Independent reviewing officers – raising children’s voices | NIROMP

By: Sharon Martin, Chair – National IRO Managers Partnership Posted: 17th February 2019

Independent reviewing officers’ have become increasingly creative (inventive / adaptive) in how they go about raising children’s voices. This ability underlies an important aspect of NIROMP’s vision for a modern independent reviewing officer function; as an integral aspect of the independent reviewing officer’s professional identity.

Many independent reviewing officers have already embedded a refreshed approach to reviews for children in care. We hope this update urges you to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences about some of the changes you are embedding or seeing.

Children’s involvement and participation

Thinking of the different ways to involve children in all elements of the looked after review process is a really important consideration for independent reviewing officers. Finding the best ways to involve the child is what independent reviewing officers espouse to – as a means to keeping every child at the centre of thinking and decision-making.

In order for children to have opportunities to express their own ideas and experiences, independent reviewing officers must give consideration to the range of factors that can strengthen a child’s participation and involvement in decision-making. Working with children creatively is an effective way of ascertaining a child’s views, strengths and wishes and solving problems together, through structuring and preparing for review together, and helping the child’s understanding and involvement in decisions about their care and review.

Many of the more participatory techniques used by independent reviewing officers tend to avoid an independent reviewing officer led question and answer form of communication. Playing and having fun with the child as part of their review meeting, offers lots of creative opportunities, as does learning how to structure more difficult conversations about the child’s situation. Independent reviewing officers also find that many young people want a more traditional sit-down meeting with the important people in their life. What matters is that the independent reviewing officer adapts their approach, so the young person gets to have their say and is not inadvertently closed down.

The time given to preparation and planning for the child’s review ensures that the independent reviewing officer creatively and imaginatively builds an approach that has meaning and relevance for the child. Activity-based reviews also make sure that the child feels able to discuss their experiences and wishes on their own terms. More visual activities help shift the gaze to the creative product – allowing for a less intense and invasive form of review process – leading to conversation and communication that is responsive to the child’s preferred style, wishes and views.

The world of the independent reviewing officer is all about good communication –through conversation, negotiation, play, humour, through art and crafts, music, etc. Independent reviewing officers aim to understand children’s strengths and their problem(s) in ways that are meaningful and empathise with the child’s situation.

Working with diversity

Responding to cultural difference is a key focus for effective communication.

Finding the best means for expression for the child varies considerably depending on the child and their situation and needs, and independent reviewing officers are adept at finding creative ways of communicating with children. For example, independent reviewing officers might turn to pictures and emoji’s to help a child express their feelings and views or this might be done through music, sound and movement – all can have a place in the child’s review process.

An example of another key area for creativity is in the independent reviewing officer’s work with children with disabilities. In this situation the independent reviewing officer might make use of tools like drawing, music, symbols etc. Independent reviewing officers are able to find ways of accessing children’s views and putting them down in a review of the care plan in the words, symbols that are useful to the child. Each interaction the independent reviewing officer has with the child needs creativity in thinking how to raise the child’s voice about the things that matter most to them.

Reflective supervision

Independent reviewing officers’ can have varied levels of reticence or openness to using activities as part of the child’s review. The pressure to produce a record of the ‘review meeting’ within a set time frame is also a challenge. Treating the child’s review as a process and not an event, independent reviewing officers keep children’s voices central to review, whilst at the same time addressing the requirements of the independent reviewing officer statutory function.

Reflective supervision ensures independent reviewing officers have space to think about their own experiences and comfort in working with both creative and activity based methods of communicating with children.

Raising children’s voices and addressing inequalities

The pervasive inequalities care experienced children and adults face show that we have much more to do to make sure that children’s voices are heard. Independent reviewing officers help amplify children’s voices through a range of flexible, creative approaches to practice; creating new ways to raise children’s voices and making sure they are acted on. Independent reviewing officers use a range of approaches including artwork, music, dance, storytelling etc.

Children’s meaningful participation, generates important ways to finding new understandings and it also puts an onus on people to act on children’s cues and messages because children want to know what will happen to their messages.

Final reflections

Independent reviewing officers across the country are proving that it is possible to meet their statutory obligations and to reach out to children in more fun and creative ways.

Use of creativity is largely implicit in discussions about independent reviewing officer’s work with children. However, independent reviewing officers really value creativity and imagination as an important aspect of how they skillfully communicate with children.

The independent reviewing officer’s work with children holds great potential for creativity. Our relationship with children requires spontaneity, flexibility and imagination in order that we can raise children’s voices to the fore, and creativity underlies these things. It’s about being responsive to the child and their situation in the moment.

Practice evidence and research are vital tools to inform the complex judgments that independent reviewing officers have to make, and imagination, creativity, adaptability and curiosity are also a vital part of the independent reviewing officer’s toolbox. Independent reviewing officers must adapt their communication to meet individual need, to the child’s lived experience and context, focusing on what matters most to the child as part of every encounter they have with the child.

A spirit of creativity is essential for modern, progressive independent reviewing officers. Creativity is the best means for ensuring we listen to and understand every child’s wishes and that their views stay at the heart of all decisions. In this way, independent reviewing officers are working with children to raise their voices by thinking and acting creatively and flexibly in the pursuit of the best outcomes for every child in care.

Related reading

Some direct work materials from NIROMP’s IRO toolbox:

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