The role of Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) in England: final report

Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) were introduced to represent the interests of looked after children following a number of cases where care plans had not been implemented, leading to harm. Their role was strengthened through the introduction of statutory guidance in April 2011 but there has been continuing scepticism about whether they are making enough difference to the quality of the service and whether their independence is compromised by being under local authority control. The aim of this study, undertaken by NCB Research Centre in partnership with the Centre for Child and Family Research, Loughborough University, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is to provide an evidence base about the way the role actually operates in order to inform future policy and practice. The research involved: national surveys of IROs, their managers and Directors of Children Services (DCSs); analysis of inquiries from IROs to independent advice services; an analysis of resources need for the IRO service; case studies of four local authorities, including analysis of care plans, interviews and focus groups with IROs, social workers, other key professionals and looked after children. The question of how the effectiveness of the IRO service can be measured is, however, complex. In their thematic inspection of the IRO role within ten local authorities published in 2013, Ofsted suggested that IROs were still not making enough positive impact. The House of Lords Committee on Adoption Reform (2013) recommended that it was time to employ IROs outside the local authority but the Government did not agree and are committed to making the role work within the current arrangements. The challenges faced by IROs are even greater now than when statutory guidance was introduced in 20111 Creating the right context . It is hoped that the evidence afforded by this study will inform the debate about how to maximise the effectiveness of the role to ensure that looked after children get the independent support they need and deserve.