Private fostering agencies have a great many things to consider in every care plan for a child or young person in which they are involved. There are a number of givens that an agency is entitled to depend upon as representing certainty in managing the fostering process. The role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) is a case in point: and it is reasonable to assume that it should be exactly that – Independent and with a capital ‘I’. The primary function of the role is to scrutinise the plans being made for children and young people placed into care. A vital part of the remit is to stand up and challenge local authorities when the IRO judges that the best interests of the child are not being properly served. There has been some worrying coverage in the national press where it appears some IRO’s are finding themselves in situations where their independence has to be questioned. In one case which has come to light, the IRO was found to be working in a children’s service department for a period of 18 months and managing social workers involved in a particular case. If, for example, it were to be found that that child’s care plan were not being followed; the IRO could hardly be expected to adjudicate on a situation where they had played a key role in managing. In a significant judgement about an IRO ’s failure to monitor care planning for a number of different young people – made in 2014 – Mr Justice Holman stated:
“The whole point and purpose of the system and machinery of independent reviewing officers is precisely to keep the local authority (who are no doubt extraordinarily busy and overworked) on their toes and to be asking awkward questions.”
IRO’s do have significant powers it was reported: it is not as if they do not have teeth. What is so disturbing is that the act of challenging a local authority can result in an IRO losing their job. There are cases on record of this happening after an officer has raised difficult questions. The vice-chair, no less, of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers (NAIRO); Jon Fayle found that his contract was ended by Sutton council as he had challenged care plans in place for a number of children. The council later had to compensate and reinstate him. He has remained outspoken on the issue, citing a number of examples where IRO’s have been discouraged, even, it appears, intimidated for wanting to carry out their jobs. A report produced by the National Association of Fostering Providers focused on a number of failures by IROs to effectively challenge councils that had made the decision to move children from stable foster homes where they were happy and settled into cheaper foster placements. This is a lamentable state of affairs for placement stability is the goal for children and young people. Without this, the inevitable trail of placement breakdowns militates harshly against all the good outcomes everybody should want for children in care. All private fostering agencies are focused on striving to achieve the best possible outcomes for their children and young people: agencies understand that placement stability is the basis for enabling foster children to succeed.
The situation is a confusing one: some IRO’s, when canvassed expressed the view that they would not like to be working outside of an authority for a fully independent body. And some local authorities do work to try and maintain the independence of IRO’s. But common sense has to prevail: working in contexts which are often pressured, emotional and fraught involving vulnerable children must mean that the role of an IRO has to be positioned where full independence is guaranteed. The alternative to this is what we currently appear to have: confusion, muddle and ultimately risks posed to children. And perhaps the last and most pertinent words relating to this should again be those of Jon Fayle the vice-chair of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers: answering the point – If an IRO doesn’t make use of their powers to hold councils to account, what’s the result? “It leaves children without an essential protection intended by parliament.”
Visit for more information on the role of the IRO:
Remember our Rainbow rewards
Do you know anyone wondering how to become a foster parent? And thinking of fostering a child London. Our incentive scheme pays £500 to anyone referring a friend to become a foster carer. The money will be paid as soon as that person has been approved, and had their first foster child placed with them. And, any existing foster carer with another organisation wanting to transfer to Rainbow Fostering Services is also entitled to a bonus under our new scheme. They will receive a £2000 bonus after approval, for carers who have children already placed with them on a long-term basis and £500 for any foster carers who do not have children placed with them. As one of a number of private fostering agencies, we think our Rainbow Rewards are well worth considering so please call our fostering recruitment team on 0208 427 3355 for more information.
And the good news at the end of this particular rainbow…
As one of many private fostering agencies, we could have lost out to, we count ourselves lucky to have Nick, our dedicated and multi-talented social worker won; not one but two, wooden spoons at our recent charity Macmillan Cake event. We are happy to report this – even though he had ticked the box for no publicity.