Dispute Resolution Process for Children in Care
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This guidance sets out the role of the Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) in identifying and addressing drift and delay for Children in Care. The Dispute Resolutions Process recognises the importance of the ongoing IRO role in monitoring the plans for the child, highlighting issues to social workers in discussions, and then agreeing clear timescales for completion. It is the expectation that a significant majority of issues will be able to be resolved through an initial - Informal – Quality Assurance Process. The specific needs and voice of the child should be the key driver for the Resolutions Process.
AMENDMENTThis guidance was re-written in September 2020.
Kirklees Children and Young Peoples Services are committed to promoting the right decisions and planning for children, and strengthening alliances with partner agencies through challenge, communication and good practice that is child focused. Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs), based within the Child Protection Review Unit in the Resources, Improvements & Partnerships Directorate are central to this planning. IROs have a key role in identifying drift and delay for children, highlighting what needs to change to address the causes of delay and to improve outcomes for Children in Care and also those subject to Child Protection Plans.
2. Legal Requirement for a Dispute Resolution Process
The IRO handbook (Chapter 6) identifies that one of the key functions for the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) is to 'resolve problems arising out of the care planning process'. The requirement to have a Formal Dispute Resolution Process is set out in Guidance, and IROs have the right to enter into this process at any stage if there are significant concerns of drift and delay in the Care planning for a child.
The specific needs and voice of the child should be the key driver for the Resolutions Process – the impact on the child of delay needs to be quantified.
Our process for Dispute Resolutions recognises the importance of the ongoing IRO role in monitoring the plans for the child, highlighting issues to social workers in discussions, and then agreeing clear timescales for completion. It is the expectation that a significant majority of issues will be able to be resolved through an initial - Informal – Quality Assurance Process.
The IRO has the power to refer the matter to Cafcass at any point in the dispute resolution process (regulation 45), and may consider it necessary to make a concurrent referral to Cafcass at the same time that they instigate the Resolution Process. The individual IRO is personally responsible for activating the resolution process, even if this step may not be in accordance with the child's wishes and feelings, however these must always be taken into account. It may be the IRO's view after serious consideration for the best interest and welfare of the child alongside their human rights that the Resolution Process should be activated.
There may be occasions when the IRO is aware of obstacles in the way of resolving the issue which are outside or beyond the control of the local authority; for example in relation to staffing, interagency or resources issues.
There has to be increased accountability of all involved agencies in working to deliver the Care Planning for Children in Care
3. Restorative Practice and the Resolution Process
The developing commitment to restorative practice and relationship based work across Kirklees Children's Social Care has been important to help to enable IROs to communicate with social workers and Team Managers to look to resolve issues of drift and delay for children without automatic recourse to a formal procedure.
It is expected that IROs establish positive working relationships with social workers for children and Team Managers. There should be clear timescales agreed to move to quick resolution whenever possible. However if the matter is not resolved within the required timescale appropriate to the child's needs, the IRO should consider taking more formal action and commence the Dispute Resolution process, notifying professionals of the concerns, the impact upon the child, and what action is required.
It remains essential to include a record on child's case file which identifies actions to resolve the matter informally IF initial discussions with social worker or Manager have not made the progress required for the child. This Informal - Quality Assurance - Stage is the first step of a process in which the IRO can progress issues of drift and delay that remain unaddressed through a more Formal process if required.
Liquid Logic Case Notes and Forms have been fully updated to reflect the stages within the Resolution Policy. The benefit of utilising these Forms is that they are completed by IRO, assigned to relevant operational Manager for comments and then reassigned to the IRO to make a decision on whether the issue is resolved or should be escalated – this creates a much clearer audit trail on the child's file of how drift and delay is being addressed.
The areas of concern will be reportable, as the recording forms create an evidential base to allow the data from Resolutions to be quantified and scrutinised.
When Ofsted announced their Inspection Visit in June 2019, the CPRU decided to await the outcome of their Inspection Report prior to relaunching the Resolutions Policy to ensure that it would address any key recommendations or challenges that were identified. One paragraph within the Ofsted Report highlighted positive factors, but there was key challenge identified at the end which is central to the IRO role and is the rationale for the Resolution process:
Paragraph 29: The majority of children's care plans are updated and monitored regularly by IROs at timely reviews. Plans do not always clearly identify how permanence will be achieved, and many lack timescales to minimise drift. Child-friendly Care Plans are of better quality and are routinely used to help children understand their plans. There is clear evidence of IROs' oversight. However, IROs do not routinely challenge and escalate concerns about drift and delay.
IROs within the CPRU will model ongoing good communications, and utilise the restorative practice model between our Service and all Social Work teams. This will always emphasise our role in overseeing the plans for the child and the importance of child-focussed discussions. All professionals should commit to being available and responsive to discussions with IROs, and that tasks are completed within agreed timescales to improve outcomes for children.
The Dispute Resolution Process Flowchart
The Dispute Resolution Process Flowchart - sets out clearly the stages that the IROs can use, and the responsibilities of Team Managers and more Senior Managers to respond to a Resolution when raised.
The Flowchart sets out the documents to be completed and the Stages to be followed.
The focus of or scrutiny going forward will be to clearly evidence where challenge took place, how the outcomes for the child were improved, and to provide effective and efficient evidence of how the needs and voice of the child are the forefront of our involvement and planning.