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6.2.6 Children in Care Resolutions Process

SCOPE OF THE CHAPTER

This chapter provides detail on the City of York Looked After Resolution Process and should be followed when the IRO identifies any potential concerns regarding the care of a Child/ren in Care.

This chapter was added to the manual in December 2013.


Contents

  1. Introduction and Background
  2. Resolutions Process
  3. Examples of when the Resolutions Process may be used
  4. IRO Access to Independent Legal Advice
  5. Complaints and the Resolution Process
  6. Quality Assurance


1. Introduction and Background

One of the key functions of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) is to oversee the needs and rights of every young person in the care of the Local Authority. This responsibility is outlined in the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 and IRO Handbook 2010. Every child looked after has an Independent Reviewing Officer appointed to ensure that their Care Plan fully reflects their needs and that the actions set out in the plan are consistent with the Local Authority's legal responsibilities towards them as a Children in Care. An IRO will ensure that the wishes and feelings of the child are given due consideration by the Local Authority throughout the whole time the child is in care and will monitor the performance of the Local Authority in relation to the child's case.

On occasions this means that it will come to the attention of the IRO that there is a problem in relation to the care of a Child in Care, for example regarding  planning for the care of the child, or the implementation of the plan or decisions relating to it, resource issues or poor practice by the Social Worker. When this happens the IRO should seek a resolution. Whilst the IRO role is not to manage the case, supervise the Social Worker or devise the care plan it is the duty of the IRO to monitor a case on an ongoing basis, having in mind the specific responsibilities tasked to them by the IRO Handbook 2010. This includes:

  • Promoting the voice of the child;
  • Ensuring that plans for Children in Care are based on a detailed and informed assessment, are up to date, effective and provide a real and genuine response to each child’s needs;
  • Making sure that the child understands how an advocate could help and his/her entitlement to one;
  • Offering a safeguard to prevent any ‘drift’ in care planning for Children in Care and the delivery of services to them; and
  • Monitoring the activity of the local authority as a corporate parent in ensuring that care plans have given proper consideration and weight to the child’s wishes and feelings and that, where appropriate, the child fully understands the implications of any changes made to his/her care plan.

Where an IRO identifies a problem requiring a resolution, the City of York Children in Care Resolutions Process is to be followed. This process is intended to enable problems to be resolved in a proportionate, timely and purposeful way.

It is acknowledged that the resolution of disputes can be time consuming and can create tensions between the IRO and the Local Authority. This process is intended to ensure that IRO’s are able to carry out this function of their work effectively in the best interests of the children and young people with whom they work.


2. Resolutions Process

The child’s allocated IRO is personally responsible for activating and seeking a resolution, even if this may not be in accordance with the child’s wishes and feelings. If, in the IRO’s view, it is in accordance with the best interest and welfare of the child, as well as his or her human rights, then the IRO should seek resolution to the problem identified.

Whilst there may be times when the IRO is advised by the Local Authority that there are obstacles in the way of resolving the issue that are beyond the control of the Local Authority, for example in relation to staffing, interagency or resources issues, if these impact the Local Authority’s ability to meet the needs of the child as identified in the child’s Care Plan, the IRO should continue to escalate the issue seeking resolution.

The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 and IRO Handbook 2010 provide that the IRO can refer a case to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) at any point during the resolution process, including a concurrent referral from the point that the City of York Resolutions Process is initiated. Whilst a referral should be considered if the IRO is concerned that the Local Authority has failed in any significant respect to prepare the child's care plan, to effectively implement any decision in consequence of a review or are otherwise in breach of their duties to the child in any respect, it is nevertheless noted that such a referral should be regarded as an exceptional step in which the CYC Resolutions Process should have been to Stage 4 and despite escalation, an acceptable and appropriate resolution of the problems identified has not been achieved.

Informal Resolution

Where the IRO identifies a problem during the Children and Young People in Care Review process for a child, resolution should first be sought through discussion with the child’s allocated social worker and a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited recommendation made at the conclusion of the Review to resolve the problem.   

Where the IRO identifies a problem during ongoing monitoring of the case, resolution should first be sought through discussion with the child’s allocated social worker and a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited action to resolve the problem agreed.

If there is no satisfactory resolution, the IRO should instigate Stage 1 of the Formal Resolution process.

Formal Resolution Process - Stage 1

Where the IRO identifies a problem during a Children and Young People in Care Review or during ongoing monitoring of the case, the IRO will notify by email the Service Manager with case management responsibility for the case about the problem and request action to resolve it. The IRO will mark the email ‘High Importance’ and include details of attempts to resolve the problem informally. The IRO must clearly state the problem identified and may recommend the resolution sought. The Resolutions Process Guidance does not prescribe a particular format that the email should take.

Within a maximum of five working days the receiving Service Manager should respond in writing, by email, either detailing the actions already taken to resolve the problem or proposed actions to resolve the problem which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. The email should be marked ‘High Importance’. The Resolutions Process Guidance does not prescribe a particular format that the email should take.

Finally, the IRO should then respond to the Service Manager by email, marked ‘High Importance’ with a brief acknowledgement as to whether the actions taken or proposed to resolve the problem are agreed and accepted. The Resolutions Process Guidance does not prescribe a particular format that the email should take.

If there is no agreement and/or satisfactory resolution, the IRO should instigate Stage 2 of the formal Resolution process.

Formal Resolution Process - Stage 2

Where no satisfactory resolution to the problem has been achieved at Stage 1, the IRO will convene a meeting within five working days with the Social Worker and Service Manager. The meeting should seek to agree proposed actions to resolve the problem which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. Minutes of the Meeting will be taken.

If there is no agreement and/or satisfactory resolution, the IRO should instigate Stage 3 of the formal Resolution process

Formal Resolution Process - Stage 3

Where no satisfactory resolution to the problem has been achieved at Stage 2, the IRO will convene a meeting within five working days with the Service Manager, IRO, IRO Manager and Head of Service. The meeting should seek to agree proposed actions to resolve the problem which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. Minutes of the Meeting will be taken.

If there is no satisfactory agreement and/or resolution, the IRO should instigate Stage 4 of the formal Resolution process.

Formal Resolution Process - Stage 4

Where no satisfactory resolution to the problem has been achieved at Stage 3, the IRO will convene a meeting within five working days with the Service Manager, IRO, IRO Manager, Head of Service, CYSCB Business Manager and the Assistant Director of Children’s Specialist Services and any other relevant party at the agreement of the Assistant Director. This may include the Director of Children’s Services. The meeting should seek to agree proposed actions to resolve the problem which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. Minutes of the Meeting will be taken.

This is the final stage of the CYC Resolutions Process. If there is no satisfactory resolution, the IRO should consider a referral to CAFCASS.

The formal CYC Resolutions Process should take no more than 20 working days in total to seek to achieve a resolution.


3. Examples of where the Resolutions Process may be used

Whenever it comes to the attention of the IRO that there is a problem in relation to the care of a Child in Care it is the responsibility of the IRO to seek a prompt resolution. The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 and IRO Handbook 2010 note that an IRO should seek resolution where the IRO is of the view that the Local Authority has:  

  • Failed to address the needs of the child set out in the Care Plan; and/or
  • Failed to review the case in accordance with the regulations; and/or
  • Failed to implement effectively any decision made at a review; or
  • Is otherwise in breach of its duties to the child in any significant way.

In practice, it is not possible within this guidance to provide an exhaustive list of every ‘problem’ that would require the intervention of an IRO under the Resolutions Process. However, the following list may be regarded as indicative of the type of problems that may be appropriate to bring within the CYC Resolutions Process.

It is emphasised that ‘practice’ or/and ‘process’ failings by the Local Authority, for example failure to record statutory visits, are as legitimate an area of IRO intervention on behalf of a child or young person as those relating to ‘care planning issues’, for example, decisions on the appropriateness of a placement or drift and delay. Whether the problem is one of practice, process or planning, a proportionate, timely and purposeful resolution should be sought.

Examples of problems relating to practice and process where resolution should be sought

  • Incomplete and/or a poor standard of documentation provided to the Children and Young People in Care Review or found to be maintained on the child’s case record;
  • Statutory visits not undertaken to the agreed level or the record of visits missing or incomplete;
  • Where a child doesn't have an up to date Personal Education Plan or one is not scheduled within appropriate timescale.

Where an Initial or Review Health Assessment is overdue or where other relevant medical, dental, hearing, optical assessments and immunisations haven't been undertaken in appropriate timescales.

Examples of problems relating to care planning where resolution should be sought

  • Frequent changes in Social Worker or where the Social Worker and the young person have not established  a working relationship so that the views and wishes of the child are not sufficiently known to inform care planning;
  • Where one or more Decisions agreed at a Child Care Review (and not disputed by the Local Authority within five working days of the Review) have not been acted upon and completed within the timescale agreed;
  • Where there is Drift and Delay such that there is no clear Care Plan in place or the Care Plan is not meeting the individual needs of the child, including the need for permanence;
  • Where the rights and/or wellbeing of the child not being met, for example the child's views not being given sufficient weight in decision making;
  • Where there is deviation from the agreed Care Plan, for example a child or young person’s plan changes to rehabilitation to birth family without a Children and Young People in Care Review or where Contact arrangements are significantly altered;   
  • Where there is a concern about provision of services/ resources allocated to meet the child's individual needs, including the suitability of the placement.


4. IRO Access to Independent Legal Advice

It is a requirement of the IRO Handbook 2010 that IRO’s have access to independent legal advice should they require it. The following arrangements are made available by the City of York Council to the IRO’s. The Council provides tiered legal advice with increasing independence, proportionate to the issues that may require advice. IRO’s are expected to use their professional judgment when accessing legal advice to ensure that the advice received is appropriately independent from the Local Authority.

Level 1: A CYC Child Care Lawyer who does not have conduct of the particular case.

  • This would be appropriate for straight forward legal advice about statutory requirements or processes;

Level 2: Deputy Head of Legal Services.

  • This would be appropriate where consideration is being given to a potential challenge to a decision of the Local Authority;

Level 3: Independent Counsel, directly Instructed.

  • Upon agreement of the IRO Manager, this would be appropriate where it is felt that the IRO should become an Intervener within proceedings or otherwise to directly challenge a decision of the Local Authority either through obtaining an Opinion or seeking an Order of the court.


5. Complaints and the Resolutions Process

Complaints operate independently of the Resolutions process. A complaint made by a child or their advocate being addressed within the Local Authority’s Corporate Complaints Procedure should not prevent the IRO from working to resolve the problem within the Resolutions Process.

An IRO has a responsibility to ensure, where appropriate, that the child understands his or her right to make a complaint to the Local Authority and to have an Advocate to provide support with the complaint, should the child so wish. In circumstances where the child does not have the ability or understanding to instigate a complaint, consideration will need to be given to who is best able to do so on behalf of the child. This could be the IRO.

The Local Authority’s Complaints Manager should advise the IRO of any complaint brought by or on behalf of the child and may enlist the help of the IRO to resolve the problem. The IRO will need to make a judgement about whether a problem raised as a complaint is sufficiently serious to make a referral to CAFCASS.


6. Quality Assurance

The IRO will ensure that all correspondence and discussion in relation to the Resolutions Process are recorded on the child's care record. The IRO will forward a copy of all Stage 1 emails to the IRO Manager for monitoring purposes. The IRO will also ensure that Minutes are taken in relation to Stages 2 to 4. Information under the Resolutions Process will be used to inform the Local Authority’s Senior Management of any themes, resource issues and concerns regarding care planning and practice issues regarding children and young people in its care.

End