review, I’m apprehensive about how successfully the recommendations will truly improve the children’s care system. In particular, I’m concerned about the proposal to end the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)…

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This entry was posted on 18th June 2022 by .

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