In a letter to the children’s minister Tim Loughton, The National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers (Nairo) argued that officers’ ability to advocate for looked-after children is at risk.
Independent reviewing officers are charged with championing the voice of children in care and making sure that local authority decisions on looked-after children are in the best interests of the child.
All councils are required to appoint officers to represent children in their care, who challenge local authority decisions on behalf of children where necessary.
But Maggie Duggins, lead committee member for management issues at Nairo, said the association has been notified of “a significant number of examples” where councils are discouraging independent reviewing officers from challenging local authority practice.
In one local authority, reviewing officers were threatened with disciplinary action after they raised what they felt were legitimate concerns regarding the cases of several children in care.
In another, reviewing officers have been told that they can only make a challenge against the local authority with the permission of a senior manager.
In a further case identified by Nairo, an independent reviewing officer manager had a disagreement with their director of children’s services regarding a report due to be presented to Ofsted by the manager.
The director wanted to edit the report. The reviewing officer manager refused to allow this to happen and subsequently had to take redundancy following an internal restructuring of the children’s services department, which deleted this manager’s post.
Nairo is calling on Loughton to back proposals that would give independent reviewing officers involved in disputes access to independent arbitration. They are hoping to introduce a management protocol in partnership with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which would include such a provision.
Nairo also wants new statutory guidance to protect the independence of reviewing officers, and argues that Ofsted should be required to better scrutinise management arrangements for reviewing officers in local authorities.
“The genuine independence of the independent reviewing officer is absolutely crucial for a young person in care,” Duggins said.
“It is inevitable that their role will sometimes put them in conflict with local authorities. We hope the government will demonstrate its commitment to looked-after children by ensuring independent reviewing officers are protected when they are in dispute with their local authority.”