The appointment of an independent reviewing officer (IRO) is a legal requirement under Section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

IROs make an important contribution to the goal of significantly improving outcomes for looked after children. Their primary focus is to quality assure the care planning process for each child, and to ensure that his/her current wishes and feelings are given full consideration.

In March 2010 the Government issued new statutory guidance for local authorities and independent reviewing officers on care planning and reviewing arrangements for looked after children. The IRO handbook provides guidance to IROs about how they should discharge their distinct responsibilities to looked after children. It also provides guidance to local authorities on their strategic and managerial responsibilities in establishing an effective IRO service. The aim is to give all looked after children the support and services that each one requires to enable them to reach their potential. This guidance replaces the 2004 Guidance, Independent Reviewing Officers guidance: Adoption and Children Act 2002.

The statutory duties of the IRO are to:

  • monitor the local authority’s performance of their functions in relation to the child’s case
  • participate in any review of the child’s case
  • ensure that any ascertained wishes and feelings of the child concerning the case are given due consideration by the appropriate authority
  • perform any other function which is prescribed in regulations.

In discharging these duties, the IRO has a number of specific responsibilities which include:

  • promoting the voice of the child
  • ensuring that plans for looked after children are based on a detailed and informed assessment, are up-to-date, effective and provide a real and genuine response to each child’s needs
  • identifying any gaps in the assessment process or provision of service
  • making sure that the child understands how an advocate could help and his/her entitlement to one
  • offering a safeguard to prevent any ‘drift’ in care planning for looked after children and the delivery of services to them
  • monitoring the activity of the responsible authority as a corporate parent in ensuring that care plans have given proper consideration and weight to the child’s wishes and feelings and that, where appropriate, the child fully understands the implications of any changes made to his/her care plan.

The guidance was issued as part of a suite of statutory guidance which, together with the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 (‘the Regulations’) set out how local authorities should carry out the full range of responsibilities in relation to care planning, placement and review for looked after children. See the associated resources page for more information.

IROs and placement stability

Placement stability is a key part of ensuring that care is a positive experience for looked after children. It helps to ensure that they are offered the same opportunities as other children and that they have the individual support necessary to reach their potential. The LA with responsibility for the child's care must respond to any recommendations made by the IRO.

During each care planning and review service cycle, the IRO service will have personal contact with all children in the LAs care. An effective IRO service is therefore well positioned to support the authority's corporate parenting responsibilities, ensuring that the children in the authority's care are provided with stable placements that meet children's needs, enabling them to reach their potential.

The Department commissioned a report, Qualitative study - the placement stability of looked after children on the placement of looked after children which was published in December 2005. The study looks at stability in terms of diversion from care, early intervention and prevention, and at achieving permanence for looked after children in the longer term. It found that the effective operation of the council's IRO service was an important factor in enabling local managers to maintain an overview of the planning processes for the children in their care, increasing the likelihood that their placements will be stable.

Independent reviewing officers - regional networks

We have encouraged and supported the development of networks of IROs in each region. The role of these networks includes:

  • Improving knowledge about how the IRO role is contributing to the effective implementation of care plans, including the collation of intelligence about:
    • quality of care planning
    • availability of placements to meet needs
    • effectiveness of local placement commissioning strategies
    • and children's views.
  • Providing a forum for IROs to share ideas, to resolve common problems and to learn from each other to improve their practice.
  • Benchmarking good practice in care planning so that all LAs in a region can access an evidence base to develop a more consistent response to meet the needs of children in care.
  • Providing IROs with opportunities to gain mutual support to explore how they can be most effective in this new role.

Representatives from each IRO network take part in the National IRO Project Group. This group:

  • maintains a national overview about how the IRO role is developing nationally
  • identifies examples of good practice at regional level which can be used to illustrate how IROs contribute to improving the quality of care planning within an LA
  • identifies IROs' training needs and advise on how these might best be met
  • identifies policy issues that need to be addressed at a national level. 

Regional Network link managers

Link managers act as a conduit to share information on regional activity to develop the IRO role to support care planning with the Department and also cascade information from the Department to managers of IRO services within their region. The link managers contribute to the National IRO Project Group.

Contact details

Carolann James
South East region
Email: carolann.james@milton-keynes.gov.uk

Deborah Glassbrook
South East region
Email: Deborah.glassbrook@reading.gov.uk

Ceri Burton
South West region
Email: ceri.burton@wiltshire.gov.uk

Steph McQuade
South West region
Email: SMcquade@swindon.gov.uk

Susan Webb
London region
Email: susan.webb@bromley.gov.uk

Caroline Campbell
London region
Email: caroline.campbell@islington.gov.uk

Dawne Brent
East of England region
Email: dawne.brent@hertscc.gov.uk

Wendy Dyde
East of England region
Email: wendy.dyde@norfolk.gov.uk

Caroline Riley
East Midlands region
Email: caroline.riley@nottinghamcity.gov.uk

Mary Eccleston
West Midland region
Email: Mary.eccleston@warwickshire.gov.uk

Anne Strowger
West Midland region
Email: anne.strowger@staffordshire.gov.uk

Steve Day
North East region
Email: Steve.Day@northumberland.gov.uk

Fiona Cowan
North West region
Email: fcowan@warrington.gov.uk

Carl Thomson
North West region
Email: carl.thomson@liverpool.gov.uk

Angela Murray
Yorkshire & Humber region
Email: angela.murray@northyorks.gov.uk

Alison Ryan
Yorkshire & Humber region
Email: alison.ryan@leeds.gov.uk