Independent Reviewing Officers’and
social workers’perceptions of children’s
participation in Children in Care Reviews
Clive Diaz, Hayley Pert and Nigel Patrick Thomas
Purpose –The research reported here forms part of a study of children’s participation in children in care
reviews and decision making in one local authority in England. The purpose of this paper is to outline the
views of 11 social workers and 8 Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) and explores their perceptions of
children’s participation in reviews. The paper considers the barriers to young people participating
meaningfully in decision making and how practice could be improved in this vital area so that children’s voices
are more clearly heard and when possible acted upon by professionals.
Design/methodology/approach –The data reported here derive from a qualitative cross-sectional study in
one English local authority. The entire study involved interviewing children in care, IROs, social workers and
senior managers about young people’s participation in their reviews. Findings from the interviews with young
people and senior managers have been reported elsewhere (Diaz and Aylward, 2018; Diaz et al., 2018); this
paper focusses on the interviews with social workers and IROs. Specifically, the authors were interested in
gaining insight into their views about the following research questions: To what degree do children and young
people meaningfully participate in reviews? What are the barriers to participation? What can be done to
improve children and young people’s participation in reviews?
Findings –During this process seven themes were identified, five of which concerned barriers to effective
participation and two which concerned factors that appeared to support effective participation. These are
summarised below and explained further in the following sections. Barriers to effective participation: social
workers and IROs’high caseloads and ensuing time pressures; high turnover of social workers and
inexperienced staff; lack of understanding and training of professionals in participation; children and young
people’s negative experiences of reviews and consequent reticence in taking part; and structure and process
of the review not being child-centred. Factors which assist participation: quality of the relationship between
the child and professionals; and the child or young person chairing their own review meeting.
Research limitations/implications –Although these findings reflect practice in one local authority, their
consistency with other research in this area suggests that they are applicable more widely.
Practical implications –The practice of children chairing their own reviews was pioneered by The Children’s
Society in North West England in the 1990s(Welsby, 1996), and has more recently been implemented with some
success by IROs in Gloucestershire (see Thomas, 2015, p. 47). A key recommendation from this study would be
for research to explore how this practice could be developedand embedded more widely. Previous research has
noted the tension between the review being viewed as an administrativeprocess and as a vehicle of participation
(Pert et al., 2014). This study highlighted practitioner reservations about young peo ple chairing their own reviews,
but it also gave examples of how this had beendone successfully and how it could improve children’sparticipation
in decision making. At the very least, it is essential that young people play a role in decidingwhere the review is
going to take place, when it will take place, who is going to be invited and what will be included on theagenda.
Social implications –The paper highlights that in this Local Authority caseloads for social workers were
very high and this, combined with a high turnover of staff and an inexperienced workforce, meant that children
in care struggled to have a consistent social worker. This often meant that young people were not able to
build up a positive working relationship with their social worker, which negatively impacted on their ability to
play a meaningful role in decision making.
Originality/value –There have been very few recent studies that have considered professionals’
perspectives of children’s participation in key meetings and decision making, so that this provides a timely
and worthwhile contribution to this important area of work.
Keywords Participation, Child protection, Children in care, Childcare reviews, Childcare social work,
Looked after children
Paper type Research paper
Received 8 January 2019
Revised 2 May 2019
9 June 2019
Accepted 28 June 2019
The authors wish to thank the
many participants who shared their
experiences and gave their time to
this study. The authors would like
to thank Dawn Mannay and Alyson
Rees for their feedback on this
Clive Diaz is based at Cardiff
University, Cardiff, UK.
Hayley Pert is based at
The Open University,
Milton Keynes, UK.
Nigel Patrick Thomas is
attached to the School of Social
Work, Care and Community,
University of Central
Lancashire, Preston, UK.
JOURNAL OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES
VOL. 14 NO. 3 2019, pp. 162-173, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-6660 DOI 10.1108/JCS-01-2019-0003