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Nagalro voices opposition to Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommendation to retire role of Independent Reviewing Officers

The professional association for Family Court Advisers, Children's Guardians and Independent Social Workers, Nagalro, has voiced concerns over a recommendation in The Independent Review of Children's Social Care to abolish the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO).

In an initial response to the review, Nagalro's chair, Carole Littlechild, said its author, Josh MacAlister, had failed to fully understand the role of the IRO and was "in danger of 'throwing out the baby with the bathwater'".

The primary function of an IRO is to check that the care plan put in place by a local authority meets the needs of the child in care.

The review, which was published in May, recommended that independent, opt-out, high-quality advocacy for children in care and in proceedings should replace IROs.

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It claimed that "it has become clear that the [role of IRO] as originally designed has not solved the problems facing overstretched services".

"As local authority employees, IROs lack the independence to challenge poor social work practice, whilst also not having enough meaningful contact with children to champion their wishes and interests effectively," the report added.

The review later noted that it saw direct evidence of individual IROs working hard to support children in care, "however, there should be greater expectation and emphasis placed on the role of the social worker, who is ultimately responsible for the quality of the care plan and developing a meaningful relationship with the child".

In a response published today (1 June), Littlechild supported children in care having access to dedicated advocates who can act as advisers, facilitators and a spokesperson for their views but said that advocates "[cannot] keep the plans and timetable for the child on track and prevent drift".  

She added: "Because of their statutory position within the local authority, they are able to do this and this was the initial reason why the role of IROs was first created.

"The social worker and their manager may well think that the plan is working well but a good IRO, who has spent time listening to the child, can not only point out where the plan is not working for the child but, because of their statutory role and authority, can make the necessary changes.

"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."

Despite challenging the review's position on IROs, Littlechild welcomed its proposal to rebuild the routes for delivering early family help for struggling families and steer them away from the crises which might lead to children having to be removed.

The group also welcomed the call for funds for early family help to be ring-fenced so that they could not be drained away to fund acute child protection cases.

Adam Carey

Sponsored Editorial

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