Looked After Reviews
Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure
Note that different provisions apply to children who acquire Looked After status as a result of a remand to local authority accommodation or Youth Detention Accommodation. In relation to those children, please see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure, Care Planning for Young People on Remand.
AMENDMENTSection 9, The Role of the Looked After Review in Achieving Permanence for the Child was amended in May 2019 to reflect the outcome of a High Court Judgement in respect of children who were subject to Section 20 and where there were concerns of significant delays in their planning for permanence. The court noted the IROs' recognition and action over a number of reviews but acknowledged that a more robust response had been needed.
1. The Purpose of Looked After Reviews
A Looked After Review must take place before any significant change is made to the child's Care Plan, unless that is not reasonably practicable, including a decision to cease looking after a child.
Looked After Reviews should normally be conducted at a meeting although this may not be required in respect of a child who has been in a designated Long-term Foster Placement for over twelve months (see Section 10, Looked After Reviews Concerning Children in Long Term Foster Placements).
The purpose of the Looked After Review is to:
- Ensure that appropriate plans are in place to safeguard and promote the overall welfare of the Looked After child in the most effective way and achieve permanence for them within a timescale that meets their needs;
- To monitor the progress of the plans and ensure they are being progressed effectively;
- To make decisions, as necessary, for amendments to those plans to reflect any change in knowledge and/or circumstances;
- To ensure the needs of children looked after as a result of a secure remand are met;
- To ensure that an Eligible Young Person moving into semi-independent accommodation is ready and prepared to move;
- For a young person living in foster care, the first Looked After Review following their 16th birthday should consider whether a Staying Put arrangement (whereby the young person remains in the foster home after the age of 18) should be an option.
It is important that decisions taken at Looked After Reviews are implemented and responsibility for actions clearly defined.
The key plans that should be considered at a Looked After Review are:
- Care Plan;
- Permanence Plan;
- Health Care Plan;
- Pathway Plan if applicable;
- Personal Education Plan (PEP).
The review should also take account of the child's Placement Plan (recorded on the Placement Information Record) and any other plans or strategies (e.g. behaviour management strategy), ensuring that they are up to date, or that arrangements are in place to update them.
2. Frequency of Looked After Reviews
Normally, Looked After Reviews should be convened at the following intervals:
In relation to children placed with prospective adopters or where there is Authority to Place for Adoption, see the Adoption Reviews Procedure.
Looked After Reviews should be brought forward by an IRO where the circumstances of an event has a significant impact upon the child's care plan, as suggested in the following sorts of circumstances:
DfE Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review
This is not an exhaustive list and the IRO may judge that other events are significant and require an earlier review. The parents and child should also be consulted about the need for an additional review.
3. Chairing of Reviews
Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO's) will chair reviews. They are located within the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team.
The IRO's responsibilities are outlined in Section 8, Independent Reviewing Officer's Responsibilities.
See also Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure.
If the allocated IRO cannot attend the meeting and it is important that the review meeting is not delayed, the meeting will be chaired/attended by a substitute IRO.
4. Convening Looked After Reviews
4.1 Arranging the first review
As soon as a child becomes Looked After, the child's social worker must notify the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team by telephone and/or email.
This will trigger the appointment of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) for the child. The Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team will then arrange the date, time and venue of the child's first Looked After Review.
The venue will be agreed with the social worker and the allocated IRO - ideally the review should take place in the placement.
4.2 Arranging second and subsequent reviews
At the end of each review the IRO will set the date, time and venue of the next review, taking account of what is convenient for review participants.
Review dates cannot be rearranged unless there are exceptional circumstances and then only if the rearranged meeting can take place within statutory timescales, in which case the new date should be agreed by the social worker with the IRO and the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team who will inform the other participants.
In the event of a key participant being ill or unable to attend the review, the meeting will go ahead but the IRO may decide that the review be adjourned to a new date when all participants can attend - see Section 8, Independent Reviewing Officer's Responsibilities.
Should the child cease to be Looked After before the review date, the child's social worker will notify the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team who will notify the IRO and other prospective attendees that the review is cancelled and why.
5. Invitations and the Child's Participation
Discussion should take place between the social worker and the child (subject to age and understanding) at least 20 working days before the meeting about who the child would like to attend the meeting and where the meeting will be held.
Invitations to reviews will be sent by the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team following consultation with the child's social worker and the IRO, who will decide who should be invited in consultation with the child. Invitations to reviews and consultation documents should be sent out to all those participating in the review at least 10 working days before the meeting.
The following people should normally be invited:
- The child. There is a presumption that the child will attend the review. A child's disability must not be a bar to the child's attendance;
- The parents and those with Parental Responsibility, carers and any significant people or specialists involved in the child's case, (except as set out below);
- The supervising social worker, if the child is placed with foster carers;
- The link worker if the child is in residential care;
- The most appropriate teacher at the child's school (usually the Designated Teacher for looked after children);
- A Personal Adviser, if the child is over the age of 16;
- An Independent Visitor, if involved;
- If required, an interpreter;
- Any other person with a legitimate interest in the child e.g. health care professional, GP, a representative from the Local Authority in whose area it is proposed that the child will be placed; (Such attendance should always be discussed with the child before invitations are made and his/her views obtained);
- The officer with lead responsibility for implementing the authority's duty to promote the educational achievement of its looked after children.
Children and parents should also be informed that they can arrange to see the IRO separately if they wish or bring a supporter or interpreter to the review.
Where the child does not wish to attend the review, the IRO must at the very least speak to the child before the review - wherever possible in a face to face meeting.
The child's social worker must ensure that children and families have been given information about the Complaints Procedure. They should provide the child with details of independent advocacy services who may provide support if the child requires it.
See Section 7, Supporters and Interpreters.
A decision not to invite a child or parent(s) to a review should only be made in exceptional circumstances and in consultation with the IRO, prior to the review. The decision should be recorded, together with reasons, on the review document and child's record.
There may be exceptional circumstances where the child's social worker, in consultation with the IRO decides that the attendance of the carer at all or part of the review meeting will not be appropriate or practicable. Where this is the case, a written explanation of the reasons should be given and other arrangements made for the carer to contribute to the review process. Details of the reasons why a carer is excluded and a record of their input should be placed on the child's case record.
Where any other invited person cannot attend, the IRO may agree that a delegate attend instead.
6. The Role of the Social Worker
The child's social worker must discuss the purpose of the review with the child, parents and carers and consult the child about invitations at least 20 working days before the review meeting.
Where the child wishes to chair their own review, the social worker should inform the IRO.
In all cases, the child and parent(s) should be encouraged and supported by the social worker to prepare for the review, in writing or other ways if they wish, for example by seeing the IRO separately. The social worker should agree with the IRO how this will be achieved. This requires early consultation between the social worker and the IRO, and should be part of a thorough preparation of all the key issues for the review.
The child's social worker must also ensure the child's IRO is kept informed of any significant changes in the child's circumstances and the outcomes of any other meetings held as part of the review process, which consider aspects of the child's Care Plan. In addition, the social worker must notify the IRO if they believe that decisions made at a review are no longer appropriate because of a change in circumstances.
Where the child has been or is the subject of Court proceedings, the social worker should ensure the IRO has clear information of the child's legal status and the Court timetable.
Prior to the review, the social worker must ensure the child's records and plans are up to date, for example, that they include records of the placement visits and the last date when the child's sleeping accommodation was seen. Any changes in household membership need to be clearly recorded.
The social worker must send the IRO the following documents 3 working days before an Initial Review and 5 working days before a subsequent review:
- Review of Arrangement Report;
- Care Plan or Pathway Plan.
Copies of these documents should be brought to the review by the social worker for all review participants.
In addition, the child's social worker should bring to the review the following documents for the IRO:
- All completed consultation documents (the social worker is responsible for sending these to the child, carers and family members as appropriate);
- Health Care Plan;
- Personal Education Plan;
- Any other relevant reports by professionals.
It is not necessary to copy these for all participants. The IRO may have a pre meeting with the social worker to review the relevant aspects of the Health Action Plan and Personal Education Plan. The IRO will then summarise these documents during the review and provide information about the discussion with the social worker as appropriate.
After the review, the social worker is responsible for updating the Care Plan within 10 working days, in relation to any changes to the Care Plan agreed at the review.
The social worker should also update the Permanence Plan, Health Care Plan and Personal Education Plan as required, and arrange for a Pathway Plan to be completed/updated, if relevant.
The social worker should also ensure that the child's Placement Plan (recorded on the Placement Information Record) is updated.
Where the child and/or the parents are unable to attend the review, the social worker must ensure that they are informed in writing of the outcome.
See also Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure, Duty of Social Worker to Keep IRO Informed.
7. Supporters and Interpreters
The social worker and IRO should consider prior to the review whether either the child or parent(s) would benefit from the presence of a supporter or advocate and if so, the social worker should ensure the necessary arrangements are made. A supporter may be either an advocate on behalf of the child/parent(s) or a person with specialist skills or knowledge.
It may also be necessary for the social worker to make arrangements for an interpreter to attend. Special needs, for example those arising from disability, should always be considered and appropriate assistance arranged where relevant.
Any request by the child or parent(s) for their legal adviser to attend as their supporter should be notified to the IRO prior to the review and arrangements made where appropriate for the attendance at the review of a local authority legal adviser.
8. Independent Reviewing Officer's Responsibilities
The IRO's role is to chair Looked After Reviews and monitor the appropriateness of the Care Plan (on an ongoing basis including whether any safeguarding issues arise), its implementation and to establish whether the milestones set out in the plan are being achieved in a timely way.
See also Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure, which sets out in detail to role of the IRO outside the Looked After Review.
In relation to their role at reviews, a key task for all IRO's is to ensure that the review process is child and family centred and that the child's views are heard. They should be satisfied that disabled children's contributions are obtained and effectively presented in the review.
The IRO should consult the child about their Care Plan at each review and at any time that there is a significant change to the Care Plan. The IRO should meet the child before the first Looked After Review and arrange to meet the child as appropriate in advance of subsequent Looked After Reviews.
The IRO must be satisfied that the wishes and feelings of the child's parents, any person who is not a parent but who has parental responsibility and the current carer (foster carer or registered person in respect of a children's home) have been taken into account as part of the review process.
Wherever possible, the child should be encouraged to chair the meeting and in these circumstances the IRO will assist the child. In all other cases, the IRO will chair the review - see Section 3, Chairing of Reviews.
More than one meeting may be required to ensure the views of relevant people inform the review without the meeting becoming too large. For example it may be appropriate to hold a meeting involving the child prior to a meeting involving the parent to obtain information and ascertain the views of both where the child does not wish to attend a review with their parents present.
The IRO is responsible for ensuring that all relevant people, including the child and parents, understand the purpose of the review and have been given appropriate opportunities to contribute and express their views. The IRO should also ensure that relevant consultation has taken place with those professionals who are not in attendance at the meeting.
Where participants' views are not followed, an explanation of the reasons why needs to be provided by the IRO and/or the social worker. Any differences of opinion should be recorded in the minutes.
If the parent(s) or the child brings a supporter, the IRO will need to explain their role, ensuring that the supporter understands that they may clarify information but may not cross-examine any contributor.
Where the 'supporter' is a legal representative then the IRO should note The Law Society guidance 'Attendance of solicitors at local authority Children Act Meetings' and related 'Code of Conduct (2011)'.
All solicitors attending these meetings should be aware of the local policies and procedures in respect of Children Act Meetings.
The agenda for each review will be agreed at the beginning of the meeting and each participant will be invited to contribute their own items to the agenda and have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
The IRO will decide on what actions in principle are necessary to meet the child's reviewed needs and make recommendations as to how these should be achieved.
Where a review considers that adoption or long term fostering is the most appropriate way to meet the child's needs, the recommendation is then submitted to the Adoption Panel for consideration - see Placement for Adoption Procedure.
The IRO may adjourn a review meeting once, for not more than 20 working days, if not satisfied that sufficient information has been provided by the Local Authority to enable proper consideration of any of the factors to be considered.
The IRO should consider the effects on the child of delaying the meeting, and seek the wishes and feelings of the child, carer and parents where appropriate.
No proposal under consideration at the adjourned review can be implemented until the review has been completed.
It will be necessary for the IRO to ensure decisions are clear and establish who is responsible for action and the timescales agreed for completion. The IRO should ensure that the following are considered and accounted for during the review:
- The effect of any change in the child's circumstances since the last review, any change made to the Care Plan, whether decisions taken at the last review have been successfully implemented and if not the reasons;
- Whether any change should be sought in the child's legal status;
- Whether there is a plan for permanence;
- Arrangements for contact/whether there is any need for changes to the arrangements in order to promote contact between the child and parents/other Connected Persons;
- Whether the placement continues to be the most appropriate available, whether any change to the placement agreement or any other aspect of the arrangements is likely to become necessary before the next review;
- Whether the placement safeguards and promotes the child's welfare, and whether any safeguarding concerns have been raised;
- The child's educational needs, progress and development and whether any change is likely to become necessary or desirable before the next review, including consideration of his/her most recent assessment of progress and development; whether the arrangements are meeting the child's educational needs; whether the child has a Personal Education Plan (PEP) and whether its content provides a clear framework for promoting educational achievement;
- The child's leisure interests and activities and whether the arrangements are meeting his/her needs;
- The child's health report, and whether any change in health care arrangements is likely to be necessary or desirable before the next review; whether the content of the Health Plan provides a clear framework for promoting the child's health; whether the arrangements are meeting the child's health needs;
- Whether the child's needs related to identity are being met and whether any change is required having regard to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural background;
- Whether the arrangements for advice, support and assistance continue to be appropriate and understood by the child;
- Whether any arrangements need to be made for the time when the child will no longer be looked after;
- The child's wishes and feelings and the views of the IRO about any aspect of the case and in particular about any changes made since the last review or proposed to be made to the Care Plan; whether the plan fulfils the duty to safeguard and promote the child's welfare and whether it would be in the child's interests for an Independent Visitor to be appointed;
- Where the child is placed with parents before an assessment is completed, the frequency of the social worker's visits;
- Whether the delegation of authority to take decisions about a child's care continues to be appropriate and in the child's best interests;
- Other matters which may arise should also be considered with due regard to the circumstances of the child and the placement.
After the review, the IRO will notify the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team of the way in which the child participated in the review, together with the outcome and the date for the next review.
Where there is evidence of poor practice, the IRO will consider what action is needed to bring this to the attention of the relevant and appropriate managers - see Section 14, Monitoring of Review Decisions.
It is also the IRO responsibility to focus on conflict resolution - see Section 15, Conflict Resolution.
9. The Role of the Looked After Review in Achieving Permanence for the Child
The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) must check that the child's Care Plan includes a Permanence Plan with measurable milestones and a Contingency Plan should the preferred plans not materialise.
At the second Looked After Review, there is a requirement to focus on the Permanence Plan, to ensure it provides permanence for the child within a timescale which is realistic, achievable and meets the child's needs.
If it is considered that the chosen avenue to permanence is not viable, the IRO should ensure that the social worker arranges as a matter of urgency to consider the most appropriate permanent alternative.
At the third Looked After Review there will be a need for a Twin Track/Parallel Plan to be made where a Permanence Plan has not been achieved. For example where a plan for rehabilitation of the child has not been achieved, the Review should seek to establish whether the lack of progress is as a result of drift or whether there are valid child-centred reasons, properly recorded and endorsed by the social worker's manager. No further rehabilitation plan should be recommended unless there are exceptional reasons justifying such a plan or where further assessment is specifically directed by the Court. In this case, the Parallel Plan must include the active pursuit of an alternative placement for the child.
All subsequent Reviews should review the progress and validity of the Permanence Plan.
Children who are Section 20 Accommodated (Children Act 1989): IROs should pay particular regard to children accommodated under S.20 to ensure there is appropriate progression of their plans and that there are no delays in respect of them having 'permanence', (which should include a return home). A High Court judgement (see Herefordshire Council v AB  EWFC 10 rtf) was critical of protracted delay in a child's planning and failure to respond to a parent's request to have a child return home to their care under S. 20(8). Further, that the IRO, whilst recognising the issues of delay and planning, and highlighting these to managers, did not respond more robustly (see Section 15, Conflict Resolution).
The judgement considered that in circumstances where the threshold criteria (for Care/ Supervision Orders) under Section 31 Children Act 1989 are met, (i.e. where a child is at risk of significant harm, or the likelihood of significant harm), then care proceedings should be issued without delay.
10. Looked After Reviews Concerning Children in Long Term Foster Placements
Paragraph 4.17 of The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review sets out that where a child is placed in a designated long-term foster placement and has been in this placement for more than a year consideration should be given to whether it is necessary to hold a meeting as part of each review.
The guidance requires that the social worker should consult the IRO and the child (where appropriate to age and understanding) in reaching a decision on whether to hold a meeting. Where it is agreed that a meeting will not be held as part of every review a meeting should be held at least once a year. The factors leading to a decision to hold review meetings on a less frequent basis must be recorded in the child's Care Plan.
Where a decision is taken that the review process will not include a meeting the IRO must ensure that full consultation with all relevant individuals, including the child, has taken place to inform the review of the child's case.
11. Looked After Reviews on Children who are the Subject of Child Protection Plans
Where a looked after child remains the subject of a Child Protection Plan, there should be a single planning and reviewing process, led by the IRO, leading to the development of a single plan.
Consideration should be given to the IRO chairing the Child Protection Conference where a looked after child remains subject to a Child Protection Plan. Where that is not possible, it will be expected that the IRO will attend the Child Protection Review Conference.
The timing of the review of the child protection aspects of the Care Plan should be as in Section 2, Frequency of Looked After Reviews.
The Looked After Review, when reviewing the child protection aspects of the plan, should consider whether the criteria continue to be met for the child to remain the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
Consideration must be given to ensuring that the multi-agency contribution to the review of the Child Protection Plan is addressed within the review of the Care Plan.
12. Recording of Looked After Reviews
It is the responsibility of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) to record the review. A written record of the decisions and recommendations will be completed and circulated by the Independent Review Officer to all participants within 5 working days of the meeting. This should also be sent to the designated senior manager who will consider the decisions made at the review - see Section 13, Review Decisions.
The full written record of the review will be completed within 15 working days of the review. The full record should contain an accurate and comprehensive record of the meeting, or meetings, which constituted the review and of the views of all those who attended or were consulted as part of the review process. The record should also reflect the review process for a designated long term foster placement where a meeting did not take place. The Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team will send copies out to all relevant parties who have provided their full name and address on the attendance sheet within 20 working days of the completion of the review.
The decisions should have any identifying details removed as necessary, for example, exceptionally, the address of the placement.
Where parents do not attend the review/part of the meeting and contribute their views in some other manner, a discussion should take place between the social worker and the IRO as to whether it is in the child's interest for the parents to receive a full record of the review, and, if not, what written information should be sent to them. Examples of where this should be a consideration are where there is a 'no contact order' or supervised contact only.
13. Review Decisions
A designated senior member of staff should consider the decisions made at each Looked After Review within five working days of receiving them and to advise the IRO and all those who attended the review if they are unable to agree them.
If no response is received the decisions should be considered agreed by the Local Authority and should be implemented within the timescales set out in them.
If the senior member of staff disagrees with any of the decisions within that initial five working day period, this should be notified in writing to the IRO and all those who attended the review.
In the first instance the IRO should attempt to resolve the issue informally. If this is not successful the IRO can consider activating the local dispute resolution process - see Section 15, Conflict Resolution.
14. Monitoring of Review Decisions
The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) plays an important part in the quality assurance function of the local authority's service for looked after children, it will be important that they recognise and report on good practice by individuals or teams.
It is important for the IRO to have a collaborative relationship with the social workers and their managers.
Monitoring sheets must be completed by the IRO after every review meeting in order that accurate data is reported for audit, quality assurance and individual performance management. This information is then coordinated by the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team and sent on a monthly basis to the relevant managers.
Where there is evidence of poor practice, the IRO should, wherever practicable, address these issues through the normal channels, contacting the social worker's manager and where necessary the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team Manager.
15. Conflict Resolution
Where the IRO believes that the Local Authority has failed in any significant respect to prepare the child's Care Plan; review the child's case or effectively implement any decision in consequence of a review; or are otherwise in breach of their duties to the child in any material respect, the following procedure will apply:
- Informal resolution through a professionals meeting to include the Team Managers of both the social worker's team and the IRO;
- If no resolution is reached at this stage a referral should be made by the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team to the relevant senior manager in the local authority;
- If there is still no resolution, the matter should be brought to the attention of the Chief Executive.
The IRO has the authority to refer the case to CAFCASS where they consider it appropriate to do so and must consider a referral to CAFCASS where, having drawn any failures as set out above to the attention of persons of appropriate seniority in the Local Authority, the issues have not been addressed to their satisfaction within a reasonable period of time.