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Care Planning and the Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer

​Report from the Centre for Research on Children and Families at the University of East Anglia following a study of care planning and the role of the independent reviewing officer.

Local authorities are ‘corporate parents’ for the children they are looking after, and effective care planning is essential for the children’s well-being and the best possible outcomes. In 2004, a system of ‘independent reviewing officers’ (IROs) was established to monitor the way that local authorities implement the plans, and to ensure that the child’s wishes and feelings are fully considered. Since then, there has been heated debate about how effective and how truly ‘independent’ the IROs are. In April 2011, new government regulations and statutory guidance about care planning came into force, which (amongst other things) strengthened the IRO’s role.

A team from the Centre was awarded a grant by the Economic and Social Research Council to investigate current practice in care planning and the role of the IRO. The project started in August 2012, and ran until October 2014.

The main goals were to:

  • investigate how the new care planning regulations and guidance are being implemented;
  • investigate the role of the IRO in monitoring the plans of the local authority, promoting children’s well-being, and managing their participation;
  • examine the overlaps and differences in the roles and responsibilities of the range of individuals involved in planning for children in care, how decisions are made and disagreements managed
  • ascertain the views of children and parents about the care planning and review process, particularly the role of the IRO.

The research included a study of case files on a total of 122 children, plus interviews and focus groups with social workers, IROs, parents and young people, and a national survey of IROs, social work managers and Cafcass children’s guardians.

The aims of the project were to learn from the histories of the children and views of practitioners, parents and children, to identify key messages for policy and practice. We are now working with government and non-government agencies to share our findings and develop practice models for rigorous but flexible child focus, and clarity about professional roles and boundaries.

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