Getting out of the Westminster bubble (Part 2)

20th November, 2012 12:27 pm

There are some jobs that attract little attention but matter a lot. As I discovered in my second day on the frontline recently, the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) is just that.

IROs are independent social workers, introduced just under a decade ago to make sure the child in care gets what she is promised and to make sure her voice is heard. As one child said, my IRO ‘makes me feel like a person, not a number’.

It’s clear from what children say that when this works, it is brilliantly effective. Yet the role is fraught with difficulty. IROs have to simultaneously challenge the local authority and sit within it. They have to form a relationship with social workers, foster carers and health visitors that is close enough to build trust but detached enough to challenge and, if necessary, escalate their concerns. Like the other children’s professionals I’ve shadowed, they are run off their feet with high caseloads, unexpected demands and piles of admin but also somehow have to find enough time for the child.

The IRO chairs regular progress reviews with all of the adults involved in a child’s life. The baby I met had only been in care for a short time. As well as covering practical matters (is she healthy, happy, safe?) the IRO also probed the foundations they were collectively laying for the child’s life. Does she have a memory box? Have we kept the toys her birth family left for her? Watching her sleeping, it struck me that decades from now she will have memories because her IRO, who she may not even remember meeting, took the time to preserve them.

So many of the challenges that face IROs also confront social workers. High caseloads mean they are pulled in every direction and far too much time is spent in the office typing up case-notes – a tragic use of time for experienced, skilled professionals who want and need to spend more time talking to children.

I drew a few conclusions from watching IROs at work. I share the view of most IROs that being part of the local authority matters, but I also have concerns about independence and I would like to see IROS given: separate management structures, sufficient seniority to challenge, and access to their own legal advice if they need to take on the decision of the local authority.

I have also been struck in subsequent conversations about the lack of awareness amongst MPs, councillors and even lead members for children about what IROs are and why they matter. This has to be a priority if they are to get the resources and professional clout that they need.

Finally, the more time I spend with the children’s workforce the more I marvel that burnout, which is a significant problem, isn’t even greater given the pressure they have to deal with. Recently I visited Singapore where there is a well-resourced, structured career route for teachers that enables them to move between frontline work, research and policy development over the course of their careers. Increasingly, I am wondering why we don’t do this in the UK, not just for teachers but for the wider children’s workforce.

Lisa Nandy MP is the Shadow Children’s Minister

You can read part one of “Getting out of the Westminster bubble” here.

Latest

  • News 40 days to go: Alexander kicks off Labour’s campaign

    40 days to go: Alexander kicks off Labour’s campaign

    Today Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Chair of General Election Strategy, will visit marginal seat Ealing Central and Acton to mark the fact that there are 40 campaigning days left until the general election. Alexander will also visit this constituency, which Labour’s candidate Rupa Huq hopes to win from Conservative Angie Bray, to send a message that Labour have 40 policies that would make Britain better (a list of which can be found below). This ties in with Labour’s campaign slogan “A […]

    Read more →
  • Comment It’s time for the Tories to come clean on their secret £12billion plan to hit children, carers, families and disabled people

    It’s time for the Tories to come clean on their secret £12billion plan to hit children, carers, families and disabled people

    David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have repeatedly refused to explain how they would make the £12 billion cuts in social security spending that their fiscal plans for the next parliament depend on. If anyone wondered why, now  we know. Leaked documents drawn up by civil servants for Conservative ministers and reportedly discussed with Conservative officials, confirm that this extreme cuts plan would hit disabled people and their carers hard. The Tories have denied this is their plan. But the truth is […]

    Read more →
  • News Seats and Selections Geoffrey Robinson u-turns on retirement – he’s standing again on May 7th

    Geoffrey Robinson u-turns on retirement – he’s standing again on May 7th

    In recent days there were reports that Geoffrey Robinson was set to step down as MP for Coventry North West (at incredibly short notice), with Miliband aide Greg Beales reportedly a frontrunner for the seat. Then yesterday, reports emerged that Robinson might have had a change of heart, and could stay on as MP. An emergency meeting of Coventry North West CLP had been called for this evening, but LabourList understands this was cancelled early this afternoon, when local members […]

    Read more →
  • Video 36 years later – Michael Foot’s speech on the vote of no confidence

    36 years later – Michael Foot’s speech on the vote of no confidence

    As Scottish Labour’s latest video shows, it’s 36 years since Jim Callaghan’s government was brought down with a vote of no confidence. This was won by one vote, in which the SNP supported Margaret Thatcher and the Tories. Here’s Michael Foot’s speech from this day:

    Read more →
  • Comment The Tories won’t deliver a 7-day a week NHS, they’ll cut it

    The Tories won’t deliver a 7-day a week NHS, they’ll cut it

    With forty days to go, David Cameron is desperate to run away from his dismal record on the NHS. After five years in Downing Street, he stood in Manchester today and had the cheek to make all the same promises on a seven-day NHS. No-one will be taken in by it. People know that not only did this Government not deliver a seven-day NHS, they spent five years taking it backwards. It’s now harder to get a GP appointment from Monday to […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit