Battle lines drawn in future of IROs debate

Joe Lepper
Monday, April 13, 2015

Independent reviewing officers (IRO) appear split over whether to back plans to take the role out of council control.

Independent reviewing officers ensure decisions are made in the best interests of children in care
Independent reviewing officers ensure decisions are made in the best interests of children in care

The National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers (Nairo) is polling members on whether they want the organisation to lobby for or against taking IROs out of council control.

Under the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 the government can take IROs out of council management and instead be overseen by a new organisation. However, the next government has until November 2015 to decide whether to enact this right under a so-called “sunset clause”.

Among those wanting the next government take the role out of council control is Maggie Siviter, a freelance IRO who operates under her agency name Independent for Children.

She favours the creation of a model of social enterprises directly managing IROs and is considering revamping her agency in this way.

She said: “Under council control there are too many conflicts of interest especially around being able to give appropriate challenge around care planning. It is not working currently.”

A particular concern of Siviter’s is that often the same line manager will oversee both the IRO and the social work team whose care planning is being called into question.

“Where a conflict arises between social workers and IROs the manager will almost always side with the social work team as there are resource issues. For example, if the IRO identifies unmet need that would require additional resourcing the local authority will be reluctant to pay for,” Siviter added.

Another to favour taking IROs out of council control is former Nairo chair and freelance IRO Jon Fayle. He says councils are “not devoting the necessary resources to the IRO service thus rendering effective practice difficult or impossible through unmanageable workloads”.

He added: “Some local authorities do not encourage robust challenge from IROs.  Sometimes it is a culture that discourages but sometimes it is more blatant than this with actual bullying and intimidation of IROs to suppress challenge.”

But IRO Clive Birkhamshaw is against removing the role from council oversight and the “radical” transformation of switching control of the profession to a new national organisation.

He fears such a move would “create increased risk to children in the short term and tend to produce no improvement or worse in the longer term”.

He added: “In the end an IRO is personally responsible, and an independence of mind seems much more important to me than whether IROs are paid by a national organisation or a local authority.”

The Nairo vote for members on the issue closes on 24 April.

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