Tim Loughton MP
Minister for Children
Dept for Education
May 14th 2012
Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs): Management arrangements and concerns regarding independence.
Thank you for meeting with my colleagues and I on 24th January 2012. As you may recall, we were very concerned about the independence and management arrangements of IROs in some local authorities across the country.
Since this meeting a significant number of our members have contacted NAIRO stating they have experienced management constraints to genuinely independent practice, including legitimate challenges being suppressed and IROs feeling intimidated by management.
We acknowledge of course, that in many areas of the country the system is working well and that IROs are being provided with management support mechanisms that facilitate genuinely independent practice.
However, I can give a number of examples where this is not the case. The following examples will not identify any person or local authority as our members have insisted that the information should be anonymised. This in itself is indicative of how some IROs are worried about recriminations from their employer if they are identified. I would be happy to give you, or your officials, more detailed information, on a strictly confidential basis with permission of those involved.
• An IRO feels that, in one local authority, IROs are being prevented from exercising an independent role due to a Head of Service (who seems not to value the role of IROs) who has on two occasions, threatened IROs with disciplinary action because they have raised (in their opinion) legitimate concerns regarding children’s cases
• In one local authority, IROs have been told that they can only make a challenge with the permission of a senior manager
• In another local authority, IROs are told that they must not refer a case to CAFCASS without the permission of a senior manager
• In another local authority an IRO manager had a disagreement with their Director of Children’s Services (DCS) in relation to an IRO report due to be presented to Ofsted. This was because the DCS wanted to edit/suppress the report. The IRO manager refused to allow this to happen and subsequently had to take redundancy following an internal restructuring of the Department which deleted this IRO manager’s post.
• A freelance IRO (working in a local authority which only uses freelance IROs) has had his contract terminated and his cases reallocated to other IROs because in his view, he made legitimate but unwanted and inconvenient challenges.
Of course there may be another side to some of these accounts. As we discussed with you at our meeting, we accept that performance management of IROs is vital and there may be some IROs who do not perform to a satisfactory standard. However, where IROs are suffering disciplinary or other measures and believe this is due to them making legitimate but unwanted challenges, it is essential that some kind of independent arbitration is available.
Your vision for a strong, confident, and independent reviewing service for looked after children cannot be achieved unless this issue is resolved. The NAIRO committee feel that it would be helpful if you were able to:
• Indicate your support for the need for independent arbitration in these kind of disputes
• Indicate your support for a management protocol which would provide IROs with the management support they need
• Indicate in the longer term, your intention to issue further regulations/ statutory guidance which will offer the necessary protection to IROs
• Indicate your support for a closer scrutiny by Ofsted of management arrangements for IROs
If this issue cannot be remedied by these or other measures, NAIRO committee’s position is that you should give consideration to how you might exercise your powers under section 11 of the Children & Young Persons Act 2008 for the establishment of independent management arrangements for the IRO service.
Finally, I would like to assure you of the absolute commitment of NAIRO and its members to promote the welfare of looked after children. We look forward to working in collaboration with you, your officials, and other professionals in the field to achieve this.
Lead Committee Member for Management Issues
National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers