Cafcass and the Work of Independent Reviewing Officers

Cafcass issued an updated version of its Practice Note: Cafcass and the Work of Independent Reviewing Officers in December 2017.

The purpose of the Practice Note is to explain the functions and duties of Cafcass in relation to cases that involve Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs). There are two instances when Cafcass practitioners come into contact with IROs:

  • as part of family proceedings when a child is looked after; or
  • when a referral is made in accordance with Children Act 1989, section 25B(3)(a).

The Practice Note applies to Cafcass in England. It was issued for Cafcass personnel (including Cafcass Associates) and will be of interest to IROs, local authorities and other relevant professionals but does not replace or contradict in any way DfE guidance. See an extract from the Practice Note below.

2. IROs and Cafcass in Care Proceedings

2.2  In all cases where the child is expected to remain looked after following proceedings, the children’s guardian should confirm that all the relevant documents have been forwarded to the IRO.

2.3  In all cases where the child remains looked after following proceedings, the children’s guardian should have a final discussion with the IRO about the case with a view to identifying any outstanding issues on particular matters that should be kept under review. It will be important that this is part of the closing of cases by the children’s guardian and not a drift into extended involvement.

3. Referrals to CAFCASS

3.1 Section 25 B(3)(a) of the Children Act 1989 and the IRO handbook states that the IRO should refer the case of any looked after child to Cafcass where the IRO considers it appropriate to do so. The IRO must consider the impact on the child of a referral and make a decision based on the timetable for the child. There will be some cases where there will be time available to pursue the full dispute resolution process but this may not always be the case.

3.2 A Cafcass lawyer is on duty every working day and is available to give guidance (but not legal advice) to IROs about the matters dealt with in this Practice Note. (See paragraph 5.1 below for contact details). Unless there are overriding child protection concerns, Cafcass Legal will instigate no action on the basis of informal telephone discussions unless requested to do so by the IRO. Any record will remain confidential unless and until the IRO makes a formal referral to Cafcass. If a formal referral is made, the record will be shared with the relevant Cafcass practitioner as part of the case.

3.3 A Cafcass practitioner is only authorised to bring judicial review proceedings or free standing applications under the Human Rights Act 1998 by virtue of section 25 B(3)(a) of the Children Act 1989 and the supporting regulations referred to above.

3.4 Cafcass may only take such action against local authorities on referral from an IRO in accordance with the Cafcass Regulations and the IRO Regulations, or the Adoption Agencies Regulations. Other interested parties concerned about the actions of local authorities should continue to use the established procedures to make their concerns known to the local authority. They cannot refer cases directly to Cafcass.

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