Independent reviewing officers check that children in care are looked after well and listened to.
The law says your independent reviewing officers has three main jobs:
Your independent reviewing officer must check your local authority is looking after you properly. They must always focus on what’s best for you;
Your independent reviewing officer must make sure your wishes and feelings are taken seriously by your local authority. This means they should spend time with you and get to know you well. They should know your views and what’s important to you;
Your independent reviewing officer must be involved in reviews of how well you are doing, the care you are receiving and plans for your future (see the ‘It’s all about you!’ section below). They welcome everyone at the start of your review meeting and keep the meeting on track so that everything important is discussed. If you want to, you can chair your review meeting with help from your independent reviewing officer. Or you might decide to chair parts of it. Your independent reviewing officer should work with you to make sure your review meeting is interesting and positive – enjoyable even! You should be able to influence when and where it’s held, and who is invited to attend. It’s all about you after all.
Independent reviewing officers must stand up for children in care when things are not right for them. You can read more about this below.
Children in care in the past didn’t have an independent reviewing officer. The box at the very bottom of this page tells you how, and why, they started.
Protecting your rights
Your independent reviewing officer must make sure your local authority has told you:
About your right to an independent advocate to help you be heard or to make a complaint;
About 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;
How you can make a complaint.
Now, this is incredibly important. Your independent reviewing officer must speak to you in private about all the things that are to be checked and discussed about you and your care.
If you have enough understanding, your independent reviewing officer doesn’t have to speak to you in private if you don’t want this. We imagine this happens rarely because most children and young people want to make sure their views and feelings are carefully listened to and taken seriously. 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 also:
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.
Make sure your review is done properly – see below for all the things that have to be carefully checked.
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.
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.
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 must be part of your care review:
Your wishes and feelings;
The views of your independent reviewing officer;
If there have been any changes in your life since your last review, how these have affected you;
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 in looking after you;
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 people in your family, 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 make sure children and young people’s rights are properly protected.
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 are they independent?
The law allows only certain people to become your independent reviewing officer (IRO).
IROs must be experienced social workers;
They must be separate from your social worker and your social worker’s manager;
They can’t be your personal adviser;
They can’t have any power over paying for your care.
These rules exist to make sure your independent reviewing officer stays focused on what’s best for you. We’re right behind that.
How independent reviewing officers started
To understand why every child in care has an independent reviewing officer, we have to go back to four children who were 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 situations should come back to court in the future, to check that things had worked out well for the children while they were in care.
A higher court didn’t agree that this was a good way forward. Then the government decided to start a different way of checking that children in care are being looked after properly.
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!