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W3C Compliance

7.3.7 Dispute Resolution Protocol

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter further enhances the chapter Dispute Resolution Process for Independent Reviewing Officers by emphasising the time scales required by practitioners to submit their reports to the IRO and recognising the increased requirements on IROs to monitor the safeguarding and best interests of each child, including the progress of their Plan.

RELEVANT CHAPTERS

Looked After Reviews Procedure

Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed and updated in May 2017 to reflect the current organisational structure and decision-making within the Department and to reflect the updated terminology of Merton’s electronic recording system.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Role of an Independent Reviewing Officer and Child Protection Chair
  3. Roles and Responsibilities of the Local Authority
  4. Responsibilities of Children’s Quality Assurance, Training and Development
  5. Involvement of Children, Young People and Parents
  6. Dispute Resolution
  7. Children’s Quality Assurance and Practice Development Service

    Appendix 1: Examples of Cases/Issues Requiring Resolution

    Appendix 2: Dispute Resolution Flow Chart

    Appendix 3: Formal Dispute Resolution Process Practice Alert


1. Introduction

The purpose of this protocol is to outline the role and responsibilities of Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) and CP Chair in accordance with the dispute resolution process. The role of Local Authority's Children’s Quality Assurance Training and Development Service (CQATD) within this process and how the protocol will offer guidance to the social work teams within Merton. The following legal framework and guidance underpins the statutory duties undertaken by IRO’s/CP chairs within the Children’s Quality Assurance and Training and Development Service. These being: The 1989 Children Act, The children and Young Person Act 2008, The 2004 Children Act, The Adoption and Children 2002, Care Planning, Placement and case Review (England) regulations 2010, The IRO Handbook 2010, London Child Protection Procedure 2013 and any other statutory guidance regarding the looked after children (LAC) review process and dispute resolution.


2. The Role of an Independent Reviewing Officer and Child Protection Chair

The purpose of an independent reviewing officer (IRO) is to ensure that the Care Plan for a Looked After Child clearly sets out the help, care and support that they need and takes full account of their wishes and feelings. Local authorities are required by law to appoint an IRO for each looked after child. Since April 2011, changes to care planning regulations have strengthened the IRO role. IROs are now not only responsible for chairing statutory reviews but also for monitoring children’s care plans on an on-going basis. IROs should also monitor the local authority’s overall performance as a ‘Corporate Parent’ for looked after children (as ‘corporate parents’, all those who have responsibility for looked children should act for the children as a responsible and conscientious parent would act for their own children). Ofsted 2011.

The purpose of a Child Protection Chair (CP Chair) is to bring together and analyse in a inter agency setting, information that has been obtained about the child developmental needs and the parents' or carers' capacity to respond to these needs. Consider the evidence presented to a conference and taking into account the child's present situation and information about the child's history, present and past family functioning, make judgments about the likelihood of a child suffering significant harm in the future. Also decide whether a child is at continued risk of Significant Harm. Decide what future action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child/ren, including the child becoming subject to plan. (London Child Protection Procedures 5th addition 2013).

IROs and CP chairs are part of the team of professionals working around every child in care and every child subject to a Child Protection Plan, seeking with other team members, to promote the welfare of that child. However, IROs and CP Chairs have an important role in respect of being independent of that team and have particular duties and powers arising from that independence.

The roles of IRO's and CP chairs is to review the cases of children in care and children subject to child protection plans from an independent stance and subject the Local Authorities care plans and child protection plans to critical scrutiny. They are in a unique position within a local authority to carry out a critical monitoring and challenging role. They can highlight both positive and negative issues that affect children, ensuring that children's views are heard. They should be able to evidence how their role has made a positive difference to the child and helped to improve life chances of children they are involved with.

If an IRO or a CP chair believes that the practice or policy of the local authority is detrimental to the child’s welfare, they have a duty to assertively challenge the local authority. A key feature of the IRO and CP Chair role, is that they should provide an independent perspective uninfluenced by managerial or resource pressures of the local authority. (National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers Protocol).

Elements of the role of the IRO and CP chair include:

  • To ensure that the welfare of the child in care is safeguarded;
  • To provide consultation and advice for the child, social work teams, professionals, carers;
  • To make effective challenges through the dispute resolution process when plans are not serving a child needs appropriately.

The provision of a quality service to each looked after child requires the IRO to have sufficient time to:

  • Consult with all the relevant adults, including foster carers, before each review;
  • Read all the relevant documentation before each review;
  • Meet with the child in a meaningful way before the review (this may involve meeting with the child on a different day in advance of the review); in particular those who may be chairing or co-chairing their reviews;
  • Chair all meetings that make up the review;
  • Provide a full record of the review;
  • Complete quality assurance documentation;
  • Undertake any follow up work after the review;
  • Monitor drift;
  • Alert the local authority in writing of areas of poor practice;
  • Consult with the social worker and the child, following a significant change;
  • Resolve concerns informally, implementing the local dispute resolution process where necessary;
  • Travel to meetings; and
  • Undertake training and attend meetings for the purpose of consultation and professional development.

The provision of a quality service for each child subject to plan requires the CP chair to have sufficient time to:

  • Read all the relevant documentation before each review;
  • Consult with all the relevant adults, parents/ carers before each conference;
  • Meet with the child in a meaningful depending on there age and level understanding and establish is they would like to be present at the conference;
  • Chair all meetings that make up the review;
  • Provide a full record of the review;
  • Complete quality assurance documentation;
  • Consult with the social worker prior to the conference and after;
  • Monitor drift;
  • Resolve concerns informally, implementing the local dispute resolution process where necessary;
  • Undertake training and attend meetings for the purpose of consultation and professional development.


3. Roles and Responsibilities of the Local Authority

LA decision-making in relation to children’s care planning (for the child at home or in the care of the LA) should be clear and transparent in order to confirm how a child’s needs will be met. The LA must follow a clear process to make decisions in a timeframe appropriate to the child’s needs.

Social workers must ensure that a completed Review of Arrangements report is completed in the social care information system five working days in advance of the scheduled meeting. LAC Care plans, Pathway Plans and any other significant documents should also be forwarded to the IRO Five working days in advance of the LAC review meeting and these documents must evidence coherent planning that meets the needs of the child as well as the decision making process.

For Child Protection Conferences this also requires the initial conference report to be completed and sent two days in advance of the meeting planned. For review Child protection conferences the report must be sent at least five days in advance of the review conference. Practitioner and managers must ensure that all key professionals are invited to conferences ensuring good communication and to strengthen the planning for children and their families.

This enables the IRO/CP chair to have sufficient time to read reports and information that will enable them to have a clear overview of the child current needs.


4. Responsibilities of Children’s Quality Assurance, Training and Development

There are strict timescales for the production of minutes from LAC reviews and conferences.

The Social Worker should be in receipt of the Chairs/IRO report in ICS for the LAC review within 22 working days. Decisions for a LAC review are circulated within 5 workings.

The Social Worker should be in receipt of the full report for Child protection conferences within 15 working days. Decisions/CP plans are distributed within 48 hours after the conference.

Social workers and their managers are responsible for notifying the IRO/CP chair about any significant changes to the child/ren care plan/ placement (in order for the IRO to decide whether they need to re-schedule a LAC review or conference). This also applies to Child who are subject to plans, where there may be significant changes that may result in court proceedings or if a child becomes looked after.

These changes include:

  • Court Orders and outcomes from Directions hearings;
  • Court care plans;
  • Serious accidents;
  • Complaints from or on behalf of the child, parent or carer;
  • Arrests, bail and convictions;
  • Unexpected changes in children’s placement provision which may significantly impact on placement stability;
  • Unexpected changes in family circumstances of the child including births and deaths;
  • Any period of more than 24 hours missing from care;
  • Any period of exclusion from school of more than five days;
  • Outcomes of health assessments/Adoption medicals/consultations which confirm any serious undiagnosed/unknown condition;
  • Outcomes from Adoption or Fostering panels.

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 Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure 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: the legal department for the local authority providing the IRO with all relevant court documents, 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.

The IRO views should also be included in the social workers report when submitting statement and care plans during the court proceedings.

Additionally, social workers and their managers need to inform the IRO/CP when a decision is made not to implement significant recommendations made during a LAC review or conference and give reasons for this in writing (Regulation 8A)

Where problems in planning for the child are identified through the review or conference process (refer to Appendix 1: Examples of Cases/Issues Requiring Resolution) and the IRO/CP chair has not been able to resolve the issues they will then trigger an alert through the dispute resolution protocol using the management alert form. It is the responsibility of the senior manager to respond to the alert in writing within the timescale determined by the IRO/CP chair (usually 9 working days).


5. Involvement of Children, Young People and Parents

The LA has a duty to ensure that the child and other significant persons (parents and carers) are informed in a timely way of the decision not to implement review and conference recommendations.

In the event that any issues require problem resolution the IRO/CP chairs must also ensure the child understands that, aside from the IRO/CP chair’s planned actions to seek resolution of the issues, the child is entitled to access independent advocacy (commissioned through the Council) and to make use of the Council’s complaints process to pursue resolution themselves.


6. Dispute Resolution

Where the IRO/CP chair has identified significant issues during/or outside of a LAC review meeting or Child protection conference. The IRO/CP chair has discretion about which level to initially address their concerns, taking into account the nature of their concerns, the circumstances and the current care plan.

The Dispute Resolution process:

  • Social Worker/Assistant Team Manager 2 days (informal);
  • Social Worker, Assistant Team Managers - Practice Alert (Stage 1);
  • Team Manager (Stage 2);
  • Head of Service (Stage 3);
  • Assistant Director Children's Services (Stage 4);
  • Director Children’s Services (Stage 5);
  • Chief Executive (Stage 6);
  • CAFCASS.

Whenever possible issues of concern about care planning, implementation of the care plan or decisions related to it, resources of poor practice will be raised informally with the social worker and their manager. A record of this will be placed on the child’s file.

The IRO may refer the issue to CAFCASS at any point in the lifespan of the dispute resolution process. They may also consider the option of a concurrent referral to CAFCASS at the same time as revoking these procedures.

The individual IRO/CP chair is personally responsible for activating the DRP, even if this action is not in accordance with the child’s wishes and feelings but in the professional opinion of the IRO/CP Chair, will promote the child’s best interests and welfare and/or will protect the child’s human rights.

Informal Dispute Resolution

In the majority of cases the IRO/ CP chair should attempt to resolve the issues with the responsible social worker/assistant team manager. As the local dispute resolution process is a statutory requirement a record of the discussions/attempts must be placed on the child’s social care record. In such circumstances the social worker/assistant team manager has 2 working days to respond to the alert.

Formal Dispute Resolution

There are six stages to the formal dispute resolution process with documentation to support the process.

Stage One

This level of the dispute resolution process is to support early intervention with regard to resolving matters quickly to prevent escalation of a dispute/concern.

This has a response timescale of 2 working days.

The dispute issues(s) will be recorded on the IRO/CP CHAIR Alert Form Stage One. The alert will be sent to the social worker and team manager by email.

In the event that the IRO/CP chair has not received a response or is dissatisfied with the response then the dispute will progress to stage two.

Stage Two

This stage is specifically for Team Manager level.

The response timescale is 2 working days.

The dispute issue(s) will be recorded together with the rationale for the escalation to Stage Two on the IRO/CP chair Alert Form Stage Two. The alert will be sent to the responsible team manager by email.

Where the IRO/CP chair does not receive a response or is dissatisfied with the response the dispute will progress to Stage Three.

Stage Three

This stage is aimed at Head of Service level.

The response timescale is 4 working days.

The dispute(s) will be recorded together with the rationale for the escalation to Stage Three on the IRO/CP chair Alert Form Stage Three. The alert will be sent to the responsible Head of Service by email (cc Assistant Director Children’s Social Care and Youth Inclusion).

Where the IRO/CP chair does not receive a response or is dissatisfied with the response the dispute will progress to Stage Four.

Stage Four

This stage is specifically for the Assistant Director of Children’s Services.

The response timescale is 4 working days.

The dispute(s) will be recorded together with the rationale for the escalation to Stage Four on the IRO/CP chair Alert Form Stage Four. The alert will be sent to the Assistant Director by email.

Where the IRO/CP chair does not receive a response or is dissatisfied with the response the dispute will progress to Stage Five.

Stage Five

This stage requires the IRO/CP chair to refer the dispute to the Director of Children’s Services using the IRO/CP chair Alert Form Stage Five. The alert will be sent to the SCS by email.

The response timescale is 4 working days.

Where the IRO/CP chair does not receive a response or is dissatisfied with the response the dispute will progress to Stage Six.

Stage Six

This stage requires the IRO/CP chair to refer the dispute to the Chief Executive of the Council using the IRO/CP chair Alert Form Stage Six. The alert will be sent to the Chief Executive by email.

The response timescale is 4 working days.

In the event that the issues remain unresolved through the staged management alert process, the IRO/CP chair will consider whether to refer the matter to CAFCASS under Section 118 of the Adoption & Children Act 2002 (Stage 6) after discussion with their line manager.

For child protection in the unlikely event that the issue is not resolved by the steps described above and/or the discussions raise significant policy issues, the matter should be referred urgently to the LSCB for resolution. (See also Merton Safeguarding Children Board Procedure, Monitoring and Evaluation Function).

The total number of working days to fully complete the formal process is 20 working days. It is important that the timescale for each stage is adhered to, it is the responsibility of the individual IRO/CP chair to ensure adherence or to appropriately escalate the dispute.

The IRO/CP chair guidance states that the dispute resolution IRO process should allow for no action prejudicial to the child (e.g. change of placement or de-accommodation) to be taken until a resolution has been reached. Depending on the outcome of this, it may be necessary to reconvene the child’s LAC review or conference to confirm any agreed changes to the care plan.


7. Children’s Quality Assurance and Practice Development Service

The IRO/CP chairs will ensure that copies of management alerts and resolutions are placed on the child’s case file in the observations section for recording purposes.

IRO/CP chair’s will save a copy of all alerts on their electronic case file records in order track issues requiring IRO/CP chair follow-up.

Additionally copies of all alerts and written resolutions will be forwarded to the Safeguarding Manager and designated administration support staff in the CQAPDS for monitoring purposes.

The CQAPDS will complete an annual report to inform senior management of the themes, issue(s) and accountability of the IRO/CP chair’s, CP chairs and the Local Authority concerning child care protection and planning with dispute resolution.


Appendix 1: Examples of Cases/Issues Requiring Resolution

  1. Unreasonable failure by the LA to meet the statutory requirements for the LA child i.e:
    • Non-allocation of a social worker. Responsibility of Assistant Team Manager;
    • Children not being visited regularly and/or seen alone in their placement by the social worker. Responsibility of SW Assistant Team Manager. It is also the responsibility of the chair to formally challenge poor practice in the review;
    • Court care plans. Responsibility of SW and Assistant Team Manager.
  2. Care Plan /Pathway Plan Child Protection Plan implementation:
    • No clear care plan in place. Responsibility of Team Manager;
    • Drift/delay in the implementation of the child’s care/child IRO protection plan. Responsibility of SW and Assistant Team Manager;
    • Care plan not meeting the individual needs of the child. Responsibility of chair;
    • Failure to implement a significant element of the child’s care plan. Responsibility of SW and Assistant Team Manager;
    • Failure to notify the IRO/CP chair of significant changes in the child’s care plan such as: Responsibility of SW and Assistant Team Manager:
      • Decision to change the child’s care plan;
      • Decision to change the child’s placement;
      • Decision (with reasons) not to implement significant recommendations made by the IRO at the child’s review;
      • Decision to return a child home who was previously the subject of a child protection plan.
  3. Dispute around the provision of services/resources:
    • Concern about whether appropriate resources have been allocated to meet the child’s individual needs;
    • Concern around the suitability of the placement;
    • Concern around professional practice.
  4. Additional issues regarding the safeguarding and protection of the child:
    • Concern around a known offender living in the family home.


Appendix 2: Dispute Resolution Flow Chart

Click here to view Appendix 2: Dispute Resolution Flow Chart.


Appendix 3: Formal Dispute Resolution Process Practice Alert

Click here to view Appendix 3: Formal Dispute Resolution Process Practice Alert.

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