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11.3.4 IRO Dispute Resolution Flowchart Process for Addressing Practice and Other Concerns


This procedure details the process in place to deal with any concerns that the IRO may have regarding the care planning process.

N.B. The IRO has the power to refer the matter to CAFCASS at any point in the dispute resolution process and may consider it necessary to make a concurrent referral to CAFCASS at the same time that s/he instigates the dispute resolution process where a child's fundamental human rights have been impinged.


Children Act 1989

Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010

Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review

This chapter was added to the manual in January 2016.


Caption: contents list
1. IRO Alert Form and Formal Dispute Resolution Guidance Notes
  1.1 IRO Alert Form
  1.2 Referral to CAFCASS
2. Dispute Resolution Flowchart

1. IRO Alert Form and Formal Dispute Resolution Guidance Notes

1. One of the key functions of the IRO is to resolve problems arising out of the care planning process. It is expected that IRO's establish positive working relationships with the social workers of the children for whom they are responsible.
2. Where problems are identified in relation to a child's case, for example:
  • Care planning;
  • Implementation of a Care Plan;
  • Decisions relating to the care planning process;
  • Drift and delay;
  • Lack of clear exit plan;
  • Non allocation of social worker;
  • Poor practice;
  • Child/young person participation.
  The IRO will, in the first instance will attempt to resolve the issue formally with the social worker and Team Manager, using the IRO alert system. This alert and subsequent response will be recorded on the child's file.
  If the matter is not responded to within 10 working days, the IRO should consider taking formal action and progress to Stage 1 of the Formal Dispute Resolution Process. It is accepted that on occasions this may not be resolved within this period due the specific needs of the child being addressed.
  Where concerns relate to practice by professionals external to children’s social care e.g. adult services or outside organisations the IRO must discuss the matter with the service manager, independent chair service, in the first instance, and the practice issue will be raised by way of a letter, which must be endorsed by the service manager, ICS.


IRO Alert Form

3. The IRO Alert form should be completed and e-mailed to the social worker and Team Manager for the child/children. A copy should be sent to IRO Business Support to the email address IRO alerts.
4. The IRO should provide a brief summary of their concerns to assist the Team Manager. The IRO should be specific in relation to the concerns they identified during the review.
5. The recommended actions should again be specific and clear and set out in order of priority for action by the social worker and Team Manager with timescales required.
6. Upon receipt of the IRO alert form, the Team Manager, in consultation with the social worker, should address the identified concerns within the required timescale or within the maximum 10 working days. The Team Manager completes the IRO Alert Form, the "Response by Team Manager" section, as well as completing the relevant sections of the “Recommended action required section and return to the IRO and IRO alerts email address.
7. The IRO admin will log all alert forms sent out, as well as the response on a centrally maintained database and also ensure that a copy of the alert form is placed in the documents section of the child's file (with a case note to indicate that one has been completed & the date).
8. Failure to respond in a satisfactory manner within the agreed timescales will result in the IRO progressing the concerns to Stage 1 of the formal dispute resolution process. At this stage, within 24 hours, the service manager ICS will communicate with the service manager for the child’s social worker. An urgent plan will be agreed with actions to be taken within 7 working days.
  If no resolution has been achieved, Stage 2 of the procedure requires that a professionals meeting should be held within 7 working days following the outcome of Stage 1. This is to be chaired by the Service Manager (ICS), with attendance of the social worker, IRO, Team Manager and Children’s Service Manager to discuss and agree the actions to be taken. The relevant operational Group Manager and Group Manager (safeguarding and independent review) will discuss if there is still no resolution following the meeting.
  If the issues have not been satisfactorily resolved, Stage 3 of the process requires that the Group Manager (Safeguarding And Independent Review) will discuss concerns with the service director within 5 working days to agree any further action.

1.1 IRO Alert Form

Click here to view the IRO Alert Form.

1.2 Referral to CAFCASS

1. Since 2002 IRO's have had the authority to refer the case of any looked after child to CAFCASS (under Section 118, 2002 Act) if they are of the view that the child's human rights have been breached and all attempts to resolve the matter have been exhausted. The scope for such referrals is now extended.

The IRO now has the authority to refer a case to CAFCASS 'if the IRO considers it appropriate to do so' (section 25B (3), 1989 Act). The IRO will encounter a wide range of situations in which there are concerns about the plan for the child or the service that is being provided. In most cases it will be possible to address these through:

  • Dialogue with the Local Authority, including access to the dispute resolution procedure;
  • Use of the complaints procedure, either by the child directly or by an adult who is authorised to act on the child's behalf; and/or
  • Application to the court for an order under the 1989 Act, either by the child or by an appropriate adult who is able and willing to act.
3. When considering whether to make a referral to CAFCASS, the IRO should consider the impact that a referral would have for the child. In some cases, there will be time available first to pursue the full dispute resolution procedure within the Local Authority (for example where the dispute relates to educational provision for the next academic year and it is currently still the autumn term). In other situations, the matter will be of sufficient urgency that the dispute resolution process needs to be curtailed (for example where there is a plan to change the child's residential placement within a matter of weeks). It is the responsibility of the IRO to make the decision about whether and when a referral is necessary, based on the timetable for the child.

As part of any dispute resolution procedure and prior to making a referral, the IRO should notify a nominated Local Authority senior officer (group manager, safeguarding and independent review) that a referral to CAFCASS is being considered.

Where the IRO has reached a decision to curtail the dispute resolution process to meet the needs of the child, the IRO should explain the reasons for this to the senior officer.
5. When considering whether to make a referral, the IRO should have access to management advice and support in addition to independent legal advice where necessary. CAFCASS Legal operates a duty helpline which is available to IRO's for the discussion of possible referrals. The lawyers at CAFCASS Legal cannot give IRO's legal advice, but will discuss with the IRO whether any other steps can be taken before a referral is made.
6. The IRO can make a referral to CAFCASS by contacting CAFCASS Legal initially by telephone but the referral should always be confirmed in writing to the duty lawyer who will provide contact details to the IRO. The CAFCASS Legal duty helpline telephone number is available from the CAFCASS National Office, the contact details for which can be found on cafcass website.

The information listed below should accompany a referral to CAFCASS.

  • Copies of any final Care Order and the final Care Plan filed in proceedings;
  • The report of the children's guardian immediately preceding the making of any Care Order;
  • The review records from the preceding 12 months;
  • A report by the IRO explaining why the matter is being referred at this stage and setting out what steps the IRO has taken to resolve the position with the Local Authority;
  • Where the child is of sufficient age and understanding, a report by the IRO on the child's wishes and feelings, including the child's views in relation to any potential court proceedings;
  • Names and contact details for relevant professionals in relation to children's social care and any other agencies involved, for example another Local Authority or an NHS Trust;
  • Any other relevant documentation including a chronology and statement of issues, a list of important people in the child's life and their relationship and involvement with the child; and information about diversity issues for the child and family including whether the child or family members will need additional assistance to aid communication; and
  • The most recent Care Plan.

Once a referral has been made, CAFCASS will enter into final dispute resolution with the Local Authority before proceedings are instituted. While CAFCASS cannot refuse to accept any referral, it is the responsibility of CAFCASS and not the IRO to determine whether a legal remedy should be sought. If the problem is not resolved to the benefit of the child and within the child's timeframe, CAFCASS has the power to initiate the following types of action (under regulation 3 of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Reviewed Case Referral Regulations 2004).

  • Proceedings under section 7(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998;
  • Claim for judicial review; and
  • Other proceedings (for example under the 1989 Act).

2. Dispute Resolution Flowchart

Click here to view the Dispute Resolution Flowchart.