NAIRO campaigns against measures in the Children and Social Work Bill that threaten to remove children’s rights and to dismantle the IRO Service


Chair: Jacki Rothwell
Vice Chair: Paul Smart
Vice Chair: Jon Fayle

In 1946 rules were introduced requiring 6 monthly reviews of children in foster care. This followed the death of 12 year old Dennis O’Neill who was killed by his foster carers. The coroner criticised the lack of local authority supervision. Reviews were later extended to those living in Children’s Homes. In 2002 Parliament passed legislation to make local authorities appoint independent persons to lead the review process. Independent Reviewing Officers must be qualified and experienced social workers and their statutory role includes checking the local authority has informed young people of their rights to make a complaint, access support from an advocate and helping the child obtain legal advice.

Measures in the Children and Social Work Bill, currently going through parliament, threaten the continued existence of the IRO Service.

Clauses 29 – 33 of the Bill would enable Local Authorities to apply for exemptions from their duties to provide services and support to children (and corresponding rights for children) which are enshrined in law. This is said to be intended to enable innovation, but many in the children’s sector, including NAIRO, question this. We believe innovation can be achieved without the erosion of hard won children’s rights, which this Bill threatens.

When Lord Nash spoke for the Government in the House of Lords in the 2nd reading debate on 14.6.16. the IRO service was one of his 2 examples of a service ripe for dismantling.

He said:

“Secondly, there is strong consensus in the sector that in low risk cases, the role of the independent reviewing officer brings no additional benefit. Exemptions will enable local authorities to trial redirecting IRO resource differently – for example, to more complex cases – while reducing the number of additional people a young person does not know at their review, which is a known concern in more straightforward cases.”

At least two local authorities are reported to be requesting an exemption from legislation which will reduce basic rights for children in care and reduce the IRO service.

On 11th July Lord Nash informed the House of Lords that in North Yorkshire there are just over 400 children in care but there are only 20 children on average who would require regular in depth reviews if the authority was granted exemption from the law in relation to reviews and IROs.

We understand that Hampshire County Council would ask for 2 exemptions from the current legislation

(a) to reduce the frequency of children’s reviews below the current minimum

(b) for the role of the IRO to be carried out by individuals who are not qualified social workers (and potentially therefore less able to challenge the local authority on behalf of the child)

The role of the IRO is to scrutinise the local authority’s care plan for the child and listen carefully to the views of the child and others about the plan. They must challenge the local authority if they believe the plan is not in the best interests of the child. The loss of the rights of children in care to the protection of this service would be a disastrous backward step.

NAIRO will campaign tirelessly to resist this legislation in partnership with other individuals, children’s rights groups and charities.  In particular we are part of a campaign called “Together for Children – Defending Children’s Social Care Rights”

We urge all people concerned about the lives of children in care, to join this campaign against these potentially disastrous measures.

Jacki Rothwell, Chair of NAIRO said “We are passionate about improving outcomes for children in care. We believe this measure in the Children and Social Work Bill, if it became law, would have a disastrous impact on the rights of children in care, and on their lives. 

This measure is not about “innovation” it is about dismantling children’s rights.

I have not met an IRO in the country who thinks these measures would help children in care.

We encourage all IROs, social workers, children’s rights workers, and all those who care about the lives of children in care, to do all they can to resist these clauses in the Bill and to join the ‘Together for Children’ campaign.

We call on the Government to withdraw the clauses from the Bill, and enter discussions with NAIRO and others about how the IRO service could really be improved for the benefit of looked after children”


October 2016

Patrons of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers
Sir Vince Cable (former MP and Secretary of State for Business)
The Earl of Listowel
June Thoburn CBE, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of East Anglia
John Kemmis, Former Chief Executive, VOICE
Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Kingston University

Notes for Editors

Independent Reviewing Officers
An Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) is a qualified social worker who has a responsibility to review the cases of children in care at regular intervals. A key element of the role is to scrutinise the local authority care plan for the child, in particular taking into account the child’s wishes and feelings, and being mindful of the child’s rights. If the IRO believes the LA plan is not in the best interests of the child, she/he has the duty to challenge the local authority to whatever level is necessary to resolve the matter.

NAIRO was founded in March 2009. It is the only national professional organisation for IROs in the country. We have a fast growing membership from England, Wales, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.

NAIRO is devoted to improving outcomes for looked after children by maximising the positive impact of the reviewing process.

NAIRO has recently registered as a charity with a view to obtaining more funding from charitable sources, to enable us to strengthen our organisation for the benefit of children in care.

We have the benefit of several leading academics in social work or related fields, amongst our associate membership. We also have a number of eminent patrons who support our work.

For more information see our website