Independent reviewing officers:


Improving outcomes for children and young people

Matthew Brazier HMI, National Lead (Looked-after children) gave this helpful presentation at a regional workshop for IROs on 5 December 2015.

The presentation includes a brief overview, descriptors of what constitutes a ‘good’ and some recurring themes: 

1. Independent reviewing officers: improving outcomes for children and young people Matthew Brazier HMI National Lead (Looked-after children), Ofsted Evidence of effectiveness – a regional workshop for IROs 5 December 2015
2. Background  Ofsted published a thematic inspection report on the effectiveness of IROs in June 2013  Since November 2013, Ofsted has taken a close look at IRO services and their impact on children’s outcomes via the single inspections of local authority children’s services
3. Thematic inspection in 2013 – some key findings  The pace of IROs taking on the full scope of enhanced responsibilities was too slow  IRO oversight of care plans was not consistently good enough  IRO workloads for IROs too high in most LAs  Social workers and IROs communicated regularly with each other between reviews, although the purpose and impact of this was not always evident  Inconsistent quality of IRO annual reports  IROs’ role in overall service improvement was underdeveloped
4. IROs and the single inspection framework  ‘Care plans comprehensively address the needs and experiences of children and young people. They are regularly and independently reviewed, involving as appropriate the child or young person’s parents, kinship carers (connected persons), foster carers, residential staff and other adults who know them.’  ‘Plans to make permanent arrangements for children are effectively and regularly reviewed by independent reviewing officers (IROs). IROs bring rigour and challenge to the care planning and monitor the performance of the local authority as a corporate parent, escalating issues as appropriate. They enable timely plans to be agreed to meet the needs of children and to ensure that their best interests remain paramount. IROs engage with children’s guardians and there is evidence that this is focused on what children need and how the plans for them can be properly progressed.’ (Examples of descriptors of ‘good’ within the single inspection framework)
5. Inspection activity can include…  Shadowing of staff in their day-to-day work, e.g. observing practice in the duty team, the work of social workers with children and families and the work of independent reviewing officers  Observation of practice in multi-agency meetings such as child protection strategy meetings, child protection conferences, looked after children reviews and resource panels
6. IROs and single inspection findings  74 reports published since November 2013  21 (28%) have led to recommendations relating directly to IRO service  Recommendations most commonly are concerned with:  The general quality of IRO scrutiny and challenge, and  the capacity of the IRO service to fulfil the full breadth of its responsibilities, including ensuring children are fully involved in planning for their futures  A small number of recommendations relate to timeliness of reviews, the use of escalation procedures and the IRO role in overall service improvement
7. Good practice example The IRO service works well and effectively ensures that children’s care plans progress without delay…IROs carry out their core duties effectively and also engage with children looked after outside of their reviews to establish meaningful relationships and monitor the progress of their care plans. IROs routinely provide constructive feedback to social workers, recognising good practice and raising management alerts where practice is below the standards required. A formal management alert system is used effectively to highlight concerns and ensure that improvements take place. Brighton and Hove
8. Good practice example IROs have manageable caseloads and escalate important issues if the need arises. IROs review the very large majority of children’s plans (91%) within statutory timeframes. There is a culture in the organisation of both informal and formal challenges to care plans with an acknowledgement that there should be an increase in the use of formal challenge to enable clearer monitoring of issues in the future. IROs regularly meet children before reviews, and in between them where possible, to ensure their participation remains strong. Hertfordshire
9. Some recurring themes from recent inspections  Quality of reviews, e.g.  SMART review recommendations – e.g. is it clear who should do what and by when?  Proportionate attention to key issues, e.g. do recommendations relate to the overarching care plan?  How do IROs challenge weak practice or delay for children? e.g.  Is there an effective dispute resolution mechanism?  IRO role in planning for permanence, e.g.  Plan at second review  See also challenge, quality of reviews etc.  Tracking of progress by IROs, e.g.  Is it purposeful and clearly recorded? Does it have an impact?
10. Some recurring themes from recent inspections  IRO role in service improvement, e.g.  Does IROs’ understanding of service quality influence service design?  How does the annual report drive improvement for children?  IROs’ relationship with children, carers and families and how they encourage their voices to be heard  IRO services’ understanding of its strengths and weaknesses and plans for improvement  Involvement of IROs during care proceedings  The impact of updates to care planning guidance and regulations, e.g. frequency of SW visits and statutory reviews for children in long-term foster care

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