Call to Action: NIROMP Strategic Priorities 2019-22

Opening Message by the Minister for Children and Families

“I am delighted to throw my support behind this action plan from NIROMP. It offers something that is very welcome: a positive and proactive, child-focused plan to improve services for children and their families by addressing challenges locally, but under a coherent national vision. I want to see IROs realise their potential to make a real difference in the lives of all looked after children across the country. They have an opportunity to improve practice and I am really pleased to see them embrace this. It is crucial that we hear the voices of children and their families to drive better decisions, taking their views on board in care planning in a meaningful way, to ensure that they can experience stable lives and have access to the same opportunities that we would want for our own children. I know that this will take some hard work and demands the sponsorship of local leaders and politicians so I am calling to those people to stand up for the voice of their children and families and lend their support to this important programme.”

Nadhim Zahawi MP, Minister for Children and Families

Foreword by the Children’s Commissioner for England

“As Children’s Commissioner I have, all too often, borne witness to the devastation that results from adults neglecting to listen to a child’s voice. A fraught care-planning process will, quite rightly, incite loud debate among professionals and relatives alike. However, it is crucial that the young person’s voice does not get lost amid this noise; when a child is made to feel invisible, opportunities to protect them become easy to miss.

Help at Hand, our advice and advocacy service, has routinely demonstrated the importance of a robust champion for those in the care of authorities. We regularly hear from children who feel lost and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control, while crucial decisions, including where they will live and who should be responsible for their care, are taking place all around them.

Therefore, the role of an Independent Reviewing Officer, to act as both a voice and guide to a child through complex care-planning processes, is indispensable. As is an emphasis on the independent function of an IRO, in their capacity to hold local authorities to account when a child’s rights are not duly upheld.

I welcome the priorities laid out in NIROMP’s strategic vision for the forthcoming years. The focus on empowering children’s voices and placing them at the heart of care-planning is an aspiration I have long shared. The renewed emphasis on stability also chimes with evidence gathered by the CCO office in the last year.

Our 2018 Stability Index found that almost 2,400 children changed home, school and social worker over the last twelve months; it is undeniable that these disruptions will, in the majority of cases, compound their existing hardships. I therefore affirm NIROMP’s prioritisation of security in care, preservation of networks and resilience.

In essence, it is crucial that all children are put at the heart of their own care plans. I hope for a situation in which, with the guidance of NIROMP, local authorities are able to treat each child as any trustworthy parent or guardian would; providing the safe space for children to voice their concerns, feelings and wishes for the future.”

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England

Introduction and Acknowledgements

I am pleased to introduce NIROMP’s Strategic Vision and Priorities 2019-2022. Our work programme and call to action, is based on the key principles of securing better life chances and choices for all children and young people with care experience – constantly striving for more.
Our working plans set out targets for each priority and it is our intention to meet these. IROs have an important role in making sure that children and young people with care experience have lifelong links, love and care.

Children and young people deserve the same life chances and opportunities, protection and care whatever their experience, ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities, size, shape or any other status, whatever they think or say, whatever their family background, wherever they live, they should have equal opportunities to fulfil their potential.

Promoting equality of opportunity, securing better life chances and choices for every child and young person are the pivot around which a fair and caring society should revolve. This should be our common aim and we will continue to make this call – for a unifying commitment to improve the life chances and choices for those children, young people and families who are being held back, or worse, completely failed.

Our call coincides with an important anniversary year for children’s rights. This year marks the 30th anniversary of two significant breakthroughs in children’s rights legislation: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989. Children’s rights legislation successfully changed the standing of children and young people in law, but the protection of children’s rights remains a constant challenge.

A combination of poverty, poor housing, domestic violence in the home, addiction or parental mental ill health continue to disadvantage the life chances of hundreds of thousands of children and young people in England. Despite this, the Local Government Association estimates that the overall funding gap faced by councils overall will amount to £3.1 billion in 2019/20. They estimate that this gap will rise to £8 billion by 2024/25. The pressures are particularly acute in adult social care, children’s services, public health and homelessness support. Finance is a major issue. But, the solutions run broader than finances alone.

In 2019 the first ever Care Experienced Conference was born. The visionary force behind the Conference was Ian Dickson, a retired social worker, Ofsted Inspector, residential manager and children’s rights advocate. Ian also happens to be care experienced. In the recent past Ian said to me, “There cannot be real improvement until everyone involved in providing and shaping the care system and those who use and used it join hands and work towards a common aim. Not there yet, but I see green shoots.”

As a profession we must comply not only with children’s rights and related legislation, we must be seen to comply. We should not undermine trust in IROs commitment, our duty, to uphold children’s rights. Crucially, we should not lower our standards and expectations of and for children, young people and young adults with care experience. Upholding social work values and ethics remains paramount to the effectiveness of the IRO role and the social work profession. Our commitment to this must not get lost amidst debates about the pressures facing services.

And there does need to be, as Ian Dickson and many others rightly state, a joining of hands and an emphasis on prevention and support over time. We all need to do more to learn from the voices of people who use or have used local services and to get better at incorporating their voices into all our work.

My view is that for a children’s rights perspective and duty to be successful, we must continue to work together to tackle contextual factors. This is just as vital as responding effectively to every child and family’s specific needs. We are seeing progress, but we need to pick up pace.
Solutions to the problems we are seeing are complicated and are far broader than LA finances alone. But I think most of us agree that properly funded local services, which emphasise prevention and support over time, are a good place to start.

Interested individuals and groups took the time to share their vision and experience as part of NIROMP’s public consultation, and I want to thank all of them. While resources remain challenging, I am confident that the interest we have seen will be sustained, and that we will work together over forthcoming years to deliver consistently higher quality services to achieve this ambition.

I want to thank all those whose assistance proved to be a milestone in the accomplishment of this report. NIROMP’s work could not be achieved without the kind support and help of many individuals, LAs, groups and organisations. I would like to extend sincere thanks to all of them, including interested folk who contributed anonymously and via NIROMP’s regional networks.

I would like to give special acknowledgement to the following individuals:
Abbie Kniveton; Amanda Checkley; Andi Brierley; Angela Murray; Anna Gianfresco; Charlotte Ramsden; Deb Austin, Delma Hughes; Ian Bowden; Ian Dean; Ian Dickson; Ian Gould; Izzy Martin; Alan Clifton; Ashley Smith; Caroline Dunn; Caroline Knight; Catherine Seiderer; Claudia Megele; Ed Nixon; Frederika Van-Rooyen; George Elliott; Imran Cheema; Jac Tyler; Kathi Gittens; Kathy Peacock; Kim Burrowes; Jackie Brown; Laura Newman; Lee Pardy-Mclaughlin; Linde Webber; Lisa Cherry; Lucy Doyle; Lydia Bailey; Mary Eccleston; Mark Owers; Mark Riddell; Matthew Brazier; Moira Stone; Nathan Smith; Nicola Doyle; Nicola Hale; Nicola Horn; Nikki Ledingham; Otilia Broadhurst; Paul Yusuf; McCormack; Pinaki Goshal; Pritpal Sodhi; Ruth Kingdom; Sarah Caton; Sarah Holtom-Fawcett; Scott Lanaghan; Shannon Downing; Sharon Keenan; Stuart Carlton; Vicki Metherington; Yvette Stanley.

Huge thanks also go to the children and young people not named here, who contributed via their Children in Care Council. I would also like to thank the staff involved in these for their support.

And finally, I want to express special thanks to Jenny Briggs and Nicola Doyle at the Department for Education for their continuing support, and to Become for their continuing support and relentless efforts to promote the voices of, and to improve the everyday lives and future life chances of every child, young person and young adult with care experience.
Sharon Martin, Chair of the National IRO Managers Partnership

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