Local Dispute Resolution Process for Independent Reviewing Officers


The IRO has a statutory duty to monitor the performance by the local authority of their functions and to resolve problems arising out of the planning process. Challenge and resolution are an integral part of the IRO role. Informal and formal resolution form part of the same continuum, which needs to celebrate the achievements of resolution as well as highlighting the problems that require resolution.

This policy provides the guidance and process for the IRO's regarding what they need to escalate and the levels and stages required to achieve a positive outcome for the child or young person regarding their care plan.

Ideally resolution processes are there to resolve any problems at the lowest level and as quickly as possible. Through the process the IRO should be able to demonstrate to the child that they are taking action on their behalf and they should be able to evidence their own work in resolving the issue.

Where appropriate, the child/young person should be informed by the IRO that they are seeking resolution to a concern on their behalf, and they should be kept informed of how the resolution is progressing. Where an IRO has raised any challenge in relation to a child's case, this should be clearly recorded on the child's electronic file/ICS.

There will be times when the IRO may be advised that obstacles in the way of resolving the issue are outside or beyond the control of the local authority, for example in relation to staffing, interagency or resources issues. However, if these are impacting on the ability of the department to meet the needs of a child as identified in the child's care plan, the IRO should continue to escalate the issue.

Appendix 1: The Local Dispute Resolution Protocol Flowchart sets out the process and within the required timescales.


This chapter was revised in March 2023 when the appendices were updated.

1. Process

There are two stages to the dispute resolution process for the IRO's:

  1. Informal resolution - It is expected that the IRO will raise concerns with the social worker and their supervisor/manager informally through ICS, telephone call or direct conversation. The details of these concerns and their outcome will be recorded by the IRO on a Case Note. It is expected that this matter will be resolved within ten working days It is expected that this matter will be resolved within ten working days;
  2. Formal resolution - If there has not been a satisfactory conclusion at the informal stage, the IRO has a duty to escalate the matter to the formal dispute resolution stage, which has four levels.

It is the responsibility of the IRO to monitor and track the progress of the concern. During the formal stage, at each level, the immediate line manager should be copied in and depending on the level, the Service Manager, Quality Assurance and Review and the relevant Operational Service Manager should also be alerted.

Full details of the stages and levels are shown in Table 1 below:

Table 1: Stages and Levels of the Dispute Resolution Process

Caption: stages and levels of dispute resolution
Level Professional/s with whom matter will be addressed * Timescale for action to be completed / resolution
Informal Resolution Stage
  Practitioner, social worker and their supervisor/manager 10 working days
Formal Resolution Stage
Level 1

Team manager

A copy must also be provided to:

  • Operational Service Manager;
  • Service Manager, Quality Assurance and Review.
5 working days
Level 2

Operational Service Manager

A copy must also be provided to:

  • Director of Children's Social Work;
  • Service Manager, Quality Assurance and Review.

(From this stage onwards, the IRO may seek their own independent legal advice)

5 working days
Level 3

Director of Social Work

A copy must also be provided to:

  • Corporate Director for CF&CH.
5 working days
Level 4

Corporate Director for CF&CH

A copy must also be provided to:

  • Director of Social Work – Children, Families and Community Health;
  • Service Manager, Quality Assurance and Review.
5 working days

The IRO may also bypass any stage and progress the concern to the level he or she considers most appropriate.

From Level 2 the IRO in consultation with their manager may seek their own independent legal advice. A reciprocal arrangement for this with another Local Authority is in place and will be arranged via Swindon Local Authority Legal Department.

2. Issues to be addressed through Dispute Resolution

As part of the monitoring function, the IRO has a duty to identify patterns of concern emerging, not just about individual children, but also more generally in relation to the collective experience of it's looked after children and the services they receive.

Table 2 below identifies the four key theme areas that need to be identified and recorded on ICS and provides some examples of the type of issues that may be covered within them as part of the Dispute Resolution process. The examples quoted are not exhaustive. The accurate recording of issues and themes is an important part of quality assuring practice and enables learning and improvement.

Table 2: Issues and Themes

1. General issues
  • Preparation for looked after review (e.g. non completion/poor quality social work reports and care plans/appropriate signatures missing);
  • Insufficient evidence of the child's voice & inclusion within the assessment, planning and review process;
  • Non completion of decisions / failure to meet timescales;
  • Assessments not completed in a timely manner/poor quality;
  • Unsuitable/inadequate contact arrangements;
  • Concerns arising about inadequate health provision;
  • Concerns arising about inadequate education provision;
  • IRO not notified of significant event in the child's life;
  • IRO not in agreement with the Care Plan;
  • Applications for CICB, passports etc.
  • Delay in life story work;
2. Failure to meet statutory requirements for the child
  • No allocated social worker;
  • No up to date/poor quality single assessment;
  • No up to date/poor quality Care Plan;
  • No up to date/poor quality pathway plan;
  • Statutory visits not being competed or children not being seen alone, where appropriate, in their placement by the social worker;
  • No up to date/poor quality Personal Education Plan;
  • No up to date/poor quality health assessment;
  • No up to date/poor quality Placement Plan.
3. Care plan implementation
  • Drift/delay in the implementation of the child's care plan;
  • Delay in progressing a child's permanence plan (second review onwards);
  • Failure to implement a significant element of the child's care plan;
  • Failure to notify the IRO of potential significant changes to the child's care plan.
4. Provision of service
  • Concern around the suitability of the placement to meet the child's needs;
  • Family finding / placement search;
  • Placement choice / standard of care;
  • Concern around professional practice.