Supporting children and young people in care
- 25 Oct 2023
To celebrate National Care Leavers Week, we talked to one of our team around a young person in Sutton's care, Rachel Morris:
“I’m an Independent Review Officer (IRO) supporting children and young people in care from 0-18. I’ve been in Sutton in this role since 2020. As an IRO our job is to oversee each looked after child's care plan to make sure the plan is in the best interest of the child, and importantly that the child's voice is heard, and there is no drift or delay.
"In Sutton we are really fortunate in how we do our reviews with our children in care. It’s a really creative team and we all work together to encourage the child's participation. Rather than formal review meetings, we engage with our children through an activity that puts them at ease and is less formal. I have had review meetings while playing football and golf, decorating biscuits, making bracelets, doing Go-Ape, having Mcdonalds, building a cat house, or taking part in quizzes or other games prepared by the child or young person. I make brownies and rocky road regularly for reviews, and I am proud to be known and remembered as ‘the cake lady’ by many children. This makes for a more fun environment, where you can still gather all the same information, ask the same questions, without a child feeling like they are ‘under the spotlight’.
"We make it informal to build a relationship with the child so they can have their input and have their voice heard. Our ‘All About Me’ approach is one of the best things about working in Sutton and has had great feedback from the children, foster carers and other professionals. It really does make sure the child is at the centre of every decision made. We sometimes hold our reviews in two parts, having a separate adult meeting with parents, professionals and the network who support the child, to discuss risk, safeguarding and other relevant issues.
The IRO is independent from the social work teams, although still employed by Sutton Council. We review the care plan as a ‘critical friend’, challenging it if we need to. It’s about making sure the child's care plan is what is best for them and having a different independent view to the plan supports that.
Recently I had a sibling group and they had suffered neglect at home. To see them now thriving, surrounded by love, care and warmth from selfless and resilient carers is amazing. They have flourished before my eyes, and seeing that progress and children achieve permanence is just what makes it all worthwhile.
"It can be a really challenging role, particularly with the sheer volume of children you support and managing and prioritising your diary. It can be heartbreaking to see children moving from carer to carer - this can happen for lots of reasons, most often not the fault of the child, and that’s difficult to see. My role is to try and support plans to achieve stability for children and make any transitions as smooth as possible. When children move we have another review to ensure the plans are what is best for them.
"We write to the children after our reviews celebrating what has gone well and what they need to work on, building up a life story for them to look back on when they are older. We also encourage carers to write them letters at each review, which children love to read.
"For me, it's the perfect role of building relationships with the children and making a difference.”