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 Cooper slams “immoral” Theresa May, and calls for Med rescue to be restarted ASAP

    Cooper slams “immoral” Theresa May, and calls for Med rescue to be restarted ASAP

    After the tragic reports overnight that hundreds of people have drowned in the Mediterranean after a boat capsized, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has called on the EU to “restart the rescue” as soon as possible. Cooper also slammed Theresa May’s behaviour – arguing that rescue operations should be stopped in order to deter others from coming – as “immoral”. Here’s what she had to say: “Today’s dreadful and distressing tragedy shows how urgently we need EU and international action to prevent thousands […]

    Read more →
  • Comment How the Tories turned me into a Labour councillor

    How the Tories turned me into a Labour councillor

    General elections have a way of focusing the mind and crystallising the differences between Britain’s political parties. And so the old accusation that “you’re all the same” seems to have lost its resonance in recent weeks. The Greens and UKIP are receding in the polls, and the traditional red-blue choice is returning to the fore. The stark choice between five more years of Dickensian policies under David Cameron’s Tories or an economy that works for all under Ed Miliband’s Labour is […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour will make the railways a priority if they win in May

    Labour will make the railways a priority if they win in May

    Labour will make their rail plans a priority if they win in May and launch a review of the franchising system in their first 100 days of government. The Labour party’s plans for the railways would allow public sector companies to bid on rail franchises against firms. The Sunday Times have reported that Labour would start this process off immediately and that they may put the existing franchising process on hold while they conduct a review into it. A party […]

    Read more →
  • Video When Ed Miliband met a hen party

    When Ed Miliband met a hen party

    Ed Miliband was in the North West yesterday. This is what happened when he got to Chester, and his battlebus bumped into a hen party: Selfie! Selfie! Selfie!

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Tom McCabe, former Scottish Labour MSP, has died

    Tom McCabe, former Scottish Labour MSP, has died

    Tom McCabe has died aged 60 after a short illness. McCabe was the first MSP to ever be elected; his victory in Hamilton and South was announced just 75 minutes after the polls closed. He won by around 7,000 votes and represented the constituency from 1999 until 2011. During this time he was also the minister for parliamentary business for two years (1999-2001), deputy minister for health and community care (in 2003) ,and minister for finance and public service reform […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit