National IRO Manager Partnership e-Magazine

The National IRO Manager Partnership has produced this free e-magazine to support the work of its members. It offers professional news; good practice highlights; reflections on topical policy matters and links to articles to support continuous professional development as a IRO.

Child-focused Care Planning and Review Processes

April 11th, 2015

Courtesy of Sharon Martin, Vice Chair National IRO Partnership, Chair South East Region and IRO Manager for Brighton and Hove Safeguarding and Review Service.

Brighton & Hove IRO Team logo. Designed by Ross Beard, Graphic Designer for Children's Services

Brighton & Hove IRO Team logo. Designed by Ross Beard, Graphic Designer for Children’s Services

IROs have a critical role to support children to have their voices heard. This needs to happen at the child’s pace with workers able to tailor their approach to the meet the child’s communication needs and attachment style. It requires commitment by the corporate parent, the local authority, to make sure workers have the time and space necessary to work at the child’s pace.

Part of the IRO’s role is to make sure that the child is given information in a child-friendly way so the child is helped over time, to develop a coherent narrative about their life history and care journey. We sometimes find that hard-pressed social workers lack the time necessary to achieve this, so part of our work involves a support as well as a challenge function to make sure children have a tailored response attuned to their specific needs …

Encouraging children and young people to talk about their plans, and to feedback about the delivery of services and decisions affecting their lives, helps children build in confidence. We believe it also leads to better planning and child-centred outcomes. Children should expect to take an active part in care planning at all stages of their care journey – as a fundamental entitlement …

Brighton & Hove IRO Team branding materials. Designed by Ross Beard, Graphic Designer for Children's Services

Brighton & Hove IRO Team branding materials. Designed by Ross Beard, Graphic Designer for Children’s Services

It’s important that IROs and social workers have a variety of tools available to help communicate with children. For younger children, this might include toys, coloured pencils and flashcards; for young people, tools might include diaries, cameras and creative arts. For disabled children  with more complex communication needs the use of DVDs can really support their involvement in the process and result in a real celebration of the child’s progress and achievements.

IROs in Brighton and Hove developed the child-friendly care plan to support social workers ability to get children more actively involved in their care planning and review process so children are more able to express their views and wishes. The process of creating it is fun and can help build trust, confidence and pride …

IROs take account of the child’s views as part of an approach to child-centred planning and review processes. They try to make sure that children feel ready for review and know what to expect.

Click here to see an example of a child-friendly care plan.

Asking children and young people what they think …

After each review, IROs ask children to complete a Rate My Review Card.

It’s really important to get feedback from children – it helps us to learn and focus on areas for improvement. Children can give a simple rating of ‘Good’, ‘OK’, ‘Not Happy’ and they can add a comment …

Some comments left by children and young people:

It was good – things are looking up thank god!

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive but some children prefer to have their say in other ways. So we asked the Brighton and Hove Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) for their help. YAP worked with a group of children and young people to develop a set of short Youtube films. The films set out young people’s different experiences of life in care and their opinions about review meetings- take a look:

The films give an honest account of childrens’ different experiences of life in care and what review meetings feel like for some of our young people.

What’s especially good is that they set out really clearly what children think including the things that might make us uncomfortable because they challenge IROs practice.

Based on what children and young people tell us, IROs do some things really well.  But some things need to change.
We need to find better ways of involving children with disabilities, adolescent care entrants, young offenders, and young people at risk of going missing or child sexual exploitation. Also, the ‘child-friendly care plan’ isn’t supported by some of our young people. So it’s about tailoring our approach, being innovative and thinking ‘outside the box’.

The quality and longevity of the child’s relationship with their IRO is an important aspect of a child-centred approach. Most children have the same IRO throughout their care journey. This becomes especially crucial during points of transition and change.

Building relationships with children over time results in IROs holding lots of important information. Some of what we hold is soft information that’s more difficult to record. We’ll often have stories we can recall with the child, so they’re not lost and become living memories that the child can later recount.  So IROs are able to share a lot of rich information about children’s life history and key milestones in the child’s life …

The IROs relationship with a child can form an important part of what helps a child to experience the basics of reliable, trustworthy and safe adult care.

And it’s not all about seeing the child between review – this is a myth. Not all children want their IRO turning up between reviews, but it’s important that we ask. For some children it’s more about knowing that we hold them in mind. We might remain largely in the background but talk to the social worker or the child’s carer etc. Knowing we do this can be more important for the child …

It’s about recognising children’s different attachment styles and needs. Children who’ve experienced chronic neglect and abusive care histories are more likely to have life-long difficulties forming secure relationships. These children often want us in the background ‘fighting their corner’.  They want to know we have them in mind, but they don’t all want to see us between reviews. It’s important we respect this and work collaboratively with the wider team around the child. We can check-in on the child in a variety of ways eg text messaging the child or sometimes a quick call to the carer to see how the child’s doing at school etc …

And as one young person recently said to me:

It’s not always about having the same worker forever!  Sometimes care leavers need a change of worker – that’s why the 16 plus team works so well! Sometimes its about the workers style or personality – a young persons not going to meet with a worker they can’t relate to …

Continuity of the IRO relationship is key to helping children build a positive sense of self and identity – it can help them develop a stronger sense of belonging. But also about recognising individual worker strengths and wherever possible trying to match children’s needs and workers strengths as part of the allocation process and being flexible is important too.

Messages from Research

About 79% of children say it is important or very important to have a social worker, and approximately 70% believe it is important or very important to have an IRO. Compared with other professionals, 53% say it’s important to have an advocate and 38% feel it’s important to have a guardian in court (although 44% said they did not know enough about guardians to have an opinion).

These findings emerged from a survey of 1,530 children in care who were asked their views on independent reviewing officers (IROs). The survey was commissioned by Children’s Rights Director Roger Morgan in 2011. It can be downloaded here: Children on Independent Reviewing Officers A report of children’s views by the Children’s Rights Director for England

Evidence of impact on outcomes

  • We’ve listened to, and acted on, what children have told us about IROs approach to care planning and review processes. All young people should feel able to take part in their reviews. So we are looking at more creative ways to involve children and we have introduced lead roles for specific groups of children, especially those who might be more hard to reach.
  • We’re taking more personal responsibility for ensuring that all children understand the IRO role. For example we are trying to give more attention to preparation ahead of review meetings. We have re-designed our leaflets and IRO Fact Sheets to cater for different age ranges of children as well as information online setting out children and young people’s entitlements.
  • We’re trying to get children’s views about keeping in contact between reviews – if this is what the child wants.
  • We’ve addressed barriers to IROs ability to meet their statutory duties effectively. Critically this involved a fundamental review of the service including examination of the impact of high caseloads and additional tasks such as chairing child protection conferences. Since November 2014, IROs caseloads are in line with the IRO Handbook and introduction of a separate team specialising in child protection conferences has resulted in clearer demarcation of IROs statutory duties to children in care.
  • Systems for recording, evidencing and measuring IROs performance against key deliverables – our core business, are driving an approach to performance management of IROs.
  • Additional challenges arising from increased numbers of looked after children in the authority and the demands around care proceedings as set out by the Children and Families Act 2014, have demanded even more scrutiny by IROs. Implementation of the Cafcass and IRO joint protocol has helped and we have an IRO leading on this aspect.

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One comment on “Child-focused Care Planning and Review Processes

  1. Pingback: Child-focused Care Planning and Review Processes | IRO Partnership e-Magazine

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