Making plans and decisions for
children in care: professionals,
parents and young people
Jonathan Dickens, Gillian Schofield,
Chris Beckett, Georgia Philip and Julie Young
Centre for Research on Children and Families,
University of East Anglia
Care planning and review in England
• An elaborate and highly regulated system – many
requirements, inc. a detailed care plan and regular
reviews for all ‘looked after’ children, with prescribed
matters to be covered, and (since 2004) chaired by an
‘independent reviewing officer’ (IRO)
• But questions about the effectiveness and
independence of IROs
• New regs and statutory guidance 2010, came into
force April 2011 – and new ‘IRO handbook’, expanding
their role
The reviews
• After one month – four months – then at least every six
• A process and a meeting (or possibly meetings)
• Child and parents normally expected to attend
• Carers attend, relevant professionals are invited – e.g.
health visitor, teacher, specialist workers
• Considers a wide range of matters, but notably:
The permanence plan;
Health and education;
Is placement meeting child’s needs?
Child’s views, wishes and feelings;
Have agreed tasks been completed?
Research questions
• How are the 2010 care planning regs and guidance
being implemented?
• How effective are IROs in monitoring the plans of the
local authority, promoting children's well-being, and
managing their participation?
• What are the overlaps and differences in the roles
and responsibilities of those involved in planning for
children in care; how are decisions made and
disagreements managed?
• What are the views of children and parents about
care planning and review, particularly the IRO?
The research project
• Case file survey in four LAs: 120 cases in all, from
three different legal statuses – 40 no court order, 40
in proceedings, 40 on care orders
• In-depth interviews with the social worker and IRO
on half the cases
• Interviews with parents (15) and young people (15)
• A multi-professional focus group in each LA (4)
• Two focus groups with young people
• National questionnaire of IROs (65), team managers
(46) and children’s guardians (39)
And we can see the complexities …
• What is the status of ‘decisions’ made at reviews?
• LA resources (funding + services)
• Other agencies/decision-making bodies
• Time
• Dilemmas of IROs’ role – to ‘quality assure’ the process
and ensure child’s wishes and feelings are considered,
but ‘not to manage the case, supervise the social
worker or devise the care plan’
• The review is ‘the child’s meeting’ – but it has to take
place at specified intervals and address a specified
range of issues …
‘Where are the key decisions made?’
Answers reflect resources; other bodies, esp. court;
time; IRO’s role; and the ambiguities of young
people’s attendance
I guess there are two processes: there is the LAC process,
and then alongside that the organisation review, the
financing and funding. And those two aren’t always
compatible, and sometimes you have to put up fights and
arguments and stuff, and say you don’t agree with this
and kind of challenge. So I guess that is just how it is.
IRO interview
I can’t say, ‘You will spend the money’ that is not within my
power to say that, so it was a recommendation rather than a
decision. The decision was I suppose ‘to re-start therapy would
be ideal’, but the actual decision about doing it remains with
the manager who has to spend the money. IRO interview
… the LAC review is often a meeting that really isn’t able to
make big decisions, it can make small decisions… But the
general direction of the case, it is often in court or there are
other processes going on where actually it really comes
down to it, you know the LAC review won’t be the decisionmaking place. SW interview
You can’t help but make decisions in between the LAC
reviews … it would be enormously bad practice I would
say to wait until you go to a LAC review to then think
about making a decision. Because they so far apart you
have make the decisions in between, because
circumstance necessitates it. So you might get your
decisions checked within the LAC review, in that sense do
they make decisions - I don’t know, maybe I have
contradicted myself. SW Interview
Well, sometimes they’re done in reviews, other times
actually they’re done outside the review and then may be
referred to us for, you know, almost confirmation.
IRO interview
It should not ever be the IROs role to formulate a care
plan, although sometimes it can feel like that. The LA
formulates the plan, which should be shared with the IRO,
who may have strong and contradictory views. These
things may need further discussion, separate from the
child's review, but in my view the legislation is clear.
IRO form
If I was to say to a social worker, ‘it is not my plan, I didn’t
make this plan, you made this plan, but I am reviewing it’,
that’s slightly sort of disingenuous … hopefully by
consensus you might reach a view that changes the plan …
another plan evolves through the reviewing process.
IRO interview
A more proactive approach, but outside
the review …
I take a very active role in ensuring that plans are
appropriate and am fully involved in considering alternatives
as necessary and proposing these, or challenging inadequate
planning as required … I take part in discussions about the
case within and outside the normal LAC meetings. IRO form
Excellent communication with the social worker when
identifying future placements; would accompany social
worker to relevant panels to secure funding and support,
would conduct her own research to find suitable
placements. TM form
But other views from team managers:
On occasion I have had concerns that the IRO is too
involved in formulating plans inappropriately, and I have
been clear that this is not their role as they are not the
workers’ team manager. TM form
Most of the day to day difficulties get resolved without the
involvement of the IRO, but in more complex situations the
IRO can make a valuable contribution in negotiating
solutions. Their independence is an important factor in this.
TM form
Involving children: ‘The child’s meeting’
and/or a ‘planning meeting’?
You know, it’s a difficult thing to get that balance right.
Because if you just present a rosy view because the child’s
there, actually you’re not going to get a proper plan
agreed, because you’re discussing things that aren’t
correct. But equally, to destroy a child, you know, that’s
cruel. SW interview
I hate LAC reviews, that is the most boring! It is just going
over and over the same stuff that you went over last time
... It was more exciting right at the beginning when I was
in care, it was a bit exciting then because I was like ‘oh I
am having a meeting, I wonder what they are going to
say about me’. (16 year old girl, LTFC)
I quite like having review meetings … You see things have
got sorted at my review but I just don’t know who sorts
them, that’s what is really annoying … it is like there is this
door and you don’t know what actually happens behind it,
so I can’t really comment on what they do.
(17 year old girl, LTFC)
• Care planning and review is a high profile issue,
politically and professionally – very high expectations
on the process and the workers involved
• ‘Corporate parenting’ means there are many
decision-making settings and levels, with different
agencies and professionals involved
• Roles, tasks and boundaries may overlap – this may
be productive, and/or frustrating
• Involving young people in the reviews requires
particular skill and flexibility

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