Agenda item

Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) Annual Report

The Panel review the annual report so as to ensure members are appraised on the care provided to children for whom the Local Authority are responsible.


The Deputy Safeguarding Lead for CYP & QA introduced the report to the Panel and highlighted the following areas from within it.


This has been an extraordinary year because of Covid-19. IRO’s have successfully maintained contact with children, young people, their carers, and family throughout this reporting period although this has for the most part been by zoom, text message, WhatsApp, email, and telephone calls.


The manager of the IRO service has been part of a working group looking at the introduction of the NSPCC’s reunification framework in Bath and North East Somerset.


In April 2020, the IRO manager and Head of Service for Care Outcomes introduced a bi-monthly meeting to review and monitor the use of all unregulated placements. The meeting considers the current and long-term plans surrounding the child’s placement and allows greater assurance that policies and procedures are being followed. The meetings allow opportunity to discuss placement provisions for children and identify any areas that may require further review or consideration. Where issues arise for specific children these will be highlighted with the social work team and the appointed IRO.


The IRO service has played a significant role in supporting children to participate in the Bright Spots ‘Your life, Your Care’ survey led by Coram Voice. IRO’s as a trusted adult were fundamental in supporting children aged between 4 – 18 years to complete the survey. The IRO service are keen to understand how children experience being in care, what is going well and what areas they feel need to improve. The IRO manager will work alongside children’s social care colleagues to develop a plan in response to the feedback from children in care.


Whilst the number of children in care who are unaccompanied or trafficked

are significantly small (6), their needs are not, nor are the experiences the children will have had travelling to this country. Each child requires the professionals working with them and offering support to be sensitive to their experiences and carefully consider their current and long-term needs.


The IRO service continue to see an increase in the number of children being

placed in residential settings, which is too often linked to the lack of foster

placements alongside the needs of children in care increasing in complexity. The IRO service recognise that most often, children placed in residential settings are children who have experienced significant adverse childhood experiences which make it difficult for them to adapt to life with foster carers. Whilst this can often be the most suitable arrangement for a child it is important that this remains under review and where there is evidence to suggest a child has begun to overcome some of the trauma they have experienced, the IRO service would wish to see an assessment undertaken to inform whether the child’s needs could once again be met within a foster family.


Areas of focus for IRO Service 2021-22: Children with disabilities, greater focus on how children are supported to participate in their review.


Between the 1st April 2020 and the 31st March 2021 of the 501 reviews held only 29 (6%) were out of statutory timescale. The IRO service has shown consistently high performance in this area of practice year upon year.


The Chairman commented regarding the caseloads for IROs and asked why there was a need for so many out of area placements and were the arrangements reciprocal with other Local Authorities.


The Deputy Safeguarding Lead for CYP & QA replied that IRO caseload allocation is defined in the IRO Handbook which had not been revised since 2010 and therefore doesn’t reflect the distance that officers now need to cover in order to meet with children. She added that this was however a national picture and that recruitment does remain an issue.


She said that the team around her was small but very busy and despite the challenges would always put children at the forefront of any decision making.


She stated that out of area placements were a reoccurring theme but assured the Panel that these would not be done unless it was absolutely necessary for the child concerned. She added that a recent campaign to recruit Foster Carers locally had been carried out.


She said that the arrangements were not reciprocal and that the child remains the responsibility of Local Authority regardless of where they are placed and it is about finding the best offer for the child. She stated that she was confident that the needs of these children were being met and that they are safe.


Councillor Liz Hardman asked how the Panel can support the introduction of the NSPCC's reunification framework within B&NES.


The Deputy Safeguarding Lead for CYP & QA replied that it had already been launched following 6 – 8 months of research and has given officers a clearly defined process to follow. She added that enables them to think about the child’s journey and when reunification should be considered.


Councillor Hardman asked if she was able to expand on what is meant by 'consideration of a child's cultural needs is considered when assessments are undertaken and placements are explored...going beyond just thinking about a child's race and what they or their family celebrate as part of their culture'.


The Deputy Safeguarding Lead for CYP & QA replied that as well as looking at what a child needs now officers will look at what they might want to see within their records when they become an adult. She added that it was about giving greater consideration, particularly to children who were not born in this country, about things like language and connections to their original upbringing and culture.



Councillor Hardman asked if she was able to explain why a higher percentage of children under the age of four had decisions about their long-term care plans undetermined compared to last year.


The Deputy Safeguarding Lead for CYP & QA replied that naturally the percentage of placement orders was lower this year than the previous year which means a higher percentage of children that have not had their final decisions made. She added that it was not a delay within the Local Authority, but due to care proceedings and hearings within court being delayed due to Covid.


Kevin Burnett asked about the role of the Young Ambassadors / Advocates in terms of gathering feedback from children.


The Deputy Safeguarding Lead for CYP & QA replied that the Young Ambassador role had been setup recently within B&NES and that we have two in place. She said that she had met them to discuss her work within the Council and that they are supported in their role by Off The Record who also provide an advocacy service to our local young people.


She added that Advocates can provide support at and prior to Child in Care Reviews and it was the responsibility of the IRO to invite them if requested by the child. She said that this offer of support is also made to every child that enters care.


The Panel RESOLVED to:


(i)  Note the continued work and commitment of the Independent Reviewing Service within Bath and North East Somerset during a national pandemic. IRO’s have maintained contact with all children in care and their carers despite significant changes in working practices, 94% of child in care reviews have been held within statutory timescales and IRO’s have scrutinised and where necessary challenged care plans when these have been identified as not being in the child’s best interest.


(ii)  Note that 70% of children in the care of Bath and North East Somerset are placed 20+ miles from their family home or from the local authority boundary. In order for IRO’s to maintain direct contact with these children and continue to have close oversight and review of their care plans, the IRO service needs to have all vacancies filled so that the number of children allocated to an IRO remains within the 50-70 range.


(iii)  Note the input of the IRO service in:


• Working with children’s social care to develop a reunification policy,

• Ensuring children are appropriately matched to carers who can meet their identified long-term needs.

• Identifying and considering the needs and experiences of unaccompanied, asylum seeking and trafficked children

• Reviewing children placed in all unregulated placements, including those placed in Reg 24 ADM approved placements, children placed with their parents and children in accommodation with support (including supported lodgings)


• Supporting children to participate in the ‘Your Life, Your Care’


(iv)  Acknowledge the progress in the areas for development / improvement identified for 2020-2021 despite the significant challenges brought about by Covid-19.



Supporting documents: