Protocol Between Independent Reviewing Officer and Children's Guardians
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
The protocol aims to ensure that there is closer liaison between IROs (Independent Reviewing Officers) and CAFCASS following the implementation of the IRO Handbook which highlighted specific areas where the two parties will work in conjunction.
1. Purpose of Protocol
The implementation of the IRO Handbook (Statutory guidance for Independent Reviewing Officers and local authorities on their functions in relation to case management and review for Children Looked After) has identified two distinct areas in which the IRO will work in conjunction with Cafcass:
- As part of family proceedings when a child is Looked After; and
- When an IRO makes a referral to Cafcass (this process is addressed within the IRO Dispute Resolution Process).
The purpose of the document is to ensure that there is closer liaison between IROs (Independent Reviewing Officers) and Children's Guardians and to ensure relevant information about Care Plans for Children Looked After are shared and issues addressed:
- On receipt of an application from the Local Authority, a representative from Cafcass will make contact with IRO admin and ascertain the name of the designated IRO. Cafcass will also advise IRO admin of the name of the allocated Guardian, in order that this information can be shared with the relevant allocated IRO;
- The IRO and Children's Guardian will establish contact with each other and consider what communication is necessary in order to promote the best possible care planning process for each child. The Guardian will carry out their own assessment of the Local Authority's Care Plan and should discuss with the IRO any concerns they may have about the details of the Plan;
- In the event that the Children's Guardian is appointed prior to the first Looked After Review, attendance at the initial review should be considered as an opportunity to establish contact. The name of the Guardian will have been supplied when the initial contact was made with the IRO service prior to the first directions appointment at court and contact should be made with the Guardian by the allocated IRO when the date of the initial LAC review is known;
- The Children's Guardian should be advised of each review meeting and invited where appropriate. Children's Guardian's to receive an invitation to all relevant LAC reviews;
- Children's Guardian to receive a copy of each relevant review record. The Independent Reviewing Service will need to liaise with the Local Authority Legal Department to ensure that this requirement is placed on record as per the IRO Handbook (section 8.4) (see Appendix 2: IRO Handbook - Chapter 8 CAFCASS);
- The IRO should ensure that discussions take place with the Guardian. The IRO and the Guardian should discuss and agree how often and in what manner these should occur. Discussions can include issues such as:
- The wishes and feelings of the child;
- The current Care Plan;
- Whether details of the Care Plan are subject to a formal dispute resolution process;
- Any complaints received about the case;
- Any issues raised in court in relation to the implementation of the Care Plan (see Appendix 2: IRO Handbook - Chapter 8 CAFCASS, section 8.5)
- Prior to the Issues Resolution Hearing, the Local Authority should inform the court of any dispute between the Local Authority and IRO about the plan for the child and any issues subject to the dispute resolution process;
- In all cases where the child is to remain Looked After, following the completion of proceedings, there should be a final discussion and any outstanding issues should be identified and kept under review;
- The content of discussions between the Children's Guardian and IRO should be recorded on the child's case record;
- In all cases where the child remains looked after, the Children's Guardian will confirm that all relevant documents have been forwarded to the IRO, these being:
- Section 31A Care Plan;
- Children's Guardian report;
- Copy of the final order;
- Outline of Contact arrangements (if not covered in the Care Plan).
- This Protocol will be reviewed alongside any issues arising from the Dispute Resolution process at IRO/Cafcass link meetings scheduled on a 6 monthly basis.
Appendix 1: CAFCASS Practice Note 2011: CAFCASS and the Work of Independent Reviewing Officers and CAFCASS Practice Note 2007: Annex
Appendix 2: IRO Handbook - Chapter 8 CAFCASS
There are two distinct areas in which the IRO will work in conjunction with Cafcass:
In relation to family proceedings, all children who are subject to care proceedings will have a children's guardian, appointed by the court and an IRO, appointed by the local authority. The Public Law Outline refers to the "timetable for the child". The IRO should feel confident that s/he is being kept fully informed of the progress of the child's case, during and at the conclusion of the proceedings. This will involve:
The IRO will need to consider together with the children's guardian what communication is necessary in order to promote the best possible care planning process for each child. As soon as the IRO has been appointed to a child subject to proceedings:
Once the children's guardian has been appointed, the IRO and children's guardian should establish communication with each other. In the event that the children's guardian has been appointed and is able to attend the first review, this may be an opportunity to establish the contact. However, if the appointment is not made until after the first review, it will be important for the communication to be established as soon as possible following the appointment. In addition:
|8.6||Prior to the Issues Resolution Hearing, the local authority should inform the court of any dispute between the local authority and the IRO about the plan for the child and of any issues subject to the local dispute resolution process.|
|8.7||In all cases where the child is to remain Looked After, following the completion of the proceedings, the IRO and the children's guardian should have a final discussion about the child's case with a view to identifying any outstanding issues or particular matters that should be kept under review.|
|8.8||The content of discussions between the children's guardian and IRO should be recorded on the child's case record.
Referral to Cafcass
|8.9||Since 2002 IROs have had the authority to refer the case of any Child Looked After to Cafcass (under Section 118, 2002 Act) if they are of the view that the child's human rights have been breached and all attempts to resolve the matter have been exhausted. The scope for such referrals is now extended.|
The IRO now has the authority to refer a case to Cafcass "if the IRO considers it appropriate to do so" (section 25B (3), 1989 Act) The IRO will encounter a wide range of situations in which there are concerns about the plan for the child or the service that is being provided. In most cases, it will be possible to address these through:
|8.11||When considering whether to make a referral to Cafcass, the IRO should consider the impact that a referral would have for the child. In some cases, there will be time available first to pursue the full dispute resolution procedure within the local authority (for example where the dispute relates to educational provision for the next academic year and it is currently still the autumn term). In other situations, the matter will be of sufficient urgency that the dispute resolution process needs to be curtailed (for example where there is a plan to change the child's residential placement within a matter of weeks). It is the responsibility of the IRO to make the decision about whether and when a referral is necessary, based on the timetable for the child.|
|8.12||As part of any dispute resolution procedure and prior to making a referral, the IRO should notify a nominated local authority senior officer (to be identified in the local authority dispute resolution protocol) that a referral to Cafcass is being considered. Where the IRO has reached a decision to curtail the dispute resolution process to meet the needs of the child, the IRO should explain the reasons for this to the senior officer.|
When considering whether to make a referral, the IRO should have access to management advice and support in addition to independent legal advice where necessary. Cafcass Legal operates a duty helpline, which is available to IROs for the discussion of possible referrals. The lawyers at Cafcass Legal cannot give IROs legal advice, but will discuss with the IRO whether any other steps can be taken before a referral is made.
The information listed below should accompany a referral to Cafcass:
Once a referral has been made, Cafcass will enter into final dispute resolution with the local authority before proceedings are instituted. Whilst Cafcass cannot refuse to accept any referral, it is the responsibility of Cafcass and not the IRO to determine whether a legal remedy should be sought. If the problem is not resolved to the benefit of the child and within the child's timeframe, Cafcass has the power to initiate the following types of action (under regulation 3 of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Reviewed Case Referral) Regulations 2004):