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5.2.7 Dispute Resolution Policy for Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO) Alert of Concern


This chapter was updated throughout in April 2015 and should be re-read in full.


  1. Introduction and Legislative Framework
  2. Dispute Resolution – Alert of Concern
  3. Performance Management and Learning

1. Introduction and Legislative Framework

The Purpose of the policy is to:

  • Clarify why, when and how matters of concern to an IRO, relating to a child’s care plan, should be taken up through the organisation to resolve any disputes;
  • Establish a monitoring system of disputes and their resolution.

The DSCF IRO Handbook 2010 [IRO HB] – statutory guidance for independent reviewing officers and local authorities, sets out in detail the role of the IRO in achieving the resolution of problems relating to care plans of looked after children and their implementation.

Section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 amended section 26 of the Children Act 1989 to make the Independent Reviewing Officer’s role a legal requirement in Looked After Children’s Reviews. Local authorities are now required, by regulations, to appoint IRO’s to participate in the review of children’s cases, monitor the authority’s functions in respect of the review and as a last resort refer a child’s case to the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (CAFCASS) if the failure to implement aspects of a Care Plan might be considered in breach of the child’s human rights. CAFCASS has the power to undertake legal action.

1.18 of the IRO Handbook states that it is the intention of the new legislation to:

“enable the IRO to have an effective independent oversight of the child’s case and ensure that the child’s interests are protected throughout the care planning process.”

The individual IRO is personally responsible for activating an Alert of Concern and commencing the dispute resolution process, even if this step may not be in accordance with the child’s wishes and feelings, but may, in the IRO’s view be in accordance with the best interest and welfare of the child, as well as his/her human rights, which must be taken into account. [IRO HB 6.4]

IRO’s in Bournemouth also undertake Chair of Child Protection Conferences in respect of children who have been identified as requiring safeguarding. The IRO’s/Independent Chairs will monitor standards of practice for these children alongside Looked After Children.

2. Dispute Resolution – Alert of Concern

Where ever possible the IRO will attempt to resolve a problem concerning the child’s care plan by negotiation informally, with the social worker or the social work manager. This will be recorded within the resolution process and placed within the Chronology on RAISE on appropriate form.

If this proves unsuccessful the IRO has the duty to negotiate with the Local Authority up to the highest level, and ultimately to refer the case to CAFCASS if they believe the process has not resulted in the desired outcome. This will become part of the formal dispute resolution process and will also be recorded within the Chronology on RAISE.

The types of issues that are likely to arise include:

  • Not visiting frequently enough according to the child’s needs, or statutory minimum standards;
  • Review recommendations not being implemented without good reasons;
  • Drift in care planning;
  • Changes to Care Plan outside a review;
  • IRO not being kept informed about significant changes;
  • Disagreement about the Permanence Plan, including rehabilitation;
  • Lack of consultation or participation with child prior to any placement change;
  • Lack of stability and consistency of social workers;
  • Quality and or appropriateness of placement, or preparation for independent living;
  • Statutory requirements not fulfilled, social work visits not being undertaken, health assessments and PEP not being prepared;
  • Reports for meetings not being completed within timescales and or being shared with IRO/Independent Chairs and/or families.

This procedure does not apply where there are general practice concerns about particular social workers. The IRO will discuss these matters with the SQAU manager and the relevant team manager.

The child’s IRO needs to ensure that in any discussion or correspondence with the social work staff, that clear expectations are set around timescales for response or resolution in order to prevent drift for the child. The total number of working days to fully complete the formal process must not exceed the prescribed 20 working days.

Timescales at each stage must be kept. It is the responsibility of the individual IRO to oversee timescale adherence and to escalate the dispute when a failure to do this occurs.

It is acknowledged that on occasion the IRO may be advised that the issue of dispute is outside or beyond the control of the Local Authority, for example, staffing deficits, interagency partnership failings or resource shortfalls. It constitutes unsatisfactory practice by the IRO to accept these explanations when it leads to failings meet the child’s needs as identified in the care plan. The IRO has a professional duty to escalate the dispute.

The IRO must have access to legal advice, independent of that provided to the local authority in cases that are already before the Courts to help establish whether separate legal action is required.

The Child’s IRO can progress any dispute above a Service Manager to the Service Director of Children’s Services.

The Executive Director Adults and Children's Services, Chief Executive and ultimately CAFCASS can also be contacted if the issue cannot be satisfactorily resolved.

Click here to view the procedure between the IRO and the social work services as a flowchart.

Formal Dispute Resolution forms should be completed at each stage and returned to the IRO.

3. Performance Management and Learning

IRO Manager will ensure that information is collated for management purposes.

The data will be available to Children's Social Care Quarterly Performance Review and will be included in IRO Managers reporting of the service.

The IRO’s will visit the Child Care Teams each quarter as part of information sharing and skills and knowledge development.

The reporting will include the number of alerts that the IRO’s have sent out each quarter.

They will be considered under four broad headings:


  • Inadequate preparation for review;
  • Lack of consultation, care plan/reports, invites, arrangements, cancellations.

Care Planning

Inadequate, insufficient assessments:

  • Delays in assessments creating drift;
  • Drift or delay in family finding;
  • Lack of contingency plan;
  • Lack of extended family investigation;
  • Drift and delay in legal planning;
  • Quality or appropriateness of placement;
  • Preparation for moves or independent living;
  • Lack of life story work;
  • Lack of settled education provision;
  • Lack of health resources both physical and emotional;
  • Lack of behavioural support.


  • Child/ young person missing from placement and appropriate measures not taken;
  • Contact with person liable to cause harm and appropriate steps not taken;
  • Child/ young person homeless.

Human Rights

  • Status to remain in UK;
  • Passport or legal identification;
  • Education;
  • Family Life – contact with family.

The concerns will reported as a total across the service and as totals by team.

Good Practice

Alongside alerting areas of practice that require improvement the IRO’s will also send a Note of Good Practice when they encounter ‘better than good’ examples of practice. This will enable team managers and service managers to identify social workers and examples of practice which may be beneficial for the team.