1.6.3 Resolution and Escalation Process (IRO and CP Chair)

This chapter was added to the manual in February 2018.

1. Introduction

The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 which were enacted in April 2011 included the IRO Handbook 2010 which includes the requirement for the Local Authority to produce a Dispute Resolution Process. In Northamptonshire this process will be referred to as the Resolution and Escalation Process.

2. Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)

One of the key functions of the IRO is to resolve problems arising out of the care planning process. It is expected that IROs establish positive working relationships with the Social Workers of the children for whom they are responsible. Where problems are identified in relation to a child's case, for example in relation to care planning, the implementation of the care plan or decisions relating to it, resources or poor practice, the IRO will, in the first instance, seek to resolve the issue informally with the social worker or the social worker's managers. The IRO should place a record of this initial informal resolution process on the child's file. If the matter is not resolved in a timescale that is appropriate to the child's needs, the IRO should consider taking formal action. There are various situations where an Independent Reviewing Officer might have concerns and initiate the Resolution and Escalation Process. It is a matter of professional judgement as to what level of escalation is needed and the impact on the child is the significant factor.
(IRO Handbook).

The IRO has the power to refer the matter to CAFCASS at any point in the dispute resolution process [regulation 45] and may consider it necessary to make a concurrent referral to CAFCASS at the same time that s/he instigates the dispute resolution process.
(IRO Handbook chapter 6).

The circumstances under which they may do are specified in the Regulations: if the IRO considers the local authority has failed 'in any significant respect' to prepare the child's care plan, review his/her case or effectively implement the decisions; and 'having drawn the failure or breach to the attention of persons at an appropriate level of seniority within the responsible authority, it has not been addressed to the satisfaction of the IRO within a reasonable time period' (Reg. 45(3)(a)). A CAFCASS Officer will then be appointed to deal with the case. He/she will make enquiries to try to resolve the matter, but if these are unsatisfactory, CAFCASS may take the case back to court (CAFCASS (Reviewed Case Referral) Regulations 2004). These may be proceedings under the Human Rights Act, proceedings for judicial review, or proceedings under other legislation, most likely the Children Act 1989.

The individual IRO is personally responsible for activating the dispute resolution process, even if this step may not be in accordance with the child's wishes and feelings, but may, in the IRO's view, be in accordance with the best interest and welfare of the child, as well as his/her human rights.
(IRO handbook).

3. Role of the Child Protection Chair

The following legal framework and guidance underpins the statutory duties undertaken by Child Protection Conference Chairs (CPCC):

  • The Children Act 1989;
  • The Children and Young Persons Act 2008;
  • The Children Act 2004;
  • Working Together to Safeguard Children.

4. Role and Responsibilities of Child Protection Conference Chairs

Child Protection Conference Chairs have a statutory function to chair child protection conferences independent of case management. If a Child Protection Conference Chair believes that the practice or policy is detrimental to the child's welfare they have a duty to assertively challenge this. A key feature of the Child Protection Conference Chair's role is that they should provide an independent perspective uninfluenced by managerial or resource pressures. They are in a unique position to carry out a critical monitoring and challenging role. They can highlight both positive and negative issues that affect children. They have a duty to monitor how statutory duties are carried out, compliance with child protection processes, to identify any areas of poor practice and to report on areas of good practice.

Please see Appendix A: Examples of issues that should be addressed through the Resolution and Escalation Process for examples of issues that should be addressed through the IRO and CPCCs Resolution and Escalation Process.

5. Process for both IRO and Child Protection Chair

The table below outlines the stages to the Resolution and Escalation Process (Level 1-4 Formal Escalation).

Level Responsible Officer Response Expected within Working Days
Informal Social worker (SW) and Practice Manager (PM) Timescale agreed between IRO and SW/PM
Level 1: Team Manager 5
Level 2: Service Manager 5
Level 3: Strategic Manager 5
Level 4: Assistant Director Children's Services/ Director of Children's Services 5

All activity relating to the Resolution and Escalation Process will be recorded on Carefirst using the escalation form. The IRO handbook states the formal dispute resolution process within each local authority should have timescales in total of no more than 20 working days.

6. Informal Escalation

Informal escalation is viewed as part of the quality assurance role of the IRO Service. Wherever possible, the Independent Reviewing Officer will attempt to resolve the issue by negotiation, including contacting the Social Worker responsible and their line manager, attempting to resolve the issue directly with the team. Every attempt should be made to seek to resolve the matter face to face or by talking on the telephone rather than relying on email.

The Independent Reviewing Officer/Child Protection Conference Chair completes the escalation form and emails the Social Worker and Practice Manager, copying the Team manager for information that an escalation form has been created. This acts a record of the contact and provides the Social Worker and Practice Manager full details of the issue and the agreed time scales to resolve matter.

If informal resolution proves unsuccessful, the Independent Reviewing Officer will raise the concern through the formal escalation process following discussion and agreement with their immediate line manager who will ensure that all attempts have been made to resolve the issue at an informal stage

7. Escalation and Formal Resolution

Where issues relating to practice are identified and the IRO/CPCC is dissatisfied with the informal response or timely solution to the issue, the IRO/CPCC will continue to negotiate with management up to the highest level if necessary in order to resolve the issue.

There are four levels to the formal resolution process. Exceptionally when more urgent or serious concerns remain unresolved, the IRO/CPCC has the discretion to proceed directly to the level they consider most appropriate.

For IRO only

If an Independent Reviewing Officers believes there is still a danger that the child's human rights may be being breached due to action or inaction of the local authority, they may (in liaison with their line manager and the Strategic Manager (Safeguarding and Quality Assurance)) seek 'Independent Legal Advice' which could lead the IRO to make a Section 118 referral to CAFCASS. CAFCASS is in some cases able to bring legal proceedings to achieve a remedy. Legal proceedings should only be considered as a last resort - i.e. in extreme cases where all other attempts to resolve the problem have failed. The additional delay associated with legal proceedings is not in the interest of the child, and every effort should be made to resolve the problem before such action is taken.

Where an Independent Reviewing Officer has been advised that the obstacles in the way of resolving the issue are outside or beyond the control of the local authority, the Independent Reviewing Officer should continue to escalate if the issues are impacting upon the ability of the department to meet the needs of the child.

8. The Management Arrangement for Independent Reviewing Officers and Child Protection Chairs

The IRO Manager is responsible for the line management and supervision of the IROs. The Child Protection Chair Manager is responsible for the line management and supervision of the CP Chairs. The Strategic Manager (Safeguarding and Quality Assurance) is responsible for both services. The role of these managers during the Resolution and Escalation Process shall be:

  • To provide clear supervision to the IROs and CP Chairs, taking into consideration the issue being raised and providing feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the concerns or disagreements being brought forward;
  • To ensure that throughout the process, lines of communication remain open and clear and that the issue does not become clouded, personalised, or lost in other processes;
  • To ensure that meetings take place on time and that they are present at all relevant meetings above the Team Manager level;
  • To provide senior management briefing as to the view of the Independent Review or Child Protection Service on the issue being raised and possible routes to resolving the issue;
  • To ensure that if appropriate, independent legal advice has been sought by the IRO at the appropriate time; to discuss this advice in supervision and consider its possible implications for the issue being raised; and
  • Overall, to encourage and enable resolution prior to the issue reaching the Assistant Director.

These line management guidelines are not designed to hinder or minimise concerns raised by Independent Reviewing Officer or Child Protection Chairs. However, given the impact on Children's Services should the management escalation process reach the referral to the Director stage, it is crucial that there is clear and transparent evidence for senior managers of management and supervision during the process of escalation.

Appendix A: Examples of issues that should be addressed through the Resolution and Escalation Process

1. General issue:

  • Preparation for looked after review (e.g. non completion/poor quality social work reports and care plans/appropriate signatures missing);
  • Insufficient evidence of the child's voice & inclusion within the assessment, planning and review process;
  • Non completion of decisions/failure to meet timescales;
  • Assessments not completed in a timely manner/poor quality;
  • Unsuitable/inadequate contact/care arrangements;
  • Concerns arising about inadequate health provision;
  • Concerns arising about inadequate education provision;
  • IRO/CPC not notified of significant event in the child's life. (See Appendix B: Informing the IRO of any Significant Change in the Child's Circumstances);
  • IRO not in agreement with the Care Plan. (LAC only);
  • Delays in applications for passports etc. LAC only);
  • Delay in life story work. (LAC only);
  • Discriminatory practice;
  • IRO not being consulted about final care plan (court) (LAC only).

2. Failure to meet statutory requirements for the child:

  • No allocated social worker;
  • No up to date/poor quality assessment;
  • No up to date/poor quality Care Plan;
  • Failure to respond to safeguarding issues;
  • No up to date/poor quality pathway plan. (LAC only);
  • Statutory visits not being completed or children not being seen alone, where appropriate, in their placement by the social worker;
  • No up to date/poor quality PEP. (LAC only);
  • No up to date/poor quality health assessment. (LAC only);
  • No up to date/poor quality Placement Plan. (LAC only);
  • Inadequate management oversight/supervision of a social worker

3. Care plan implementation:

  • Drift/delay in the implementation of the child's care plan;
  • Delay in progressing a child's permanence plan (second review onwards);
  • Failure to implement a significant element of the child's care plan.

4. Dispute around the provision of services:

  • Concern around the suitability of the placement to meet the child's needs;
  • Family finding/placement search;
  • Placement choice/standard of care;
  • Concern around professional practice.

Appendix B: Informing the IRO of any Significant Change in the Child's Circumstances

Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 IRO Guidance (Regulation 8), the Local Authority must inform the IRO of, "Any significant change of circumstances occurring after the review that affects arrangements".

Paragraph 3.74 of the IRO Handbook sets out what constitutes a significant change. The IRO service has agreed that the IRO should be informed of the following:

  • Outcomes of any Panel applications or presentations including;
  • Outcomes of presentations to the Fostering Panel or Agency Decision Maker;
  • Unexpected changes in the child's placement provision (which may significantly impact on placement stability);
  • Proposed change of placements, and where unavoidable, actual change of placements;
  • Court Orders and outcomes from Directions hearings;
  • Significant delays in completing any looked after review decisions;
  • Any missing care episodes;
  • Details of any strategy discussions/meetings or other meetings where IRO not present;
  • Any period of exclusion from school;
  • Outcomes from health assessments or medical consultations which identify/confirm any serious previously undiagnosed conditions;
  • Unexpected changes in the child's family or foster carer's circumstances (births, deaths, etc.);
  • Arrests, bail, and convictions;
  • Serious accidents;
  • Changes of allocated social workers;
  • Unexpected proposed or actual discharge from care;
  • Complaints from or on behalf of the child, parent, or carer.

A review will not be required for every change and the IRO will determine whether the change requires a Child(ren) in Care Review to be convened. The IRO should consult with the child, where appropriate, and the child's wishes and feelings about the impact of the proposed change on his/her life should be taken into consideration in reaching a decision as to whether a review is necessary.

If, following communication with the social worker, the IRO is satisfied that the arrangements in the care plan continue to meet the child's needs or that the change does not have significant implications for the care plan and that a review is not necessary, a record of this agreement and the reasons for it should be placed on the child's file. The child and other relevant adults, both within the family and the professional network should be advised of this decision where appropriate by the social worker.

In addition, the IRO Handbook requires that a review must be convened in the following circumstances, prior to any of the following changes being implemented:

  • Whenever there is a proposal for a child to leave care before the age of 18, i.e. for a child to become a relevant child, rather than an eligible child;
  • Wherever there is a proposal (which has not already been endorsed by the IRO) for the child to move from a regulated placement (e.g. foster care or children's home) to an unregulated placement (e.g. a semi-independent unit or "independent living" facility) before the age of 18;
  • Prior to a child being discharged from a secure children's home or leaving custody;
  • Wherever any unplanned change is proposed to a child's accommodation that could significantly disrupt his/her education or training (e.g. having to move school during the academic year or during a programme leading to recognised qualifications);
  • Where a change of placement is proposed for a child who has remained settled and established with the same carer, or in a residential placement, for a significant period of time and where reports have previously indicated that the placement is appropriate and the child is going to school.

Please note:that the Children's Homes (England) Regulations 2015 require that a review of the child's relevant plan is held where the child has been persistently absent from their placement, or where there are concerns that the child may be at risk of harm.