Report of IROs and Child Protection Chairs
The Board received the annual Safeguarding Children Unit (SCU) report for 2020/21.
It was reported that the team is made up of 9 Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) and the unit is currently in the process of recruiting a new Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO).
The role of the SCU was summarised, the role includes; chairing complex strategy meetings and reviews for Care Order’s, adoptions and secure accommodation. IRO’s are involved throughout care proceedings and chair post-18 reviews and Foster Carers reviews. The IROs offer challenge and quality assurance, develop training and give evidence in Court proceedings. There is also close working with the Children’s Rights and Engagement Team to make structure changes to ensure more independence of this role from Children’s Services to reinforce the voice of the child.
Over the past year the SCU has successfully adapted to home working with conferences being held online quickly into the pandemic. The IROs continued to meet with children throughout the pandemic, this ranged from doorstep visits and walks, to video calls. It was noted that Child Protection Conferences were held within timescales throughout the pandemic and an IRO was appointed to cases within 48 hours of a child coming into care.
In terms of challenges it was acknowledged that the increased numbers of children in the system, currently 475, has increased IROs workload. In addition, there is increasing complexity of cases with reduced services which creates challenges. There are challenges in terms of keeping families safe where conferences are being held virtually and there is a history of domestic violence for example.
The next steps for the SCU include leading the development of narrative practice, this is where all reports and plans are written to the child. Where this has taken place the feedback from families is extremely positive, families have stated that this means so much more. Work is also underway to develop ethnicity training, more choice around hybrid conferences as well as the re-development of the Families Rights and Advocacy Gateshead (FRAG) which gives a voice to parents and families.
The point was made that the increase in LAC numbers is not necessarily as a result of more children coming into the system, but rather fewer children exiting care. Therefore discussions have started to look at and understand if the children and young people in care whether this is still the right plan for them. It was noted that there has been a number of children’s family networks that have evolved and Children’s Services is keen to work with IROs to ensure only children in care are those who need to be in care. It was agreed that one plan for the rest of a child’s life is not always best and that innovative work needs to take place to look at individual cases. It was also noted that a discussion has been held with the regional CAFCASS lead around this who has advised there is an opportunity for expedited judiciary if required for such cases.
The Board noted that statistics do not tell the full story and requested that the new Mosaic reporting show more context behind these figures. It was confirmed that Mosaic can report on age range, provision, gender and wards which can all tell a story.
It was acknowledged that there is great work taking place around rehabilitating families so that children can return home, however it was noted that two thirds of these children return to care within five years. Therefore it was suggested that consideration needs to be given to the support that is in place in these cases. It was acknowledged that this work cannot be done in isolation and through family group conferencing there is a good opportunity for wraparound support to be put in place and identify what the family needs to sustain arrangements.
RESOLVED - That the information contained in the annual report be noted.