Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Independent reviewing officers must make more difference to the lives of children who are looked after, says Ofsted

In a report published recently, Ofsted finds that independent reviewing officers are not making enough positive impact on the quality of care planning and outcomes for looked after children. They have been too slow in taking on their enhanced responsibilities.

The purpose of an independent reviewing officer (IRO) is to ensure that the care plan for a looked after child clearly sets out the help, care and support that they need and takes full account of their wishes and feelings. Local authorities are required by law to appoint an IRO for each looked after child. Since April 2011, changes to care planning regulations have strengthened the IRO role. IROs are now not only responsible for chairing statutory reviews but also for monitoring children’s care plans on an ongoing basis. IROs should also monitor the local authority’s overall performance as a ‘corporate parent’ for looked after children (as ‘corporate parents’, all those who have responsibility for looked children should act for the children as a responsible and conscientious parent would act for their own children).

The survey report Independent reviewing officers: taking up the challenge? draws on evidence from 111 cases across 10 local authorities. Inspectors found that IROs did not always sufficiently challenge drift and delay in plans for individual children. Children’s views were not always taken into full account. The IRO role in assessing the effectiveness of local authority support and plans for looked after children was underdeveloped.

Other key findings highlighted in the report were:

  • caseloads for IROs were too high in most local authorities and this seriously reduced their capacity to undertake their roles effectively
  • oversight of IRO performance and impact by their line managers was not sufficiently rigorous in most local authorities visited
  • IROs in most areas visited had not made strong links with the corporate parenting board or with young people on the Children in Care Council
  • the effectiveness of IROs would not be easily improved by removing them from the employment of local authorities. In most local authorities visited, there remained considerable scope for improvement under the current arrangements.

Commenting on the report Jacky Tiotto, Divisional Manager for Social Care, said:

'IROs have a critical and central role in improving the lives of looked after children and in ensuring that their views are heard, fully considered and have an influence on the plans for their future.

'It is disappointing that, in most local authorities visited, the level of challenge from IROs on behalf of children was not strong enough. Leaders and managers must make sure that care planning for children receives the high degree of independent challenge that it merits and in doing so must prioritise both the quality of care and systematic evaluation of the difference it is making for children and young people.

'The new inspection framework that Ofsted plans to implement in September strengthens the evidence we require to judge both the experiences and progress of looked after children and care leavers. The effectiveness of the IRO service is incorporated into this judgement and we fully intend that our inspections will drive up performance in this area so that the best interests of children who are looked after remain a priority for us all.'

Ofsted recommends that local authorities should take urgent action to implement the full revised IRO guidance and ensure IROs have the required skills, training, knowledge and time to undertake all elements of their role effectively.

Ofsted also recommends that senior managers regularly review performance to assure themselves of the quality of the IRO service and the impact and difference it is making for children, young people and families.

Notes to editors

1. The report Independent reviewing officers: taking up the challenge? is available on the Ofsted website.

2. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

3. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 03000 130415 or via Ofsted’s enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am – 6.00pm Monday – Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.

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