High workloads jeopardise care for vulnerable children

By Neil Puffett

| 12 August 2013

Heavy caseloads mean many independent reviewing officers (IROs) are unable to fulfill their potential to help children in care, a study has found.

Two-thirds of independent reviewing officers have caseloads that exceed recommended limits. Image: Malcolm Case-Green

Research by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) found that IROs often struggle to maintain ongoing scrutiny of how a child’s care plan is implemented.

Only half (49 per cent) said they were always or often able to continually monitor the care given to looked-after children, and 58 per cent said they rarely or never received relevant court papers about children they were supervising.

And between a fifth and a quarter were not able to follow up case reviews adequately, because they were unable to consult with everybody involved.

The survey, which involved 295 IROs, 65 IRO managers and 60 directors of children’s services, found that in two-thirds of local authorities IROs are burdened with caseloads exceeding the recommended limit, and nearly half (46 per cent) of officers have other duties outside their IRO remit.

The report said findings “clearly underscore the need for systemic strengthening and improvement of the IRO role”.

“A majority of IROs surveyed had to carry out non-IRO duties and were spending much time on those, which could be seen to undermine the independence of IROs,” the report stated.

“The findings show that many IROs reported difficulties in being able to complete all tasks associated with the vital case review process.

“The barrier preventing most IROs completing reviews within recommended timescales is over-heavy caseloads.”

Enver Solomon, director of evidence and impact at the National Children’s Bureau, said the findings suggest that IROs are not always able to provide a high-quality service for children growing up in the care system.

“The reasons for this are difficult to unpick but this research suggests that heavy caseloads and a working culture that does not properly value their contribution are important factors,” he said.

Jon Fayle, chair of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers (Nairo) said the care of vulnerable children is being jeopardised because they are not being placed at the heart of the process.

“It is disappointing but not surprising that this report confirms the findings of the recent Ofsted thematic review of IROs, that the IRO service is only making a limited impact on the welfare of looked-after children,” he said.

He pointed to “unmanageable” workloads and unsupportive management arrangements as key factors.

“It is not surprising that many IROs cannot make the required impact under these circumstances,” he said.

“Nairo has been urging the Department for Education to establish a task group involving all stakeholders to look at measures to improve the IRO service.

“We hope the DfE will respond positively to our proposal and take action to improve the IRO service.”

blog comments powered by Disqus