Part of the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service, the Independent Reviewing Service (IRS) is managed independently of children’s social work line management. The IRS offers a level of independence that enables it to effectively challenge the practice, plans and arrangements for children cared for by the local authority.

The appointment of an independent reviewing officer (IRO) for a child/young person in the care of the local authority is a legal requirement under section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. The IRS operates within the framework of the IRO Handbook, the statutory guidance issued to local authorities in 2010. 

The key role of IROs is in the improvement and quality assurance of the care planning for looked after children, and in challenging any drift and delay.

Their responsibilities include:

  • ensuring plans are timely, effective and achieve good outcomes for young people
  • promoting best practice and high professional standards across the Children’s Social Work Service
  • contributing to the consistency of practice from all those who have a corporate responsibility for looked after children
  • preventing drift and delay in care planning and ensuring that the local authority’s efforts are focused on meeting the children’s needs and achieving the best possible outcomes
  • monitoring the activity of the local authority as a ‘corporate parent’, ensuring that it takes appropriate actions to meet the child’s assessed needs, and is operating in line with care planning regulations.

IROs have several specific responsibilities, which were recently published by the National IRO Partnership and reflect those outlined by Social Work England in 2017. These include:

  • ensuring the child is central to all planning and decision-making, and that their wishes, views and feelings are given full consideration
  • being satisfied that each child’s care arrangement meets their needs
  • ensuring that each child knows how to contact their IRO between reviews
  • making sure each review process results in clear, robust and informed judgements about the progress of the care plan
  • being sure that care plans and decisions have a realistic timescale in keeping with the child’s needs and that there is a named person to implement them
  • challenging where there is drift in care planning and, where necessary, escalating issues to a formal dispute resolution
  • being satisfied that plans for permanency have been identified by the second review and that the corporate parent is meeting the requirements of the care planning regulations
  • proactively chasing the progress of the child’s care plan and the implementation of review decisions
  • determining whether a review needs to be convened when there is a significant change/event in the child’s life
  • championing the rights and entitlements of children living in care, including their right to advocacy, legal support and redress through complaints and challenge
  • engaging with the child’s guardian in line with The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and IRO good practice protocol, to ensure effective communication about the child’s care plan
  • providing positive constructive feedback to all the stakeholders to actively promote good outcomes for children.