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2.2.6 Case Escalation Process

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This protocol has been developed to ensure that Bedford County Council has a robust escalation process through which issues or concerns might be raised and resolved involving care plans for children looked after, or children subject to a child protection plan. It aims to encourage that issues are addressed and resolved at the earliest point possible; to prevent drift and delay for children; to promote more consistency across the service and to improve practice in Children's Social Care

Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) and Child Protection Chairs (Child Protection Conferences) are referred to Independent Chairs when referring to both roles.

It should be read in conjunction with:

RELATED CHAPTERS

AMENDMENT

In October 2016, this chapter was extensively updated and should be read throughout.


Contents

  1. Introduction and Legislative Framework
  2. Reasons for Raising Concerns
  3. Informal Resolution
  4. Escalation and Formal Resolution
  5. Recording and Communicating that a Child's Care Plan or Child Protection Plan has been Subject to Escalation
  6. Informing the IRO of any Significant Change in the Child's Circumstances
  7. The Management Arrangement for Independent Reviewing Officers
  8. Gathering Data on Formal Escalation and Resolution
  9. Escalating Concerns in Relation to Independent Chairs


1. Introduction and Legislative Framework

1.1 The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)

Section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 amended Section 26 of the Children Act 1989 by introducing a new statutory role of Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) with the responsibility of reviewing looked after children cases. Local authorities are required to appoint IROs. The IRO's role is to ensure the implementation of the child's care plan or decisions relating to it with the expectation that child centred practice is being delivered in a timely way.

One of the key functions of the IRO is to challenge the local authority where any concerns arise within the care planning process for a child. It is expected that IROs establish positive working relationships with the social workers of the children for whom they are responsible. Where problems are identified in relation to a child's case, for example in relation to care planning, the implementation of the care plan or decisions relating to it, resources or practice issues, the IRO will, in the first instance, seek to resolve the issue informally with the social worker or the social worker's managers.

In these situations, the IRO has the duty to negotiate with the local authority management, in the first instance informally. Should this not result in resolving the issue the IRO should consider taking formal action and escalating his/her concerns up to the highest level. The case escalation process is set out in Table 1 showing escalation from Level 1 through to Level 5 where appropriate. "The IRO must advise staff at an appropriate level of seniority of this failure. Senior managers then work to resolve the failure within a timescale that meets the needs of the individual child" (The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning Placement and Review Case Review para 4.40). The complete procedure through all levels should not take longer than 20 days.

In terms of Independent Reviewing Officers, if they should exhaust all stages of the dispute process (or deem that the time it is taking to exhaust the stages is unreasonable) and (s)he believes there is still a danger that the child’s human rights may be being breached due to action or inaction of the local authority, (s)he may (in liaison with their line manager and the Head of Service (Safeguarding and Quality Assurance)) seek ‘independent legal advice’ which is provided by Bedford Borough Council which could lead the IRO to make a Section 118 referral to the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (CAFCASS). CAFCASS is able to bring legal proceedings to achieve a remedy.


2. Reasons for Raising Concerns

There are various situations where an Independent Reviewing Officer might have concerns and initiate the case management escalation process. It is a matter of professional judgement as to what level of escalation is needed and the impact on the child is the significant factor.

2.1 Concerns that may be dealt with at an informal level

  • Poor preparation by the social worker for the Looked After Review;
  • Quality of reports provided at Review;
  • Repeated absence or late arrivals at conference or review meetings;
  • Inadequate management oversight/supervision of a social worker;
  • Concerns about lack of effective partnership working with parents.

2.2 Concerns that might need formal escalation

  • Assessments/care plans not being completed/progressed in time;
  • Key documents not completed;
  • Non-completion of actions within timescales;
  • Social worker visits to the child/ren not being within the expected timescales;
  • Concerns about the quality of risk assessments;
  • Workers not following Bedford Borough Council policy and procedures;
  • Discriminatory practice;
  • Evidence of poor partnership working amongst agencies which has compromised the effectiveness of a CLA Care Plan;
  • Concerns about lack of child participation;
  • Avoidable drift and delay in children's plans;
  • Health provision;
  • Education provision;
  • Placement choice/standard of care;
  • IRO not being consulted about final care plan.


3. Informal Resolution

It is important for Independent Chairs (CP Chairs and IROs) to have a collaborative relationship with social work staff and management with the responsibility for ongoing care planning for the children in the care of the local authority and children subject to a protection plan, and recognise and report on good practice by individuals or teams.

Informal escalation is viewed as part of the quality assurance role of the IRO Service. Wherever possible, the Independent Reviewing Officer will attempt to resolve a problem by negotiation, including contacting the social worker responsible and their line manager, attempting to resolve the problem directly with the team. S/he should seek to resolve difficulties face to face or by talking on the telephone rather than relying on email.

The independent Reviewing Officer completes a monitoring form after each LAC Review which includes whether informal or formal escalation is required in this case. This provides the social worker and Team Manager full details of the strengths and deficits of the Review. It is important that the Independent Reviewing Officers add Azeus case notes at point of escalation and when the issue is resolved, setting out the facts and how resolution was found.

If informal resolution proves unsuccessful, the Independent Reviewing Officer will raise the concern through the formal escalation process following discussion and agreement with their immediate line manager who will ensure that all attempts have been made to resolve the issue at an informal stage.


4. Escalation and Formal Resolution

Where issues relating to practice are identified and the Independent Chair is dissatisfied with the informal response or timely solution to the issue, s/he will continue to negotiate with management up to the highest level if necessary in order to resolve the issue.

There are four levels to the formal resolution process. Exceptionally when more urgent or serious concerns remain unresolved, the Independent Chair has the discretion to proceed directly to the level s/he considers most appropriate. This would usually be Level 2. The stages are:

Table 1

Level Responsible Officer Response Expected within Working Days
Level 1: Team Manager 5
Level 2: Head of Service 5
Level 3: Assistant Director Children's Services / Director of Children's Services 5
Level 4: Chief Executive of the Council 5

For Levels 1 – 2, the Independent Chair will complete an Escalation form and email it to the Team Manager/Head of Service. At each of these stages, a response is required within a maximum of 5 working days of receipt, unless the Independent Chair has specified a different timescale.

Stages 3-4 will be managed through a meeting, which should be convened and chaired by the Officer who has received the escalation. The meeting should be independently minuted. All key personnel should be invited to the meeting. The Independent Reviewing Officer may attend the initial part of the meeting to clarify their position and answer any queries the local authority may have regarding the issues escalated and to set out what would be required to prevent the matter progressing to the next level of escalation. In order to maintain their independency from the local authority's decision making process, the Independent Reviewing Officer may leave.

If an Independent Reviewing Officers believes there is still a danger that the child's human rights may be being breached due to action or inaction of the local authority, (s)he may (in liaison with their line manager and the Head of Service (Safeguarding and Quality Assurance)) seek ‘Independent Legal Advice’ which is provided by Bedford Borough Council to IROs which could lead the IRO to make a Section 118 referral to CAFCASS. CAFCASS is in some cases able to bring legal proceedings to achieve a remedy. Legal proceedings should only be considered as a last resort - i.e. in extreme cases where all other attempts to resolve the problem have failed. The additional delay associated with legal proceedings is not in the interest of the child, and every effort should be made to resolve the problem before such action is taken.

Where an Independent Reviewing Officer has been advised that the obstacles in the way of resolving the issue are outside or beyond the control of the local authority, the Independent Reviewing Officer should continue to escalate if the issues are impacting upon the ability of the department to meet the needs of the child.


5. Recording and Communicating that a Child's Care Plan or CP Plan has been Subject to Escalation

In the first instance the Independent Reviewing Officer should place a record of any initial informal escalation on the child's Azeus record under case notes. The record needs to be appropriately worded to reflect the concerns in relation to the child's plan (the impact). It is the expectation that email conversations are not 'cut and pasted' onto Azeus case notes, rather that the Azeus record provides a brief summary of the issue and whether it is an informal escalation or a formal escalation through Levels 1 to 4. It is important that the Independent Chair also adds an Azeus case note once the issue has been resolved and to set out the facts/how resolution was found.

The Independent Reviewing Officer should keep partner agencies updated as appropriate.

The IRO is responsible for ensuring the ‘Escalation Matrix’ is populated to ensure effective tracking of the process by the senior managers.


6. Informing the IRO of any Significant Change in the Child's Circumstances

Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 IRO Guidance (Regulation 8), the Local Authority must inform the IRO of, "Any significant change of circumstances occurring after the review that affects arrangements".

Paragraph 3.74 of the IRO Handbook sets out what constitutes a significant change and Bedford Borough Children's Services has agreed that the IRO should be informed of the following:

  • Outcomes of any Panel applications or presentations including; BAP, MAP and CSEP;
  • Outcomes of presentations to the Fostering Panel or Agency Decision Maker;
  • Unexpected changes in the child's placement provision (which may significantly impact on placement stability);
  • Proposed change of placements, and where unavoidable, actual change of placements;
  • Court Orders and outcomes from Directions hearings;
  • Significant delays in completing any looked after review decisions;
  • Any missing care episodes;
  • Details of any strategy discussions/meetings or other meetings where IRO not present;
  • Any period of exclusion from school;
  • Outcomes from health assessments or medical consultations which identify/confirm any serious previously undiagnosed conditions;
  • Notification of Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire having been completed and logged onto Azeus;
  • Unexpected changes in the child's family or foster carer's circumstances (births, deaths, etc.);
  • Arrests, bail, and convictions;
  • Serious accidents;
  • Changes of allocated social workers;
  • Unexpected proposed or actual discharge from care;
  • Complaints from or on behalf of the child, parent, or carer.

A review will not be required for every change and the IRO will determine whether the change requires a CLA review to be convened. The IRO should consult with the child, where appropriate, and the child's wishes and feelings about the impact of the proposed change on his/her life should be taken into consideration in reaching a decision as to whether a review is necessary.

If, following communication with the social worker, the IRO is satisfied that the arrangements in the care plan continue to meet the child's needs or that the change does not have significant implications for the care plan and that a review is not necessary, a record of this agreement and the reasons for it should be placed on the child's file. The child and other relevant adults, both within the family and the professional network should be advised of this decision where appropriate.

In addition, the IRO Handbook requires that a review must be convened in the following circumstances, prior to any of the following changes being implemented:

  • Whenever there is a proposal for a child to leave care before the age of 18, i.e. for a child to become a relevant child, rather than an eligible child;
  • Wherever there is a proposal (which has not already been endorsed by the IRO) for the child to move from a regulated placement (e.g. foster care or children's home) to an unregulated placement (e.g. a semi-independent unit or "independent living" facility) before the age of 18;
  • Prior to a child being discharged from a secure children's home or leaving custody;
  • Wherever any unplanned change is proposed to a child's accommodation that could significantly disrupt his/her education or training (e.g. having to move school during the academic year or during a programme leading to recognised qualifications);
  • Where a change of placement is proposed for a child who has remained settled and established with the same carer, or in a residential placement, for a significant period of time and where reports have previously indicated that the placement is appropriate and the child is going to school.

Please note that the Children's Homes (England) Regulations 2015 require that a review of the child's relevant plan is held where the child has been persistently absent from their placement, or where there are concerns that the child may be at risk of harm.


7. The Management Arrangement for Independent Reviewing Officers

The Team Manager (Conference and Review) is responsible for the line management and supervision of the IROs. The Head of Service (Safeguarding and Quality Assurance) is responsible for the overall service.

The role of these managers during the case management escalation process shall be:

  • To provide clear supervision to the IROs, taking into consideration the issue being raised and providing feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the concerns or disagreements being brought forward;
  • To ensure that throughout the process, lines of communication remain open and clear and that the issue does not become clouded, personalised, or lost in other processes;
  • To ensure that meetings take place on time and that they are present at all relevant meetings above the Team Manager level;
  • To provide senior management briefing as to the view of the Independent Review Service on the issue being raised and possible routes to resolving the issue;
  • To ensure that if appropriate, independent legal advice has been sought by the IRO at the appropriate time; to discuss this advice in supervision and consider its possible implications for the issue being raised;
  • Overall, to encourage and enable resolution prior to the issue reaching the Assistant Director.

These line management guidelines are not designed to hinder or minimise concerns raised by Independent Reviewing Officer. However, given the impact on Children's Services should the management escalation process reach the referral to the Director stage, it is crucial that there is clear and transparent evidence for senior managers of the Independent Chair management and supervision during the process of escalation.


8. Gathering Data on Formal Escalation and Resolution

The Team Manager will be responsible for the collection of data and will report on the number of Formal Case Management Escalations and the timescales reached in resolving them.


9. Escalating Concerns in Relation to Independent Reviewing Officers

It is important to recognise that Independent Chairs should also remain open to scrutiny and challenge if required. Wherever possible, the social work staff and management will attempt to resolve a problem by negotiation, including contacting the Independent Reviewing Officer responsible and their line manager, attempting to resolve the problem directly with them. This can be escalated to Head Of Service if not resolved.

End