Bath and North East Somerset


Top of page

Size: View this website with small text View this website with medium text View this website with large text View this website with high visibility

1.4.4 Role of IRO in Court Proceedings

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter sets out the arrangements between Social Workers, Court Appointed Guardians and IROs in developing Care Plans for Court proceedings.

This chapter was added to the manual in June 2016.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Protocol

    Appendix 1: Chapter 8 Cafcass


1. Introduction

In April 2011 the DfE introduced guidance for IROs arising from the Children and Young Persons Act 2008, the IRO Handbook. Chapter 8 of that guidance deals with IROs working with Children whose cases are in family proceedings. (The relevant section of this chapter is attached as Appendix 1: Chapter 8 Cafcass).

The Handbook requires much closer involvement of IROs in family proceedings, close collaboration with the Children’s Guardian, and more communication between the IRO and the Court. The guidance also sets out the necessary arrangements for when the proceedings are finished.

The Child’s Care Plan must be maintained by the Local Authority and kept under review at the statutory intervals and whenever significant changes are proposed to the plan throughout proceedings. Both the Children’s Guardian and the IRO should be properly informed about the Local Authority’s plans for the child so they are able to scrutinise these plans to make sure that they are based on good quality assessment so that the plan demonstrates how the Child’s needs will be met, with the Child being provided with the opportunity to be meaningfully involved in planning for their Care.

The Local Authority will need to take the views of the IRO on the quality of planning into account in formulating the final care plan to be put to the Court.

Where a child is accommodated by the Local Authority upon issue of proceedings e.g. under s20 of the CA 1989, it is good practice for the Local Authority to serve a copy of the Application Form C110a, Local Authority Case Summary together with a copy of the Initial Social Work Statement and Care Plan. Additionally the Local Authority should provide the parties and the Children’s Guardian with the name and contact details of the IRO together with the dates of any statutory reviews which have been arranged.

There should be a clear protocol for the communication between the IRO with the Court appointed Guardian and the Local Authority legal services. The expectations of communication are set out in the Linked Care and Placement Order Updated Guidance (SCFJC 2008), the CAFCASS practice note (2007) and the guidance from the Ministry of Justice and DCSF (2009). It is important that the Local Authority has an agreed protocol for forwarding all court directions to the allocated IRO in a timely fashion and that in the absence of the Guardian at the review there is process for forwarding the Chair’s report to the Guardian. 

The protocol needs to ensure the allocated IRO and Guardian establish contact upon appointment and that the IRO’s views of the Local Authority care plan are known by the Guardian including the IRO accessing the local dispute resolution process.    


2. Protocol

This protocol sets out local arrangements in Bath and North East Somerset Council for ensuring that these requirements can be undertaken in an efficient and effective way.

The Outset of Family Proceedings

At the outset of family proceedings some simple but essential communications need to take place:

  • The Social Worker will ensure that the IRO and the Children’s Guardian have each other’s contact details;
  • The Safeguarding Admin Team will ensure that the relevant Local Authority Solicitor has the name of the IRO once allocated.

Communications Between IRO, Guardian and Social Worker

It is the equal responsibility of the IRO and the Guardian, to initiate contact with the other. Both officers should proactively take steps to contact the other as soon as they know their identity. It would be desirable for the IRO and Guardian to meet, but given time and resource pressures this may not always be possible and phone conversations/emails may need to suffice.

It will of course be essential for the IRO also to be in close communication with the Child’s Social Worker about the proceedings. It may sometimes be helpful for the IRO, the Guardian and the Social Worker to meet to coordinate work and identify issues to be resolved. Such a meeting would be particularly important, if there is disagreement between any of the 3 parties about the best way forward.

Provision of Documents

The IRO Handbook requires that “the legal department for the local authority provides the IRO with all the relevant court documents”.

Bath and North East Somerset Council Legal Department will make arrangements for relevant documents to be forwarded to the IRO in a timely manner:

  • Reports from independent experts;
  • Reports from the Children’s Guardian for the court;
  • he final judgement (if there is one) or Final Order and Care Plan.

The Social Worker will ensure that the Care Plan and reports from the Local Authority to the court are placed on Liquid Logic.

The IRO Handbook also requires that “the record of each review that takes place during the proceedings should be submitted to court”. The IRO administrator will send a copy of each Child in Care Review to the allocated Solicitor. (NB the SW invite sheet will be amended to capture the name of LA Solicitor).

IRO Endorsement of the Care Plan

A procedure should be in place so that there is time for the IRO to agree the Court Care Plan before it is filed.

The local Dispute resolution protocol should be used to resolve any difficulties and all reasonable efforts should be made to resolve differences of opinion under the processes outlined therein. Any unresolved dispute between the Local Authority and the IRO about the plan for the child and any issues subject to the local Dispute Resolution process will be highlighted in the Care Plan.

There may be occasions when the IRO wishes to convey information or make their views known to the court, apart from the provision of review reports. At the very minimum, the IRO Handbook requires that “any dispute between the local authority and the IRO about the plan for the child” should be made known to the court. If the IRO wishes to put some information before the court it should be done through the Guardian or through the Local Authority’s legal department. The SW should capture the IRO’s views in the final Care Plan filed with the Court.

Participation of Guardians in the Review Process

The IRO Handbook makes clear that the guardian should be deeply involved in the review process. The most suitable method of this engagement should be discussed between the IRO and the Guardian. Sometimes it will be appropriate for the Guardian to attend review meetings. On other occasions the exchange of information and views would more appropriately take place outside those meetings.

The IRO will inform the administration team if the Guardian is to be invited to the review.

End of Proceedings

The IRO Handbook requires that at the end of proceedings, “the IRO and children’s Guardian should have a final discussion about the child’s case with a view to identifying any outstanding issues or particular matters that should be kept under review” It is essential that there is absolutely clarity about the details of the plan finally agreed by the court. The possible need to re-involve the court may also be considered here.

The Review of this Protocol

The working of this protocol will be reviewed in a year’s time to assess whether it has been helpful and to identify further improvements that might be made to it.

Review date: January 2016.


Appendix 1: Chapter 8 Cafcass

8.1

There are two distinct areas in which the IRO will work in conjunction with Cafcass:

  • As part of family proceedings when a child is looked after; and
  • When an IRO makes a referral to Cafcass.
 

Family Proceedings

8.2

In relation to family proceedings, all children who are subject to care proceedings will have a children’s guardian, appointed by the court and an IRO, appointed by the local authority. The Public Law Outline refers to the ‘timetable for the child’. The IRO should feel confident that s/he is being kept fully informed of the progress of the child’s case, during and at the conclusion of the proceedings. This will involve:

  • Close liaison with the children’s guardian; and
  • The legal department for the local authority providing the IRO with all relevant court documents and having a system in place to do so in a timely manner.
8.3

The IRO will need to consider together with the children’s guardian what communication is necessary in order to promote the best possible care planning process for each child. As soon as the IRO has been appointed to a child subject to proceedings:

  • The IRO service should provide the legal department for the local authority with the name of the IRO and with his/her contact details; and
  • The legal department for the local authority should advise the court of the name of the IRO and of his/her contact details.
8.4

The legal department of the local authority should have a system in place to:

  • Pass on the name and contact details of the children’s guardian, once appointed, to the IRO; and
  • Provide copies of all relevant court documents to the IRO, including court orders and directions, the reports of experts and the reports of the children’s guardian, within five working days of receipt of them.
8.5

Once the children’s guardian has been appointed, the IRO and children’s guardian should establish communication with each other. In the event that the children’s guardian has been appointed and is able to attend the first review, this may be an opportunity to establish the contact. However, if the appointment is not made until after the first review, it will be important for the communication to be established as soon as possible following the appointment. In addition:

  • The children’s guardian should be advised of each review meeting and invited, where appropriate;
  • Each local authority should have a system in place to ensure that the legal department of the local authority and the children’s guardian receive a copy of each review record;
  • The record of each review that takes place during the proceedings should be submitted to court;
  • The IRO should ensure that s/he is in discussion with the children’s guardian at intervals, as is appropriate for each child’s case and that the topics of discussion include:
    • The wishes and feelings of the child;
    • The current care plan;
    • Whether details of the care plan are subject to a formal dispute resolution process and if so details of this;
    • Any complaints that have been received about the case; and
    • Any issues raised in court in relation to the implementation of the current care plan.
8.6 Prior to the Issues Resolution Hearing, the local authority should inform the court of any dispute between the local authority and the IRO about the plan for the child and of any issues subject to the local dispute resolution process.
8.7 In all cases where the child is to remain looked after, following the completion of the proceedings, the IRO and children’s guardian should have a final discussion about the child’s case with a view to identifying any outstanding issues or particular matters that should be kept under review.
8.8 The content of discussions between the children’s guardian and IRO should be recorded on the child’s case record.

End