Challenge and Escalation Process Guidance - Safeguarding Children Unit – Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO's) and Conference Chairs

1. Purpose

The purpose of this guidance is to provide a clear framework around the process of raising formal challenge and escalation between the Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO's) and Conference Chairs (CC's) and CYPS. This Challenge and Escalation process will offer one key process for IRO's and CC's to raise challenge around the quality of the service offered to our children and families, where they are in our care or subject to Child Protection Plans.

A review of the Dispute Resolution Process for IRO's and Escalation Process for conference chairs found that issues were raised around compliance but there needed to be a greater emphasis on the overarching needs and outcomes for the young people we work with. This united formal process for IRO's and CC's reflects the drive to ensure that there is a clear and consistent evaluation of the impact of the services and interventions we provide for our most vulnerable children and young people. The key aim is to ensure the outcome for the child is the key focus and that any barriers to this are raised, where needed at the most senior points in the authority and if required via CAFCASS and the Court process for IRO's.

2. Expectations of the IRO and CC's

One of the key functions of the IRO and CC is to seek to resolve key concerns in relation to the child protection or care planning process, especially when there is drift and delay around outcomes being achieved for the child or young person. Each Local Authority has to have in place a formal process for IRO's and CC's to raise concerns where it believes a child/young person's needs are not being adequately met through the care planning or child protection process.

RMBC are seeking to offer a Resolution Process that is focused on high support and high challenge. This means that the formal Challenge and Escalation Process starts with the IRO/CC seeking to resolve the concern before the review or case conference takes place.

  1. The key to seeking resolution is good timely preparation. For the IRO's the expectation is that the IRO will have met with the child as part of their IRO visits and discussed key issues with the social worker and any other key carer, family member or professionals prior to the review meeting. This will support key issues to be raised with the social worker, so action can be progressed prior to the review and embedded in the proposed Care Plan. For conference chairs the expectation is robust discussion with the social worker and key professionals and where needed family, can also provide insight into what key issues need to be addressed prior to the ICPC or review;
  2. In preparation for the review or conference the IRO/CC will complete their preparation checklist and provide an evaluative overview of the file, progress round the plan and where appropriate the placement. Where there are compliance issues (previously informal concerns or safeguarding advice) these will be recorded as Quality Alerts. Once raised with the social worker and Team Manager via sharing of the preparation checklist, these will be tracked by the quality and performance team and reported to senior managers, via performance meetings. Team Managers will be expected to respond to the IRO/CC with an action plan around how any Quality Alerts will be addressed. The expectation is on the Team Manager to ensure there Quality Alerts are then addressed;
  3. Where possible, efforts will be made by the IRO to resolve any issues outside the formal Challenge and Escalation Process, with CYPS Social Work Teams. In the event of such 'resolution action', a written record will be placed on the child's file by the IRO (under Case notes IRO) or CC (under Safeguarding Advice);
  4. If issues are not resolved, the IRO or CC has a personal and professional responsibility to ensure the issues are explored within the review and where appropriate addressed via the decisions or recommendations from the meeting around the child. These should be outcome focused, with a clear action around how the matter will be progressed, with an owner and clear defined timescale;
  5. Where the IRO or CC is of the view that they are in dispute with the proposed plan or are concerned around drift and delay in achieving the agreed outcomes for the child, this should be discussed with the relevant Operations Manager for CC's or IRO's and raised via the formal Challenge and Escalation Process. The IRO or CC, in consultation with the Operations Manager's within Safeguarding is able to escalate the challenge to the level which she believes to be the most appropriate. This should be completed within 24 hours of an agreement to Challenge and should be recorded on the child's file (under IRO case note/Safeguarding advice);
  6. In addition, the IRO can, at any stage in the process, make a referral to CAFCASS, whilst also continuing to follow the staged process. The DCS and Deputy DCS would always be informed by the IRO/Safeguarding Service Manager prior to any referral to CAFCASS;
  7. In situations where the IRO or CC is advised that resolution to the Challenge is outside of the Local Authority's control, i.e. staffing, resource issues, inter-agency issues, the IRO/CC should continue to escalate through the stage(s) if such deficits impact on the Authority's ability to meet the needs of the child/young person's plan;
  8. The instigation of a challenge and outcome of of each stage will be monitored by the IRO/CC, with a robust tracking mechanism in place. This will follow the legal requirement as set out in the Care Planning Regs 2010 that the entire formal process should take no longer those 20 working days. IRO's and CC's supported by the Operation managers in safeguarding will have a clear responsibility to evaluate and review the impact of the agreed action plans and will ensure that all challenges are either effectively resolved to the satisfaction of the IRO/CC, or escalated until this is achieved. While there is a clear requirement and need for the IRO's and CC's to work with CYPS there is a statutory responsibility for the IRO and CC to remain focused on the outcome for the child / young person.

Each stage of the process is detailed in the Challenge and Escalation Flowchart.

Agreed stated key themes and issues are:

  • Voice of the child;
  • Management oversight;
  • Risk assessment;
  • Provision of services;
  • Quality of plan;
  • Legal issues;
  • Therapeutic provision;
  • Placement concerns.

3. Expectations of Social Work Teams and Managers within CYPS

In order to support the children and families that we work with, there are expectations that in order for a high support, high challenge culture to be embedded there needs to be clear and open communication, with timely response to issues. Therefore, there is a key need to work in partnership with social work colleges across RMBC.

  1. There is an expectation that IRO's and CC's are contacting social workers and team manager on a regular basis to ensure there can evaluate the impact that a plan is having for a child or young person. This can and will be outside of the review process where needed and. There is also an expectation that significant events will be communicated to the IRO's and CC's in a timely way to support, the plans reflecting the most up to date needs for the young people involved;
  2. There is a clear requirement for Team Managers and social workers to feedback any challenge around the decisions or recommendations from reviews back to the IRO/CC, to allow consideration around how this can be taken forward in relation to the plan for the child;
  3. In relation to Quality Alerts, the emphasis is on key areas of compliance being recorded by the IRO/CC and raised with managers but for managers to then ensure they are addressed as per their action plan. Tracking of these issues will be external via the QA and performance framework;
  4. Where there has been a formal challenge raised, there are clear timescales by which the Team Manager, Service Manager, Head of Service or Deputy Director/Director should feedback a clear action plan. This will support timely resolution for a child or young person, especially around key decisions such as placement changes, legal status or the provision of services.

4. Impact, Evaluation and Learning

In order to ensure that we have an effective and purposeful Challenge and Section process in place, there need to be regular evaluation of the impact for our child and young people and consideration on how we can learn and embed this learning into future Safeguarding practice across CYPS, IRO's and CC's. In order to promote a culture where outcomes remain the focus of the Challenge and Escalation Process the following will be expected.

  1. That IRO's and CC's record once outcomes are achieved on the child's file and the Challenge and Escalation tracker. This will be completed on a weekly basis by the IRO's/CC's and will be saved as a shared document to support access to performance, team, senior managers and managers across CYPS;
  2. Following the sharing of the new Challenge and Escalation Process a monthly Challenge and Escalation meeting will be set up between CYPS Senior Manager and the Operations Managers in Safeguarding to track and consider key themes and issues arising from the Quality alerts and Challenges raised and escalated. A monthly report will also be compiled for the SMT performance meetings and a quarterly report shared with the RSCP to support key feedback to partners;
  3. A bi-monthly meeting will also be facilitated by the Operations Managers with Team Managers and IRO/CC's, to support communication and dissemination of key themes and issues and what wider action is needed to support resolution of key outcomes;
  4. This policy will be evaluated, reviewed and updated within 6 months of implementation. As part of the review, consideration to how this can be broadened to consider our partner agencies and how this process works with their current internal Practice Resolution Processes. This work will be done in conjunction with the RSCP and Corporate Parenting Panel.