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5.2.5 Dispute Resolution Process



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

IRO Handbook

This chapter was added to the manual in February 2016.


  1. Legal Basis
  2. Reasons for Entering the DRP Process
  3. Use of the Process

1. Legal Basis

The IRO Handbook is the updated Statutory Guidance in force from April 2011 which amends Section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and Section 26 of the Children Act 1989. It states:

'It is the task of each local authority to put in place a formal process for the IRO to raise concerns and to ensure that this process is respected and prioritised by managers. The process is referred to in the guidance as the local dispute resolution process... it will involve escalating the matter in dispute through a number of levels of seniority within the department with identified timescales for a response at each stage. The IRO may bypass any stage and progress the dispute to the level s/he considers most appropriate. The formal dispute resolution process within each local authority should have timescales in total of no more than 20 working days." (Section 6.2 IRO Handbook)

The IRO Handbook states: 'the individual IRO is personally responsible for activating the dispute resolution process, even if this step may not be in accordance with the child's wishes and feelings, but may, in the IRO's view, be in accordance with the best interest and welfare of the child, as well as his/her human rights'. (Section 6.4 IRO Handbook)

The Statutory Guidance for Care Planning, Placement and Review Regulations 2010 states:

'Where the IRO is of the view that the Responsible Authority:

  • Has failed to address the needs of the child set out in the revised plan; and/or
  • Has failed to review the case in accordance with the regulations; and/or
  • Has failed to implement effectively any decision made at a review; or
  • Is otherwise in breach of its duties to the child in any significant way.

The IRO must advise staff at an appropriate level of seniority of this failure. It will be important that senior managers then work to resolve the failure within a timescale that meets the needs of the individual child. (Section 4.40, Volume 2: Care Planning Placement and Case Review)

The Handbook also makes it clear that IRO representations should be made regardless of whether 'obstacles in the way of resolving the issue are outside or beyond the control of the local authority e.g. staffing, interagency or resource issues... if these are impacting on the ability of the Department to meet the needs of the child as identified in the child's Care Plan'. Therefore criteria for initiating an IRO representation are solely related to the needs of the child and not capacity of operational teams, resources or specific workers performance or behaviour.

An IRO Representation does not exclude a child or another adult on the child's behalf taking separate action which could include:

  • Making a formal complaint;
  • Making an application to the courts.

The IRO has a duty to inform the child of their rights and assist in obtaining an advocate and/or legal representation. The IRO will also consult and keep informed the child and other relevant persons at each stage of the Representation as appropriate.

2. Reasons for Entering the DRP Process

The following are possible reasons for entering the DRP process:

Issues of Human Rights

  • Non participation of child and parents in decision making e.g. before any change of placement; discriminatory practice; not informing child of rights and advocacy; not seeking parent's consent/restricting their contact if child on Section 20 etc; permanency planning not progressing efficiently /Inadequate, insufficient assessments; delays in assessments; drift/delay in family finding; lack of contingency plan; lack of extended family investigation; drift/delay in legal planning etc.

Non completion of Review Decisions

  • When this is significant or a repeated concern regardless of whether there is an understandable explanation (e.g. social worker in court) as it is about the needs of the Child not being met in appropriate timescales by Cumbria County Council as Corporate Parent. This is frequently raised by children and young people as a concern.

Concerns about Progress of Child

  • Quality/appropriateness of placement; preparation for moves or independent living; life story work; leisure activities; contact; education provision; health; emotional and behavioural support etc.

Concerns with Allocations/Statutory Requirements not Fulfilled

  • Lack of stability and consistency of social work input; transition between social worker/teams/services; child raises concern re social work input;social work visits; health assessments; PEPs etc.

IRO Endorsement of Care Plan Required

  • Not keeping IRO informed of significant events or failing to consult IRO when a change to Care Plan takes place including Court Care Plans, disagreement with all or part of Care Plan.

The IRO will determine when and to whom a Dispute resolution will be initiated. They will aim to address any issues at as low and informal a level as possible by discussion with the Social worker and Team Manager. However when the concern is repeated or is more significant the IRO should initiate the DRP process. The IRO will determine the appropriate level of management at which to initiate and /or progress the representation to. The complete procedure through all levels should not take longer than 20 days. The timescale for a response will be determined by the IRO based on the needs of the child but should not be more than 5 working days in the first instance. If the Dispute cannot be addressed within that time period, the IRO can use their discretion to await the manager’s full response or escalate the Dispute Resolution to a more senior level. Convening a meeting of all relevant parties may also take place.

The IRO has the discretion to refer matters subject to the DRP process to CAFCASS at any time. They will inform their Manager of this referral who will in turn inform the AD and Senior Manager. The IRO has a duty to inform the Guardian of any matter subject to a dispute resolution process. Local Authority solicitors are also required to inform the Court in any ongoing proceedings.

3. Use of the Process

Level Timescale for Response Individual Severity of Concern
Informal Discussion   Team Manager/ Social Worker


Level 1 4 working days. Team Manager

• No allocated social worker;

• Care plan not progressing.

Level 2 4 working days up to a maximum of 8 working days. Service Manager
  • Safeguarding issues;
  • Failure to respond at lower level;
  • Serious drift/delay.
Level 3 4 working days up to a maximum of 12 working days. Senior Manager
  • Serious safeguarding issue;
  • Unregulated/unassessed placement;
  • Failure to respond at a lower level.
Level 4 4 working days up to a maximum of 16 working days. Assistant Director
  • Failure to address serious safeguarding issue;
  • Serious potential breach of human rights;
  • Failure to respond at a lower level.


Level 5 4 working days up to a maximum of 20 working days. Director Children’s Services/Chief Executive
  • Failure to address serious safeguarding issue;
  • Serious potential breach of human rights;
  • Failure to respond at lower level.