Ofsted – SIF reports

Welcome to the Ofsted page. This page is dedicated to SIF key judgements for ‘The experiences and progress of children looked after and achieving permanence’ and with a focus on quality of IRO service provision.

The list has been organised alphabetically against the graded Ofsted Judgement for ‘Children looked after and achieving permanence’ and for ease of reference the following symbols applied. To download a report simply look for the authority you are interested in and click the link e.g. Barking and Dagenham (click to download report)

In some cases we have extracted quotes about the IRO service. Intention is to work through the list in order that key messages can be seen at a glance for each local authority.

More information about Ofsted’s single inspection framework for inspecting local authority children’s services can be found here

The experiences and progress of children looked after and achieving permanence:



Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Independent reviewing officers’ oversight of casework is regular and children have timely reviews.
  2. IROs visit children between reviews and sometimes are stable figures in children’s lives.
  3. Children are encouraged to participate in their reviews, and many do so.
  4. Reviews for children looked after routinely consider children’s contact with the people who are important to them, including previous foster carers.
  5. While not always timely, inspectors saw examples of clear efforts made to re-engage family members, when necessary, to the benefit of children. When children’s contact requires supervision, support workers provide an effective service that ensures that children’s contact with their families is safe.
  6. IROs’ quality assurance of practice is overly focused on process rather than children’s experiences. They have not used escalation processes sufficiently when positive change for children is not achieved within acceptable timescales.
  7. While the local authority has taken recent action since January 2017 by reshaping the service and refreshing escalation procedures to ensure that IROs have the capacity and skills to be more effective in their oversight of practice, this is not yet resulting in improved outcomes for children.


Bath & North East Sommerset GOOD GOOD

  1. Children’s participation in their looked after reviews is particularly strong. Almost all children participate in their reviews in some way, and their wishes and feelings are carefully considered in care planning.Almost all children are enabled to participate in their reviews and they receive excellent advocacy support.
  2. Children’s wishes and feelings are considered carefully and contribute to decision making. Independent reviewing officers are effective in their role.
  3. Proactive and purposeful partnership work by the virtual school ensures that children looked after progress and achieve well educationally, with effective support in place for every child. However, too many children have recently experienced fixed-term exclusions.
  4. Good-quality, detailed care plans address the needs of children well.
  5. Children looked after reviews are timely and effective.
  6. Independent reviewing officers (IROs) visit children between reviews, where possible. They apply rigour in their role and are effective in ensuring that care plans progress in a timely way and meet children’s needs. The IRO service escalates issues appropriately on behalf of children looked after, and these are dealt with through a robust issues resolution process.





Bradford GOOD GOOD


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Quality assurance, undertaken jointly between the director of the provider organisation for the IRO service and the local authority IRO team manager, is acknowledged by the local authority to have focused primarily on a small range of quantitative measures such as timescales and not enough on the quality and impact on children of the IRO’s work.
  2. A well-attended, regular quarterly meeting looks at themes and joint training. However, some local authority performance data, such as current placement stability figures, are not shared with the IRO service and so cannot inform this consideration.
  3. Inspectors saw evidence of appropriate use of the dispute resolution process with 65 escalations recorded in 2014–15. Themes at that time included frequent changes of social worker, a lack of rigour in management oversight in ensuring case progression, and social workers not fulfilling some statutory duties such as regular visits.

Brighton & Hove GOOD GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. The IRO service works well and effectively ensures that children’s care plans progress without delay.
  2. The functions of IRO and child protection conference chairs were separated in September 2014 with a positive impact for children and their families. Additional IROs are now in post, which has resulted in manageable caseloads of around 70 children per IRO.
  3. As a result, 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. For example, in several cases, IROs appropriately challenged or prompted social workers and managers to ensure that work was undertaken effectively, such as convening strategy meetings where children looked after were missing and ensuring that risk assessments were up to date.




Cambridgeshire GOOD GOOD


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. In a large majority of cases children have positive experiences of their reviews. Their wishes and feelings are made known through consultation processes, observations and by attending.
  2. Most children spoken to knew their independent reviewing officer and felt that they listened to them and ensured their views were represented at reviews.
  3. The caseloads of independent reviewing officers are between 70 and 80 children.
  4. Evidence was seen in some cases of independent reviewing officers undertaking mid-point reviews on the progress of plans.
  5. Independent reviewing officers raise concerns through the dispute resolution process, but as yet this is not having sufficient impact on the overall quality of assessment and planning for children looked after.

Cheshire West & Chester GOOD GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. The IRO service is managed effectively and staff fulfil their statutory functions of review quality assurance and challenge well, contributing to improved outcomes for children.
  2. Caseloads, although slightly higher than nationally recommended levels, are manageable.
  3. As a result, IROs are able to ensure that they maintain increased contact with children who are particularly vulnerable, for example those placed out of area.
  4. In 2014–15, timeliness of reviews was good, with 98% held within statutory timescale.
  5. As of September 2015, unvalidated data provided by the local authority show that 90% of children and young people participated in their review, which represents very good performance.
  6. In all cases seen by inspectors, children attended their review or had had contact with their IRO, including in between reviews. 
  7. IROs ensure planning for permanence is considered at the second and every subsequent review. This, combined with a clear commitment throughout the organisation to consider permanence in all its forms, has led to more children achieving it. In 2014–15, 24% of children left care through special guardianship, double the percentage in 2013–14 and slightly higher than the number who left care through adoption. This demonstrates that good effort is made to reduce the number of moves for children and to keep children living within their own family if possible.

Cornwall GOOD GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service

The IROs’ practice is strong. 

IROs provide added value by offering helpful analysis and the balancing of options through the review process.

  1. Permanency is appropriately considered at all second reviews.
  2. Inspectors saw clear and coherent evidence of strong permanence planning underpinned by a helpful permanence policy to guide practice.
  3. The IROs challenge practice when necessary. However, the management of this service needs to monitor this formally.


  1. Most children looked after have their care plans reviewed on a regular and timely basis, but IROs do not consistently provide effective challenge to ensure that care plans are progressed without delay.



Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Care plans are regularly reviewed, although recent capacity issues, which are now resolving, have in a small number of cases impacted negatively on the timeliness of reviews, with 93% completed within timescale as at 31 March 2015.
  2. Lack of capacity has also affected IROs’ ability to speak with the child before their review.
  3. IROs’ oversight of plans, including the need to secure timely permanence plans, is not always rigorous.
  4. When they do provide challenge to the progress of care plans, it is not recorded and there is no formal system to ensure that challenges are addressed by social workers and their managers.
  5. This also means that informal challenges are not formally escalated and IROs cannot be assured that they are driving improvement so that children receive a timely and appropriate service.

Derbyshire GOOD GOOD




Comments specific to IRO Service:

Independent reviewing officers’ (IROs’) caseloads are manageable and stability in this team provides children and young people with a consistent IRO.

  1. IROs monitor the progress of plans at reviews and are able to track children’s progress between reviews.
  2. They are increasingly challenging poor practice particularly in relation to drift and delay of children’s plans. A new dispute resolution policy is now in place but concerns and issues raised through informal and formal processes are only just beginning to be analysed. As a result, themes emerging have not been collated to inform improvements in practice.
  3. Plans for permanence are made at the second review but are not always progressed as quickly as they should be. Decisions for adoption generally progress well, but in other cases permanency planning is weak and is not tracked or monitored by senior managers to ensure progress.
  4. Looked after reviews are held regularly and within timescale. There has been a steady increase in the timeliness of children in care reviews rising from 79.1% in 2013–14 to 98.4% in 2015–16.
  5. In 2014–15, 62% of children aged over four years attended their review, an increase from 19% in 2013– 14. The trust recognises that this needs to improve further. Children and young people’s views were represented in 95% of reviews.
  6. Parents were seen to be appropriately involved in reviews and there are some good examples of children’s wishes informing planning for reviews, for example in deciding who will be invited to attend, and one young person using a Power Point presentation to chair the review.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Independent reviewing officers’ (IRO) oversight of plans, including the need to secure timely permanence, is not rigorous and lacks sufficient or effective challenge to poor practice.
  2. The quality of the IROs’ oversight of plans, including the need to secure timely permanence plans, is not rigorous and too many children and young people have been subject to drift and delay.
  3. Formal escalation relating to lack of progress, absence of care plans and poor standards of practice has only recently started.
  4. A lack of capacity in the IRO service has affected the IROs’ ability to speak to children and young people before their reviews. This means that IROs are not driving improvements to ensure that children and young people receive a timely and appropriate service.


Comments specific to IRO service:

A group of strong, committed and experienced independent reviewing officers act as passionate advocates for children and, in most cases, offer appropriate challenge.

  1. The timeliness of reviews is good, as is the level of participation by children.
  2. In the period April to December 2015, 94.6% of reviews were completed on time. By the end of February 2016, that figure had risen to 97.5%.
  3. In the year to date, every child who is old enough to do so had participated in their review.

East Sussex GOOD GOOD



Gateshead  GOOD GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service:

In September 2015, the MOMO (Mind of My Own) App was introduced. This enables young people to send their views to their IRO or social worker and comment on services or raise concerns.

  1. Children from One Voice stated that they know their rights and consider that since they first became children looked after, the services in Gateshead have improved.
  2. IRO caseloads currently average 72 children, but some staff have caseloads in excess of 90 children. Caseloads are therefore outside the good practice guidance of 50-70 identified in the IRO handbook. This is hindering some aspects of their work, in particular their ability to monitor plans in between reviews.
  3. The timeliness of looked after reviews is very good at 99.4%.
  4. IROs endeavour to meet with children just before their reviews and the use of MOMO to gather the views of children for their reviews is working well. 

Greenwich GOOD GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service:Independent reviewing officers are consistent for children and young people looked after.

  1. Reviews are timely, in the vast majority of cases. Reviews drive plans forward effectively, with clear decisions and recommendations.
  2. Children’s views are represented in the vast majority of cases, and independent reviewing officers meet them before the review.
  3. In 2015–16, 84% of children and young people attended at least one of their reviews.

There is a clear emphasis on holding reviews at a time and place that are appropriate for the young person. There is also good attendance by relevant professionals.

Hackney GOOD Comments specific to IRO Service:

Independent reviewing officers are consistent for children and young people looked after.

  1. Plans for permanency: progress is tracked effectively by independent reviewing officers at the second review meeting.
  2. IROs refer cases which are not progressing to the care planning panel, where senior managers agree plans and resources to minimise further delays.
  3. The majority of children’s plans are reviewed regularly within statutory timeframes by IROs who have manageable caseloads.
  4. IROs meet children prior to their review. Most children participate in their reviews either through attending or having their views represented including through their own written words or pictures. This means that their wishes and feelings are represented and influence their plans.
  5. A formal escalation process is in place, enabling themes to be used to inform onward planning, although issues are often resolved informally.


HampshireGOOD GOOD

Hampshire – JTAI – joint targeted area inspection by Ofsted, the CQC, HMIC and HMI Probation, evaluating the response to all forms of child abuse, neglect and exploitation at the point of identification.

Hammersmith and FulhamGOOD GOOD


HartlepoolGOOD GOOD

HertfordshireGOOD GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. IROs have manageable caseloads and escalate important issues if the need arises.
  2. IROs review the very large majority of children’s plans (91%) within statutory timeframes.
  3. 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.
  4. IROs regularly meet children before reviews, and in between them where possible, to ensure their participation remains strong.




Islington  GOOD GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service:

In some cases, the IRO writes the review record to the young person as a letter, which is highly effective in reflecting their views and wishes.

  1. The IROs are a dedicated team with manageable caseloads who are strong on scrutiny and clearly ‘own’ their children. They engage quickly with children and young people, following allocation, and see children or have contact with them between reviews.
  2. IROs keep up to date with children’s changing needs, and there is effective challenge to progress on agreed actions and plans.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

Very effective pathway planning successfully meets the needs of care leavers. Plans are initially prepared by social work locality teams at meetings attended by young people’s personal advisers as well as their IROs.

  1. Plans are appropriately reviewed every six months at meetings chaired by their IRO, until the young person is 18. They ensure that young people’s views are listened to and influence the plan.
  2. All 18-year-olds who transfer to IST, therefore, have comprehensive pathway plans in place, and these address their needs well.
  3. To ensure that a broad perspective on young people’s needs is maintained and solutions offered to any barriers, care leaver reviews are chaired alternately by personal advisers and senior social workers.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

A culture of challenge is in place across the service, and appropriate dispute resolutions are progressed.

  1. The very large majority of children participate in their own timely reviews, with their wishes and feelings carefully considered by independent reviewing officers (IROs) who know them well.
  2. Caseloads for IROs are manageable.
  3. IROs meet children before their reviews, and monitor the progress of plans between reviews.


Kingston upon Thames GOOD GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service:

The annual IRO service report could be a more effective vehicle for helping corporate parents, children, carers and parents understand the service’s impact on outcomes for children and for informing future priorities for the wider service.

  1. The IRO service is good overall. Manageable caseloads help IROs to undertake the full range of their responsibilities to monitor and review plans effectively.
  2. IROs see children between reviews if it is necessary and work well to make sure that children are able to participate in their reviews.
  3. A small number of young people have been supported to chair their meetings. IROs usually challenge weak practice effectively and promptly, although inspectors saw a small number of exceptions to this.
  4. Appropriate escalation by IROs to senior managers leads to early resolution of concerns.
  5. IRO activity contributes to the organisation’s understanding of strengths, weaknesses and plans for improvement, such as through effective case audits between review meetings, but there remains scope for IROs to develop further their role in driving overall improvement.


  1. Independent reviewing officers and child protection chairs are improving their oversight and review of children’s plans. They are making appropriate challenge, particularly of absent reports, poor plans and drift and delay for children, but this is not improving children’s experiences sufficiently.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. All children looked after are allocated to an independent reviewing officer (IRO) who knows them well and visits them at least prior to each review.
  2. In some cases seen, the IRO is proactive in pursuing the care plan. However, in others, while IRO challenge was in evidence, it was not always effective and this had not been escalated to senior managers.



Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. The authority’s performance in achieving permanence for children looked after is too variable. The local authority does not monitor this area of practice as part of its monthly performance reports and the IRO service does not collect information on how well permanence is being promoted at children’s review meetings or through wider monitoring by IROs.
  2. In eight of 18 sampled cases, opportunities to meet children’s longer-term needs and achieve permanence through robust care planning were missed.
  3. IROs do not monitor children’s cases frequently enough or in sufficient detail.
  4. Inspectors saw evidence of oversight and challenge in some children’s cases and the authority’s own monitoring shows that there has been more activity in this area recently: there were 500 IRO recordings in children’s files made in May 2015.
  5. Children’s review meetings were held on time in 97% of cases in July 2015 but the authority’s performance in this area has fluctuated and the annual rate for 2014–15 was 86%.
  6. The local authority acknowledges that IROs’ caseloads are too high: some IROs in Lancashire hold more than 130 cases compared with the recommended national level of between 50 and 70. Three IRO posts were vacant at the time of the inspection and the authority was having difficulty recruiting to them.
  7. Overall performance in this service has improved but is still not meeting the authority’s own targets and improvement is further hampered by the lack of timely information available to IRO managers.




Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Care plans seen by inspectors are of a good quality. They appropriately identify all areas of need and risk.
  2. In cases seen, recent reviews mostly take place within timescales (98.3% in 2014–15).
  3. Appropriate challenge is evident by the independent reviewing officers (IROs) to progress care plans.
  4. The low number of formal safeguarding alerts by IROs (25 in the last 12 months) reflects good practice as most issues are progressed through informal routes.
  5. Comprehensive monitoring by IROs captures themes and issues for practice improvement considered by senior managers. For example, this has led to changes to promote the better quality and consistency of the interpreting service for unaccompanied asylum young people (UAYP) as well as a clearly articulated ‘staying put policy’ for foster carers.

Lincolnshire GOOD GOOD

The views of children are a strong feature in planning and review arrangements.

  1. Children Looked After are provided with a range of opportunities to participate effectively in meetings about them. This includes the use of advocacy, pre-meetings with their IROs, participation forms, active participation within meetings and letters to children who have chosen not to attend certain meetings to update them of the discussion and outcomes.
  2. Statutory reviews are chaired well in a style that ensures that all relevant matters are considered whilst also delivering the meeting in a style that supports and encourages input from the child, their family and carers, and other professionals.


London Borough of BromleyINADEQUATE-2 INADEQUATE

Most looked after children reviews (93.4%) are carried out within the required timescales.

  1. IROs do endeavour to see children and young people before their reviews, but this is not always possible for those children who live out of area or some distance from home.
  2. Most children are supported to attend their reviews and complete consultation documents.
  3. IROs are not always effective in ensuring that children’s plans are progressed through the recommendation of specific actions. While they do raise concerns when case planning is drifting, this is not evident in all children’s cases and there are too few formal escalations recorded, with little evidence of the difference that this has made for the child or young person. (Recommendation)


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. In a third of the cases seen, looked after reviews were not sufficiently effective in progressing plans for children, either because actions were not being completed between reviews or because a lack of specificity made it difficult to progress actions.
  2. In some cases, independent reviewing officers clearly know children well and have a good understanding of their needs.
  3. While independent reviewing officers are now escalating concerns to managers more frequently, the impact of this on the overall quality of the work has yet to be felt. Independent reviewing officers’ caseloads are in line with statutory recommendations.
  4. With some joint training having taken place, working relationships between children’s Cafcass, children’s guardians and independent reviewing officers are contributing to the general reduction in the average length of care proceedings.



Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Almost all reviews of children looked after are held within statutory timescales, with performance improving from 84% to 99% in the past six months.
  2. The large majority (92%), of children looked after participate in their reviews.
  3. Minutes of reviews are detailed with concise and specific recommendations and these are proactively followed up by IROs. Some review minutes provide a vibrant picture of children’s personalities and achievements.
  4. However, recommendations are not consistently linked to overarching outcomes, particularly relating to plans for permanence. This makes it difficult to align actions with clear objectives to improve children’s well-being and attainment. 
  5. IROs had not challenged delayed permanency plans with consistent rigour in a small minority of cases seen by inspectors.
  6. The IRO service is predominantly comprised of locums and, although most have worked for Medway for some time, this workforce profile does not ensure long-term continuity for children looked after.

The IRO annual report does not provide an evaluation of the number, content and outcome of escalations and their impact on improving practice.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. IRO caseloads average 100–120, which exceeds the statutory guidance recommendation of 50–70. Despite the high caseloads, IROs are very committed and prioritise their work.
  2. The high caseloads have an impact on IROs’ ability to meet with children before their reviews, and to monitor their progress between reviews, particularly if children are placed some distance away.
  3. In 2014–2015, of the 954 children who had a review of their care plans, a total of 744 (71%) children were seen by the IRO prior to their review meeting.
  4. In addition to this, the minutes and outcomes recorded from reviews lack detail and clarity and are not circulated to attendees in a timely manner.  This makes it more difficult for children and professionals to know if actions agreed at reviews have been met, and for some children this leads to delays in progressing improvements in their welfare (recommendation 6).



Comments specific to IRO Service:

Caseloads of individual IROs, at an average of 92 cases, significantly exceed the recommended average. This limits their capacity to effectively scrutinise, challenge, escalate and follow through identified deficits in care planning.

  1. Most looked after reviews are timely. However, IROs are not developing consistent relationships with children and young people.
  2. They do not sufficiently influence the quality of practice or give enough consideration to permanence for looked after children at their second review.
  3. The local authority’s own audit (April 2015) identified that care plans are not yet specific enough about actions and required progress.
  4. In June 2015, 60% of looked after children had attended their reviews, although this figure fluctuates and has been as low as 45% in two of the last nine months. More work needs to be done to ensure children and young people are encouraged either by attending or otherwise participating in their review, so that they contribute to their own care planning arrangements.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Ensure sufficient capacity for independent reviewing officers and child protection chairs so that they meet their statutory responsibilities. In addition, raise their profile to enable them to challenge and impact positively on plans that are not progressing in the child’s timescale.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Independent reviewing officers (IROs) are actively involved in overseeing the plans of children and young people.
  2. IROs visit children and young people prior to reviews to strengthen participation.
  3. [These improvements] resulted from increased investment in the service, leading to manageable caseloads.
  4. Inspectors saw many examples of IROs challenging drift and delay in care planning and raising appropriate escalations. However, lack of response by social workers or first line managers mean that, too often, IRO challenges do not address shortfalls or take too long to resolve. The IRO service has recently taken steps to ensure that escalations are tracked and reported to the senior management team monthly to strengthen this area.

North Yorkshire GOOD GOOD


  1. The independent reviewing officer (IRO) service that is responsible for the oversight and scrutiny of these plans, does not have sufficient capacity to monitor the progress of plans in between their review meetings; in a small number of cases, children’s plans drift as a result, leading to delays in securing permanence.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

Social workers and IROs work well with children’s guardians, keep them up to date and involve them appropriately in the planning for children.

  1. Looked after reviews are held regularly and almost all are held on time (98%).
  2. The participation of children is evident in a majority of cases. However, IROs have not always spoken to children privately before their reviews due to high workloads.
  3. The IRO service has recently had its capacity increased and this is a key improvement target for the future, but performance so far has not been good enough.
  4. The high caseloads have also meant that IROs have not monitored children’s progress with sufficient robustness between reviews to identify any potential drift and delay that require challenging. This is also a key improvement target for the service.

OxfordshireGOOD GOOD


Portsmouth GOOD GOOD



  1. There is increasing evidence of independent reviewing officers (IROs) challenging weaker care planning arrangements, particularly when there are delays in progressing timely permanent placements.
  2. Too many children looked after do not have up-to-date care plans.





Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Caseloads for IROs are too high. At 30 September 2015, IROs had, on average, responsibility for 65 children looked after and 33 children on a child protection plan.
  2. Despite these excessive workloads, the completion of children looked after reviews for this same reporting period was 98%, and 98% of children over the age of four years provided their views for their review. Compliance, therefore, is good.
  3. IROs prioritise well and ensure that they see the most vulnerable children between reviews. This is good practice. However, high caseloads impair the quality of some aspects of the service that IROs provide.
  4. Critically, informal and formal escalation procedures are not used often enough when concerns about children’s cases are identified, and challenge is not always rigorous or effective, for example, in considering the quality of children’s plans (Recommendation).




Stockton-on-TeesGOOD GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service:

‘The work by the independent reviewing officers (IROs) is a strength’.

  1. Their caseloads have recently been reduced to a manageable level.
  2. The vast majority (93.4%) of children’s and young people’s reviews are completed within the required timescale.
  3. Children and young people benefit from good relationships with their IRO and, wherever possible, they visit children and young people in placement before their review. Consequently, the level of children’s and young people’s engagement in their review is good.
  4. It is acknowledged by IROs that visiting those children and young people who are placed out of borough is a challenge. However, they have begun to develop more creative measures to consult with children and young people, and currently are piloting Skype and Facetime methods. This is not intended to replace visiting placements.
  5. While there is evidence that IROs do challenge social workers and managers with regard to care planning, this does not always have the desired impact. Frontline mangers are not always effective in ensuring that plans are being progressed in a timely way. They do not always ensure that social work records or care plans are of high enough quality.
  6. While positive outcomes are achieved for most children and young people, this cannot always be explicitly linked to their care plan. Many care plans are not sufficiently focused on the outcome to be achieved, and contain too much information about the child’s history and experiences.
  7. A small number of young people have told their IRO that they find the amount of information that is contained within their plans upsetting and difficult to read. The DCS has responded positively to this feedback and is currently reviewing the care plan format. (Recommendation)


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Current caseloads of IROs remain significantly higher than recommended in statutory guidance despite an increase in staffing.
  2. Workloads impact adversely on the contact IROs can have with children, the timing of reviews, the recording of IRO activity and their quality assurance work.
  3. A few reviews take place during lesson time, disrupting young people’s schooling and potentially stigmatising them. IROs do not have contact with all young people before their review. This means that these young people may not be given sufficient opportunity to express their views and have them heard.
  4. At the time of the inspection, the local authority did not have a clear enough picture of whether IROs had enough contact with children.
  5. The local authority had appropriately identified as priorities young people placed at a distance and children who choose not to participate in reviews.
  6. IROs effectively challenge poor practice in individual cases, leading to improvements and better decision-making for children, though this is not strongly reflected in written records.
  7. Overall themes are known from these cases and are discussed in regular meetings with practice managers but they are not collated, impact is not currently evaluated and the quality assurance activity of this group is too limited.




Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. During 2014–15, 92% of statutory reviews for children looked after were held on time.
  2. Reviews are comprehensive overall, covering the important aspects of care plans and the key details of children’s daily lives.
  3. However, approximately half of children looked after do not see their IRO before their review, reducing the likelihood that trusting relationships will be formed.
  4. IROs’ understanding of children’s views and feelings is significantly hampered by the very low rate (15%) of reviews where children and young people’s views are formally shared through the consultation booklet designed for this purpose.
  5. Too often reports for reviews are not provided in a timely way.
  6. When IROs challenge or escalate their concerns about care plans, the resolution of issues is weak leading to little or no change for children. (Recommendation)


StaffordshireGOOD GOOD


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. IROs meet children between reviews, often in their homes, and know them very well.
  2. There is a continuous flow of communication and testing of the impact of changes, progress or unplanned events; this is a strength.
  3. Reviews are timely and caseloads are now manageable, showing improvement from the last inspection in 2010.
  4. Some examples seen have shown appropriate challenge, although this is still not fully consistent. Escalation of concerns or challenge is part of the relationship between the IRO and the local authority and routine communication is in place.
  5. IROs have also supported the transfer of case management between workers, ensuring continuity and essential levels of consistency and trust with children.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

IROs are not given sufficient profile and status as additional guardians of the child’s plan. Where IROs identify drift and delay, they escalate this to senior managers but this has little or no impact.

  1. Challenge by IROs does not lead to sustainable improved outcomes for children looked after.
  2. Only a minority of children achieve a plan of permanence by their second looked after review. Consequently, children experience unnecessary delay in the implementation of their care plans.
  3. Excessive caseloads of more than 100 mean IROs cannot fulfil all of their statutory duties and are not able to track progress on children’s plans between reviews. The timeliness of reviews has deteriorated from 94% in timescale in 2013-14 to 76% in 2014-15.



  • Torbay (monitoring visit)

Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Reviews of children looked after are timely and ensure that plans are reviewed regularly and the views of children and young people are routinely sought.
  2. However, the impact of the independent reviewing officers (IROs) is weak and lacks consistent, purposeful scrutiny of casework and outcomes for children.
  3. The quality assurance role of the IROs is not currently effective and lacks focus on constructive challenge and direction when practice is not good.
  4. Management arrangements for the safeguarding unit, where the IROs are based, have been inconsistent and this has further hampered improvement in the service.
  5. Permanency planning is not routinely considered for all children at their second review and this has led to delays in making plans for a minority of children.
  6. IROs do not consistently challenge this lack of timely planning. While an escalation process is in place for IROs to raise concerns about poor practice, drift in casework and subsequent delays experienced by children, this is not always effective. Inspectors saw case examples where IROs had given specific recommendations to workers in circumstances where children were experiencing delay and these actions were outstanding several months later.
  7. While children contribute to their individual arrangements, feedback from children and families on the service they have received is not routinely gathered and does not contribute to service development or to priorities set within the service.
  8. Similarly, feedback from families is not gathered by the IROs regarding their experiences throughout the looked after process; this is another important omission.


Effective planning ensures that brothers and sisters are placed together unless their assessed needs indicate otherwise. Contact arrangements are routinely and carefully assessed and considered in children’s reviews.

  1. Although IROs have high caseloads, they challenge practice well to encourage high standards and better outcomes for children and young people, and children’s progress is tracked effectively between their reviews.
  2. IROs instigate the dispute resolution process effectively to ensure that plans for children are progressed, and performance on the timely completion of looked after children’s statutory reviews is very good at 99%.


Warrington GOOD  GOOD

Comments specific to IRO Service:

Children’s views about improving service delivery are actively sought through the review process.

IROs actively seek evidence of permanence decisions being made by the child’s second review.

  1. Performance on the timeliness of children in care reviews is very good, with 99% of reviews completed within timescales.
  2. There is evidence that IROs have taken robust action to escalate matters to managers where there is delay in children’s plans, although in some cases without sufficient impact. In a small number of cases, delay continued because remedial actions identified had not been followed up by social workers and managers.
  3. Children are seen by their IRO prior to their review in the vast majority of cases. IROs actively encourage children and young people to participate and this has resulted in some children chairing their own reviews.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Independent reviewing officers (IROs) have manageable caseloads (averaging 42), enabling them to drive permanency planning vigorously. They routinely attend permanency planning meetings and are committed, knowledgeable and passionate about their work. They know the young people well.
  2. Five formal challenges in the last six months were quickly addressed and did not progress any further, and most issues are addressed informally.
  3. Almost all reviews are on time, and care plans are clear and comprehensive.
  4. IROs ensure that the review meeting remains meaningful for settled young people by offering a more informal individualised experience and enabling young people to chair or co- chair their review.
  5. About 97% of young people participate in their reviews.

West Berkshire  GOOD

  1. All children looked after are allocated to an independent reviewing officer (IRO) who comes to know them well.
  2. Children benefit from good access to advocates.
  3. Sensitivity is shown to parents, alongside a commitment to ensuring close involvement of family members in children’s lives.
  4. Reviews are held and recorded in good time and, in most cases, IROs are proactive in ensuring that actions and care plans are progressed.
  5. Inspectors saw evidence of IROs challenging and appropriately escalating their concerns.


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Permanence planning is not, however, sufficiently robust in the majority of cases. Weaker cases are hindered by a lack of overall urgency and drive. These cases require clearer targets for the implementation of actions and more consistently robust tracking of progress by managers and IROs.
  2. The formal ratification of permanent placements was not always clearly recorded (recommendation 5)
  3. IROs are actively involved in case discussions. They effectively promote children and young people’s engagement in planning for their futures and inspectors saw several examples of effective challenge and escalation by IROs in order to progress plans.
  4. However, the level of rigour applied to monitoring and reviewing plans is not consistently strong. The IRO service’s own self- assessment recognises this as an issue.
  5. Too many reviews do not lead to specific, time-bound actions, and delay is not consistently challenged or addressed with sufficient urgency.
  6. Only 81% of statutory reviews were held on time in the 12 months up to and including September 2015. The local authority is addressing these issues with an increase in IRO capacity, and increased oversight by the manager. The authority expects to see improvements during the next six to 12 months (recommendation 5)


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) hold comparatively manageable caseloads of 60 to 70 children.
  2. Some looked after children reviews are not completed within statutory timescales. However, recent improvements in recording mean that at the time of the inspection 89% were completed on time compared with 44% in January 2015.
  3. The majority of review minutes are not written or circulated within 20 working days, with some examples of protracted delays seen by inspectors.
  4. The implementation of permanence plans for some children in care is adversely affected by this lack of timeliness.
  5. Evidence of IROs meeting children before their looked after reviews, and monitoring the progress of review recommendations and care plans between reviews, was apparent in a minority of cases seen, but was not consistently evident for the majority of children and is likely to be a further factor in delayed permanence planning.
  6. There were determined efforts by IROs to improve their influence in the formation of robust care plans in care proceedings, illustrated through more effective liaison with the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).


Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Wirral independent reviewing officers (IROs) also chair child protection conferences. They have high caseloads, split between children looked after (60%) and child protection work (40%). On average, combined caseloads are between 90 and 110, limiting their capacity to track and monitor cases between reviews and to provide effective quality assurance.
  2. IROs have appropriately raised 260 escalations on behalf of children since 1 July 2015. However, these rarely progress beyond team manager level if improvements are not made, and IROs reported delays in some of their concerns being addressed. The local authority has recognised the need to strengthen the escalation policy (Recommendation)
  3. The vast majority of looked after reviews are completed on time and, as of June 2016, this was almost at 100%.



Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. The small team of permanent IROs demonstrates a robust understanding of how effectively the needs of children looked after are met.
  2. They meet regularly with children and with social workers in and outside of reviews and maintain the same reviewing officer, where possible, to provide consistency for the young person.
  3. Where practice falls below required standards, IROs initially use informal methods to address these. Where this does not resolve the matter, appropriate use of dispute resolution notifications is made.


  1. Care planning is a significant area of weakness.
  2. Social workers, managers and IROs are not being vigilant in progressing plans or providing sufficiently strong oversight to ensure that plans are moved forwards within acceptable timescales for children. (Recommendation)
  3. Only a minority of children attend their review meetings. These meetings are usually attended by the key professionals in the child’s life, but are not seen as the child’s meeting, to which they could specifically choose who is to attend.
  4. The lack of a detailed care plan means that professionals cannot be held directly to account for actions between review meetings.
  5. The IROs’ caseloads are too great, and this limits their ability to follow through consistently and monitor the delivery of plans, or to track the progress of children between reviews.
  6. The IRO service has been without dedicated management for some time, and this has led to limited effectiveness of the dispute resolution process and means that its work is not being quality assured. (Recommendation)

York GOOD Good

Comments specific to IRO Service:

  1. Children looked after reviews are mostly held within statutory timescales and, in the vast majority, the needs of children are well considered, with carefully thought-through changes to children’s care plans. However, the local authority’s own information identifies that IROs are not consistently seeing children prior to their looked after reviews.
  2. There is evidence on the majority of children’s records of IROs scrutinising children’s plans, yet the impact of their challenge is not well evidenced. Neither are they robustly capturing data relating to partner agency attendance at reviews to ensure that all relevant information is available to facilitate planning for children. (Recommendation)

Relevant Ofsted guidance documents

ADCS Single Assessment Framework Outcomes Summary Data

Key Ofsted documents and how Ofsted inspects

Ofsted examples of good practice in social care

Ofsted targeted inspections of local authority arrangements and services for children in need of help and protection

Ofsted inspections: child sexual exploitation and missing children

Local authority children’s services judged as requires improvement: guidance for inspectors

Local authority children’s services judged inadequate: guidance for inspectors

Local authority children’s services judged inadequate: examples of common weaknesses