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6.14 IRO Dispute Resolution Process and Flowchart


This chapter was amended in September 2017 to more fully acknowledge and reflect the IRO escalation process and identify ten criteria for escalating a child’s circumstances or review process, (see Section 2, Criteria for IRO Escalation). The chapter also includes an Appendix 1: IRO Escalation Form.


  1. Background
  2. Criteria for IRO Escalation
  3. Southwark IRO Escalation Process
  4. Complaints about an IRO
  5. The IRO's Responsibilities
  6. Operational Manager's Responsibilities
  7. QUA Manager's Responsibilities

    Appendix 1: IRO Escalation Form

1. Background

The IRO Handbook is the updated Statutory Guidance in force from April 2011 which amends Section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and Section 26 of the Children Act 1989. It states:

'It is the task of each local authority to put in place a formal process for the IRO to raise concerns and to ensure that this process is respected and prioritised by managers. The process is referred to in the guidance as the local dispute resolution process...... it will involve escalating the matter in dispute through a number of levels of seniority within the department with identified timescales for a response at each stage. The IRO may bypass any stage and progress the dispute to the level s/he considers most appropriate. The formal dispute resolution process within each local authority should have timescales in total of no more than 20 working days.'
(Section 6.2 IRO Handbook)

See also Quality Standards for Looked After Reviews.

2. Criteria for IRO Escalation

The IRO Handbook states: 'the individual IRO is personally responsible for activating the dispute resolution process, even if this step may not be in accordance with the child's wishes and feelings, but may, in the IRO's view, be in accordance with the best interest and welfare of the child, as well as his/her human rights'. (Section 6.4 IRO Handbook)

The updated Statutory Guidance for Care Planning, Placement and Review Regulations 2010 states:

'Where the IRO is of the view that the responsible authority:

  • Has failed to address the needs of the child set out in the revised plan; and/or
  • Has failed to review the case in accordance with the regulations; and/or
  • Has failed to implement effectively any decision made at a review; or
  • Is otherwise in breach of its duties to the child in any significant way.

The IRO must advise staff at an appropriate level of seniority of this failure. It will be important that senior managers then work to resolve the failure within a timescale that meets the needs of the individual child.
(Section 4.40 Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review)

The Handbook also makes it clear that IRO escalations should be made regardless of whether 'obstacles in the way of resolving the issue are outside or beyond the control of the local authority e.g. staffing, interagency or resource issues. If these are impacting on the ability of the Department to meet the needs of the child as identified in the child's Care Plan'.

Therefore criteria for initiating an IRO escalation are solely related to the needs of the child and not capacity of operational teams, resources or specific workers performance or behaviour.

An IRO Escalations does not exclude a child or another adult on the child's behalf taking separate action which could include:

  • Making a formal complaint;
  • Making an application to the courts.

The IRO has a duty to inform the child of their rights and assist in obtaining an advocate and/or legal representation. The IRO will also consult and keep informed the child and other relevant persons at each stage of the Representation as appropriate.

The IRO Escalation Form should be completed whenever there is a concern (see Appendix 1: IRO Escalation Form).

Criteria for IROs to initiate the Escalation process in Southwark are summarised in the following 10 categories:

  1. Incomplete or inadequate Care Plans:
    • Care plan not completed or signed off in Mosaic and so work flow stalled;
    • Care Plan or Pathway Plan of poor quality.
  2. Drift or delay in care planning:
    • Drift/delay in legal planning or permanency decisions including a lack of consultation when changing the Care Plan.
  3. Safeguarding concerns including missing episodes, crime relationed or CSE risk:
    • Non participation of child and parents in decision making e.g. before any change of placement; discriminatory practice; not informing child of rights and advocacy; not seeking parent's consent/restricting their contact if child on Section 20 etc.
  4. Concerns Around Social Work Provision:
    • Delay in allocating cases; lack of stability and/or consistency of social work input; social work absence; child raises concerns; discriminatory practice; frequent transition between social workers/teams/services.
  5. Placement Concerns:
    • Including poor placement planning; quality or appropriateness of placement.
  6. Education:
    • Lack of educational progress; inadequate or inappropriate education provision.
  7. Health:
    • Health issues not being addressed; health, emotional or behaviour support needed.
  8. 18+ planning:
    • Including staying put decision making.
  9. Action and effectiveness of management:
    • Including timeliness and evidence of decision-making.
  10. Non completion of review decisions;
  11. Other.

3. Southwark IRO Escalation Process

The IRO will determine when and to whom an escalation based on the criteria above will be initiated. They will aim to address any issues at as low and informal a level as possible. The IRO will determine the appropriate level of management at which to initiate and /or progress the escalation to.

An IRO Escalation form will be completed including:
  • IRO Concern including any background and action already taken;
  • Requested Action and Timescale;
  • To which Management Level/Agency Representation is addressed;
  • Management/ Specialist Agency Response;
  • Outcome;
  • Date Concluded.

The procedure is an interactive process between IROs and Managers/Agencies. In order to be easily tracked, collated and quality assured, the concern will be sent initially by an e-mail to the managers concerned and then recorded on a Mosaic Case note with type of note chosen as 'IRO - escalation'. The e-mail should always be copied to the Head of QAU and / or the QAU Manager.

When the IRO escalation form is completed it should be saved and alerts sent to the social worker and appropriate managers to ensure that they note and read the record on Mosaic.

The manager contacted should respond to the IRO within the time-scale set by the IRO or at least within 5 working days.

If the IRO is not satisfied with the response to their representation or does not get a reply at all, they will escalate the concern up to a more senior manager including if appropriate the Director of Children’s Social Care.

The IRO has the discretion to refer matters to CAFCASS at any time. They will inform their Manager if they are considering this. The Head of QAU will inform the Director of CSC and the Head of Service.

The IRO has a duty to inform the Guardian of any matter subject to a dispute resolution process.

The IRO Handbook states that all IROs must have access to independent legal advice at any time. This can be secured by advising the Head of QA who will appoint an independent legal provider having determined that this is necessary. CAFCASS and the Children's Legal Centre provide information and guidance on legislation, regulations and legal options but do not provide legal advice.

4. Complaints about an IRO

If there are concerns about the performance of a child's IRO or about the organisation and conduct of a review, the matter should be referred in writing to the QA Manager who will arrange an investigation and feedback within 10 working days. If the matter is not resolved satisfactorily the concern should be escalated to the Head of QAU or the Assistant Director Corporate Parenting.

5. The IRO's Responsibilities

  • To complete all IRO Representations/escalations, issuing at the relevant level of manager or other agency and notifying QAU Management. All escalations to be recorded on Mosaic case records;
  • To consider and if in agreement act on requests from Managers for further time in the IRO Representation resolution process;
  • To progress IRO Representation to the next appropriate level of Management if matter is not satisfactorily resolved;
  • To seek independent legal advice if required;
  • To advise the court appointed Guardian and Southwark Legal of the issuing and resolution of any Representation if the child or young person is subject of Court Proceedings;
  • To update child and relevant parties as appropriate on the Representation process and seek updates from them as necessary.

6. Operational Manager's Responsibilities

  • To respond (within the time-scale set by the IRO or at least within 5 working days ) to the concerns of the IRO specifically addressing the requested action;
  • To request from the IRO further time if required to resolve the Escalation;
  • To alert their manager if it's likely that the Escalation will be progressed.

7. QAU Manager's Responsibilities

  • To advise IRO should they be acting outside regulations or Southwark procedures;
  • To support and assist the IRO in making an Escalation as necessary;
  • To facilitate IRO request for independent legal advice if required;
  • To monitor and track IRO Escalation responses and advise IROs and Operational Managers of those that remain outstanding;
  • To monitor and quality assure the performance of IROs and operation of the IRO service. This will include auditing of cases identified via other quality assurance arrangements in which a Representation had not been issued but where the LA practice fell short of expected practice standards;
  • Head of QAU to report on IRO escalation themes to Children's Social Care DMT on a quarterly basis;
  • IRO annual report to include a summary of key themes in representations and escalations.

Appendix 1: IRO Escalation Form

Click here to view Appendix 1: IRO Escalation Form