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5.3.5 Practice Disputes in the Management of Children Looked After – Process and Practice Guidance

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This policy document applies specifically to the following groups of staff and / or others:

  • All social work staff engaged with direct assessment, care planning and service delivery work  with Children and Families;
  • All Children’s Services Managers with responsibility for the oversight and supervision of social work staff delivering services to children and families;
  • All Children’s Service staff who undertake the role of audit and review of child case work practice and management.

This policy is designed to achieve compliance with the IRO Handbook Statutory Guidance (Chapter 6) relating to dispute resolution by ensuring:

  • That Calderdale MBC Children’s Services have an agreed informal and formal process in place for resolving problems relating to the practice and management of a child’s case, for example, where the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) has identified a problem relating to assessment, care planning, the implementation of the care plan or decisions relating to it, resources or social work practice.  It is expected that the IRO will establish positive working relationships with the Social Workers and their line Managers so that, in the first instance, the IRO will seek to resolve the issue(s) informally;
  • That the operational Dispute Resolution Process (DRP) formal structure intrinsically facilitates the escalation of any emergent dispute through the management structure when the problem is not resolved at a particular management level;
  • That the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) has the delegated authority to invoke the Dispute Resolution Process when a problem is identified with a child’s case and can make a decision as to the appropriate entry point in the process.
NB. The IRO Handbook acknowledges that the independence of the IRO is essential to enable him/her to effectively challenge poor practice (See: s.2. p.12. par.2.18).


Contents

  1. Policy Statement
  2. Procedure
  3. Process – Practice Guidance

    Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form


1. Policy Statement

This Policy document represents Calderdale MBC Children’s Services governance arrangement for the management and resolution of disputes relating to the practice and management of all statutory Children Looked After cases. The policy reflects the statutory guidance governing the responsibilities of the IRO and the Local Authority when dealing with practice and management disputes relating to Child Looked After cases as contained in Chapter 6 of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) Handbook (2010). The policy document embodies the spirit of the IRO Handbook agreement that Children’s Services Managers will respect and prioritise participation in the process of dispute resolution to promote the best interests of the child.

The policy is underpinned by the principle of speedy resolution to disputes raised by the IRO. Where deemed appropriate by the IRO, an issue of concern relating to assessment, care planning, implementation of the care plan or decisions related to it, resources or social work practice will – in the first instance - be raised informally with the Social Worker and their Supervising Manager with a view to resolving the issue. A record of this informal dispute resolution activity will be placed on the child’s file following consensus on the wording by the involved parties.

Where a resolution is not achieved at the informal stage, the dispute will progress to the formal dispute resolution process (DRP). The formal process will normally follow a staged approach but not necessarily starting at the lowest level of management tier. The IRO may bypass any of the stages in order to escalate the dispute to a management level considered to be most appropriate to address the dispute issue(s). The formal dispute resolution process facilitates the escalation of the dispute through the management tiers should the issue(s) not be resolved at any particular stage.  Each of these stages has a prescribed timescale. The overall process will not exceed 20 working days.

The IRO has the authority to refer the dispute issue(s) to Cafcass at any point in the life span of the dispute resolution process, and may also consider the option of a concurrent referral to Cafcass at the same time as instigating the Local Authority DRP. In the event that the IRO elects to make a referral to Cafcass at any stage the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service Manager, Service Manager Children Looked After, Head of Service Commissioning and Partnerships, Head of Service Early Intervention and Safeguarding and Director of Children and Young People must be formally notified by E mail prior to the referral being made by the referring IRO.


2. Procedure

The individual IRO is personally responsible for activating the DRP, even if this action is not in accordance with the child’s wishes and feelings but in the professional opinion of the IRO will promote the child’s best interests and welfare and/or will protect the child’s human rights.

The DRP is used when the IRO identifies an issue relating to care planning, procedural compliance and/or quality of practice, in respect of a Child Looked After and under their active review, which in their professional judgement is likely to negatively affect the planned outcome for the child.

2.1 Informal Dispute Resolution

Where the IRO identifies a case related issue the Informal Dispute Resolution Process should be initiated in the first instance, provided the IRO is satisfied the child is not at risk of harm, for example, Missing from Home procedures are not being followed. 

The Informal DRP involves the IRO communicating the nature of the dispute to the Social Worker and any relevant manager who may be able to assist. Most often this will occur by email, though where possible this should be coupled with a telephone call or face to face discussion, with a deadline that is reasonable and realistic in terms of both parties, but not exceeding 10 working days. It is the responsibility of the Social Worker and Practice Supervisor/Team Manager to respond within the set timescale as to what remedial action has been undertaken.

If the issue is not resolved in the agreed timescale then the formal Dispute Resolution Procedure will be instigated. The Social Worker and Practice Supervisor/Team Manager will be informed why it has been escalated in a Formal Notification by email.

A record of this activity must be entered onto the child’s file. The IRO must enter that a dispute has been raised in the chronology and the documentation attached electronically onto the child’s file (see Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form).

2.2 Formal Dispute Resolution Process (DRP)

The formal DRP is supported by documentation (see Appendix 1) that will be used by the IRO in all formal dispute resolution notifications.

There are four stages to the formal DRP:

2.2.1 Stage One

  • This level of the DRP is to support early intervention with regard to resolving matters quickly to prevent the escalation of a dispute/concern;
  • This has a response timescale of 4 working days;
  • The dispute issue(s) will be recorded by the IRO on the Dispute Notification Form, (Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form) and will be sent by email to the Social Worker and the Practice Supervisor with a copy to the Team Manager. It is the responsibility of the Social Worker to respond within the 4 working day timescale;
  • In the event that the IRO has not received a response or is dissatisfied with the response then the dispute will progress to Stage Two.

A record of this activity must be entered onto the child’s file. The IRO must enter that a dispute has been raised in the chronology and the documentation attached electronically onto the child’s file (see Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form).

2.2.2 Stage Two

  • This stage is specifically for Practice Supervisor and Team Manager level;
  • The response timescale will be 4 working days;
  • The dispute issue(s) will be recorded together with the rationale for the escalation to Stage Two on the  Dispute Notification Form, (Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form) and sent by email to the responsible Practice Supervisor and Team Manager. It is the responsibility of the practice supervisor, endorsed by the Team Manager, to respond within the 4 working day timescale;
  • Where the IRO does not receive a response or is dissatisfied with the response the dispute will progress to Stage Three.

A record of this activity must be entered onto the child’s file. The IRO must enter that a dispute has been raised in the chronology and the documentation attached electronically onto the child’s file (see Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form).

2.2.3 Stage Three

This stage is aimed at Service Manager level.

The response timescale is 6 working days.

The dispute issue(s) will be recorded together with the rationale for the escalation to Stage Three on the Dispute Notification Form, (Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form) and sent by email to the responsible Service Manager. It is the responsibility of the Service Manager to respond within the 6 working day timescale.

In the situation where there is a failure to respond or the IRO is dissatisfied by the response the dispute will progress to Stage Four. 

A record of this activity must be entered onto the child’s file. The IRO must enter that a dispute has been raised in the chronology and the documentation attached electronically onto the child’s file (see Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form).

2.2.4 Stage Four

This stage is specifically for the Head of Service with responsibility for the service domain where the dispute has arisen.

The response timescale is 6 working days.

The dispute issue(s) will be recorded together with the rationale for the escalation to Stage Four on the Dispute Notification form, Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form and sent by email to the relevant Head of Service. It is the responsibility of the Head of Service to respond within the 6 working day timescale.

Should the dispute remain unresolved at the end of the response timescale the IRO will consult with the IRO Service Team Manager and Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service Manager with a view to considering referral of the unresolved dispute to Cafcass. Where it is agreed that a referral to Cafcass is warranted then a formal notification must be sent to the Head of Service Commissioning and Partnerships and  Head of Service for Early Intervention and Safeguarding and Director of Children and Young People’s Service within 2 working days prior to the referral being sent. A record of this activity must be entered onto the child’s file. The IRO must enter that a dispute has been raised in the chronology and the documentation attached electronically onto the child’s file (see Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form).

2.3 Timescale

The total number of working days to complete the formal process must not exceed the prescribed 20 working days.

Timescales at each stage must be kept. It is the responsibility of the individual IRO to oversee timescale adherence and to escalate the dispute when a failure to comply occurs. It is imperative that the IRO applies the escalator robustly when timescales are not adhered to in order to ensure a consistent and standardised approach to the DRP and to ensure the child(ren) receive the best service possible.

2.4 IRO consultation with IRO Team Manager and Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service Manager

Following consultation with the IRO Team Manager, the IRO may bypass any stage and progress the dispute to the level s/he considers most appropriate.

It is the responsibility of the IRO to make the decision about whether and when a formal notification is necessary, based on the timetable for the child.

The IRO may consider it necessary to make a concurrent referral to Cafcass at the point of invoking the DRP but this proposed action must be discussed with the IRO Service Team Manager and the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service Manager prior to making the referral. If it is agreed that a referral to Cafcass is warranted then a formal notification must be sent to the Head of Service Commissioning and Partnerships, Head of Service for Early Intervention and Safeguarding and  Director of Children and Young People’s Service 2 working days prior to the referral being sent. This alert provides an opportunity for Senior Managers to convene a case discussion aimed at resolution of the issue(s) prior to the actual referral to Cafcass.

A record of this activity must be entered onto the child’s file. The IRO must enter that a dispute has been raised in the chronology and the documentation attached electronically onto the child’s file (see Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form).

2.5 Legal Advice

The IRO must have access to legal advice independent of that provided to the Local Authority in cases that are already before the courts to help establish whether separate legal action is required. It is the responsibility of the Local Authority to ensure this service is commissioned where appropriate.


3. Process – Practice Guidance

A key function of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) in Calderdale MBC Children’s Services is to resolve problems arising out of the safeguarding and care planning process for children and young people. The IRO is expected to establish positive relationships with the Social Workers of the children/young people for whom they are responsible to enable in the first instance for dispute issues to be resolved informally. However, where problems are identified by the IRO in relation to the social work practice and agency management of a child’s case the IRO will seek to quickly resolve these difficulties by instigating the DRP.

The DRP is designed to pick up on practice issues such as non-compliance with statutory and procedural duties (eg. Failure to comply with statutory visits to the child and, also quality of practice eg. poor assessment). However it is likely that situations  will arise where the IRO is not in agreement with the Local Authority’s plan for the child. It is preferable where such disputes arise that the IRO and the responsible representatives from the Local Authority convene a meeting to discuss and clarify the actions proposed in the plan with a view to seeking a consensus on the way forward. The IRO will request this meeting with the relevant professionals responsible for the plan. In the event that a consensus is not reached the IRO has the authority to instigate the DRP and give consideration to a referral to Cafcass (see procedure for referral to Cafcass 2.13).

IRO Handbook, chapter 6 (page 43) provides guidance and clarity around the responsibility and task of each Local Authority to establish a Local Dispute Resolution Process (DRP). The DRP is designed to escalate an emergent dispute through the management structure when issues are not resolved at a particular level.

The formal process normally follows a staged approach with the dispute usually, but not necessarily, starting at the lowest level of management but has the potential to escalate through the management tiers should the difficulties not be resolved at a particular stage. Each stage in the formal DRP has a prescribed response timescale. It is important that a check is made to ascertain if the recipient(s) of the DRP is on annual leave or sickness absence. Where a recipient is either on leave or sickness absence the IRO will seek guidance from the IRO Service Team Manager about how best to progress the DRP. The overall formal process timescale must not exceed 20 working days. The IRO has the authority to bypass any stage in order to escalate a dispute to a management level considered to be the most appropriate, following discussion with the IRO Team Manager.

The IRO has the authority to refer an issue to CAFCASS at any point in the lifespan of the dispute resolution process Regulation 45 and has the option to consider making a concurrent referral to CAFCASS at the point of invoking the Local Authority DRP.

It is acknowledged that on occasion the IRO may be advised by the responder to a dispute that the issue is outside or beyond the control of the Local Authority, for example, staffing deficits, interagency partnership failings or resource shortfalls. It constitutes unsatisfactory practice by the IRO to accept these explanations when it leads to failings to meet the child’s needs as identified in the care plan. The IRO has a professional duty to escalate the dispute.

A key requirement of the DRP is that the IRO ensures that when instigating the DRP all actions undertaken to resolve the dispute and responses to the actions are recorded on the child’s case record.


Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form

Click here to view Appendix 1: Dispute Notification Form

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