Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO) and Child Care Plans

‘IROs make sure looked after children’s wishes and feelings are central to high quality Care Plans. Care Plans are reviewed at child care review meetings where the child’s voice is heard directly or represented by those caring for them. The IRO leads these meetings and is responsible for reviewing the child’s life situation, ensuring everyone supporting the child is acting in their best interests.’

What is a Child Care Review?

Child Care Reviews are required by law and are held at regular intervals.  Everyone involved with a looked after child comes to a meeting at a place which is comfortable and convenient for the child.  People will be asked to say how things are going and what needs to be done to make sure the child has the best possible life chances.

The child can help choose who they want at the meeting and can have an advocate to make sure their voice is heard.  The IRO can help the child lead the meeting or will lead the meeting on behalf of the child.  The IRO will make sure key things are covered in the meeting.  These will include asking the Social Worker about the Care Plan and checking whether the key goals of the plan have the child’s support.  There will also be discussion about where the child is living and whether they are happy there.

Those attending the meeting will be asked to talk about the child’s health, education needs and whether the right arrangements are in place to ensure the child has contact with family relatives important to them.

The IRO will also make sure that the child’s cultural needs are being met properly.  Looked after children can come from many different cultural backgrounds.  The IRO will need to ensure that a child’s religious and cultural heritage is respected and supported by those involved with the child’s care.

Children might have uncertainties and questions about their own background and what happened in their families before they became looked after.  Review meetings need to make sure that children are supported to know about their family background and are helped to understand why they are looked after.

When a looked after child is too young to share their views the IRO will make sure the child’s best interests are at the centre of the plans made at the meeting.

What is a Care Plan?

All looked after children have a Care Plan.  The Care Plan is written by the Social Worker and, when there are court proceedings, it is agreed as part of the final court decision. If a child is placed in care by agreement with their family (known as ‘a Section 20’ agreement) they will still have a Care Plan.

Care Plans are the most important document for a looked after child and lay out the plans for ‘permanency’.  Permanency plans need to be present for a looked after child by the time of their second review (approximately 4 months after becoming looked after).  A Permanency plan states what resources are required to meet a looked after child’s long term needs. This might include remaining in a long term foster placement, returning to the care of the family or being adopted.  Looked after children need to have a clear permanency plan and these must be checked by the IRO at the time of the review.  Recommendations will be made for their completion if they are not present in the Care Plan.

The Social Worker must ensure the Care Plan is updated before every review, ensuring it reflects the changing needs of the looked after child.  These are then discussed in the review meeting. 

Care Plans should be shared by the Social Worker with the looked after child before the review.  If there are any disagreements these need to be indicated clearly in the Care Plan.  Care Plans also need to be shared with the care providers and with key family members.  It is important to establish an open and honest dialogue with all the people involved in caring for a looked after child. This must include family members given most looked after children eventually return to their families on leaving care.

When a looked after child reaches 16 years of age their Care Plan becomes a Pathway Plan.  The Pathway Plan accompanies the child beyond their 16th birthday through to their 18th birthday when they cease to be a looked after child. The Pathway Plan will continue to be relevant through to their 21st birthday and sometimes later if they remain in full time higher education.

There will no longer be review meetings chaired by an IRO once a looked after child reaches their 18th birthday.  The final review will hand the responsibility of care and support to a personal advisor who will remain involved through to at least their 21st birthday.  

Who comes to reviews and where are they held?

The child's Social Worker will talk to them about their review and who they want to be there.  The IRO and Social Worker will encourage the child to attend or at least be present for part of the meeting. There is no lower age limit for a child’s attendance although common sense needs to prevail in terms of looked after children below school age. 

Even when a child or young person chooses not to attend it remains the IRO’s responsibility to organise and structure the review meeting to promote inclusion and enable the child’s voice to be heard.

There will be some parts of the Care Plan or elements of the child’s looked after experience which might not be appropriate to discuss in the review meeting.  These might include sensitive child protection or health issues which the child does not want discussed in front of particular professionals or family members.  IROs will manage review meetings to respect the right to confidentiality and information sharing can take place outside of the meeting.

Sometimes review meetings will be held in different parts.  The IRO might choose to meet with the child’s parents separately particularly if there are difficulties between the child and parents or between parents and professionals.

The IRO must always speak to and visit the child prior to the review meeting.  This will give the child the opportunity to discuss their feelings of being looked after and to share their wishes and feelings.  The IRO will need to build up a rapport with the child and will keep in touch with them in between reviews to hear about their progress.

The venue for a review meeting needs to be chosen with sensitivity.  A looked after child might not want their meeting to be held in their school or in a big impersonal local authority office building.  The Social Worker will need to plan carefully with the IRO where best to hold the review meeting.  It is the Social Worker’s responsibility to then organise the booking of the meeting venue and arrange the sending out of invitations.

The IRO will have responsibility to write up and share the notes of the review meeting together with any key actions requiring follow up.  The IRO will endeavour to share minutes and recommendations from the meeting within four weeks after the meeting.

Your Feedback

If you would like to provide us with feedback about the review meeting you've attended by using one of the forms below:

Parent / Carer / Professional / Family member feedback form

Child / Young person feedback form

Last Updated: 14 May 2020