Children in care in the 1990s, and before that, didn’t have an independent reviewing officer. These very important jobs only started for all children in care in 2004! The box at the very bottom of this page tells you how, and why, they started.

The law says that the following people cannot become your independent reviewing officer:

  • Anyone who is involved in putting together your care plan
  • Anyone who takes charge of how you are looked after
  • Your social worker or their manager
  • Your personal adviser or their manager
  • Anyone who is in charge of making financial decisions about your care.
Protecting your rights

Your independent reviewing officer must do lots of great things on your behalf.

Here are two very important things:

  • Your independent reviewing officer must make sure you have been informed by your local authority of your rights connected to the Children Act 1989. This could, for example, be your rights relating to seeing your parents, brothers or sisters or other people that mean a lot to you. It could also be your right to apply to a family court to have your care order removed
  • Your independent reviewing officer must make sure you have been informed by your local authority of how you can make a complaint, and your right to an independent advocate to help you express your views or make a complaint.

Here are other things your independent reviewing officer (IRO) must do:

  • Your IRO must do their very best to attend a review meeting about you. A review meeting is when people most closely involved in your care come together to discuss with you how well you are doing, and what help you might need now or in the future. It is up to you how you give your views. You might want to write them down. Or make a video or drawing to communicate your thoughts and feelings. If you need help from an advocate, your independent reviewing officer should be able to sort this. You cannot be forced to attend your review meeting, though it’s excellent if you are able to because it’s all about you. If you are put off going because of the way the meeting is run, or the time or place, your independent reviewing officer should be able to make changes. If you don’t want a certain person to be there, you can let your independent reviewing officer know. Your independent reviewing officer, social worker and any other adults attending should do their best to help you feel comfortable and able to express your views and feelings.
  • Your IRO must chair any review meeting that s/he attends. This means they are the person who welcomes everyone at the start and keeps the meeting on track so that everything that is important is discussed. Some young people chair their review meetings with help from their independent reviewing officer. Others chair parts of the meeting.
  • Your IRO must speak to you in private about the things that will be checked and discussed in the review of your care. If you have enough understanding, your independent reviewing officer doesn’t have to speak to you in private if your refuse. We imagine this happens rarely because most children and young people want to make sure their views and feelings are listened to and taken into account. If your independent reviewing officer thinks you don’t understand, then they can also be excused from meeting you in private. If you are reading this information about your rights, then it seems obvious to us that you have understanding!
  • Your IRO must do their best to make sure the wishes and feelings of your parent (or anyone else with parental responsibility for you) are known and taken into account.
  • Your IRO must make sure your review is done properly – see below for all the things that have to be carefully looked at, to make sure you are being looked after well.
  • Your IRO must make sure a written record is kept of who is responsible for carrying out decisions. For example, if a decision is made at your review meeting that your social worker will arrange for you to see a brother or sister more often, this must be written down.
  • Your IRO must make sure that any failure by your local authority to review your care is reported to a senior manager. This is to make sure things are sorted quickly.
  • Your IRO must make sure that any failure to carry out decisions made by your last review is reported to a senior manager. This is to make sure things are sorted quickly.

If your independent reviewing officer thinks your local authority hasn’t given enough information to allow a proper review of your care, then s/he can postpone your review meeting for up to 20 working days (four weeks in total).

It's all about you!

These are the things which the law says your local authority must look at when reviewing your care:

  • Your wishes and feelings.
  • The views of your independent reviewing officer.
  • If there have been any changes in your circumstances since your last review, how these have affected you. Changes in circumstances can be many different things – like who you live with, your education, your relationships with people in your family, how you are getting on with your carers and your health.
  • Whether decisions taken at the last review have been followed. The reasons for any decisions not being followed must be looked at. This is to make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to do.
  • Whether your local authority should try to get a change in your legal position. For example, your social worker might think it would be better for you to be the subject of a care order – which would give your local authority more legal responsibility over your welfare.
  • Whether there is a plan for permanence for you. A permanence plan is a fancy way of saying how people will work together to make sure you feel loved, secure and settled throughout your childhood, and as you move into your adult years.
  • Arrangements for you seeing your family members, and if there’s a need for any changes to make sure these relationships are encouraged.
  • Whether where you live is still the best place for you (if not, are changes needed).
  • Your educational needs, progress and development, and whether any changes are needed. (The views of your school’s designated teacher will be taken into account).
  • Your leisure interests. If you would like to start a new hobby or join a club or group, this is the bit of your review which can make plans for that!
  • A report on your health, and whether any changes are needed to make sure your health is looked after.
  • Whether your needs connected to your identity are being met and whether any changes are needed, taking into account your religion (if you have one), your racial origin and your cultural background.
  • What’s been agreed about your social worker giving you advice, support and help, whether this is still right for you and that you understand what’s been agreed.
  • Whether anything needs to be planned for when you will no longer be looked after by your local authority. (You can be looked after until you become an adult, at 18. After this, you still have the right to help).
Very important duty

If an independent reviewing officer thinks your local authority has failed in an important way…

  • to follow the law about making a plan for you
  • to review your care,
  • to follow a decision made at an earlier review

or they think your local authority is not following what the law says should be done for you, then s/he must consider whether it would be right to contact an organisation called Cafcass.

Before contacting Cafcass, your independent reviewing officer must have tried to get things sorted within your local authority.

This is a very important duty because involving Cafcass can mean things get sorted for children and young people.

Cafcass has the power to take legal action – including to protect the human rights of children in care – after an independent reviewing officer has contacted the organisation about a child in care.

How independent reviewing officers started

The duty on local authorities to make sure every child in care has an independent reviewing officer began with four children in care in Torbay and Bedfordshire, in England.

The two children in care in Torbay – a brother and sister – were meant to return to live with their mum, but this didn’t happen.

In Bedfordshire, two brothers were living with foster carers. Their grandmother said she would look after them but this meant she would have to come to England. She lived in a different country at the time. Judges couldn’t be sure that this would work out for the boys.

Many different judges looked at what had happened to the four children in Torbay and Bedfordshire.

In one court, the judges decided that some children’s cases should come back to court so that a judge could check things had worked out well for them. This was later over-ruled but the Government decided to start a different way of checking that children are being looked after properly, and their plans are being followed.

The solution the Government came up with was for every child in care to have an independent reviewing officer!

Parliament passed a law in 2002 which says that every child in care must have an independent reviewing officer. This came into effect in May 2004. Excellent!