Janine Fraser, Independent Reviewing Officer at Glasgow HSCP writes for the Stand Up For Siblings website about the new team and their role…

A new Independent Care and Review Team in Glasgow HSCP was launched this September and I am privileged to be one of the 4 new Independent Reviewing Officers who have been appointed as part of this.

Our team was created after the publication of the Independent Care Review earlier this year and will be a new model of care planning within the city for our Looked After and Accommodated Children and we hope will demonstrate Glasgow’s commitment to upholding ‘The Promise’.

The Care Review published a promise to children and families in and on the edges of the care system which reflects the voices and experiences of thousands of young people who are care experienced and the professionals who work alongside them. It made many powerful and important recommendations.

Some of the key themes from this pledge are that we must promote relationship based practice in every way as practitioners working with children and young people and we must protect and promote relationships between brothers and sisters and other important people in their lives. Significantly, we must also actually listen better to children about what they are telling us about their lives.

Overall, the message is we need to work together to create more care and less system.

Our new Independent Care and Review team consists of four newly appointed Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs), myself, Mairead Fagan, Louise Lowrie and Anne Ramsay, and we are led by the clear vision of our service manager Alison Cowper, and Head of Service Susan Orr. Collectively we have a range of personal and professional experiences which have brought us to these posts, and we also hope to have brought a significant range of social work practice experiences from within Glasgow; including a wide range of children and families social work knowledge from within area teams, permanence and adoption work, Family Group Decision Making, continuing care and work with unaccompanied children and young people.

As IROs we have been tasked both with taking forward and implementing the key areas of change from within ‘The Promise’, as part of our new ‘LAAC’ review process, whilst working closely with CELCIS to undertake a full rewrite of the existing Looked after Procedures in Glasgow which date back to 2004. We also have particular work streams which we are looking at, including brothers and sisters, children’s rights, continuing and leaving care, permanence and new admissions processes to name but a few.

We are committed to ensuring that the voices of children and their families are listened to and at the heart of our care planning processes, and that they are helped to be much more meaningfully involved in decisions about their care. Those involved in providing care to children and young people are asked to listen by the Promise more carefully in particular to those quieter voices of babies, and children with additional support needs and that is also what we are aiming to do.

Our new team of IROs will be now responsible in Glasgow for chairing ‘My Meetings’, which were formerly called Looked After and Accommodated Child reviews.

There is a phased approach to the role out of our service, but to begin with care plan reviews for all young people in our 19 children’s houses in Glasgow will now be chaired by us, and we are each allocated to a group of houses to have this additional whole house overview. When allocated as IRO to a young person in one of our houses we will also now become the IRO for their brothers and sisters if they are also looked after and accommodated, many of whom are in foster care placements. This is to ensure that children are connected to their brothers and sisters and these relationships are the foundations for care planning decisions.

In addition to this group of children and young people we are also now allocated to all new children and young people who enter our care system in Glasgow, and their brothers and sisters. This now means social work team leaders will hold the initial planning meeting and inform the young person, their family and helping team that an IRO will be taking over this role from their first review meeting. It is here that we are significantly now able to focus on brother and sister relationships and the importance of keeping them together or connected. Our goal is to be the IRO for family groups throughout their care journey.

Once as IROs we are allocated to our children and young people they are supported to become involved in more significant planning and preparation for their meetings which involves getting to know the children and young people where possible and the significant adults in their lives. The meetings themselves are also strengths based, focused on the child or young person’s views, discussions take place about what is working well for children and young people and what we are worried about for them and then there are clear actions for everyone involved with clear timescales about what needs to happen in their plan.

Meetings are paperless, and with less adults around the table. We hope that they now focus on the child’s care plan, and their birth parents needs sit in their own parenting plan, and will be managed in a separate meeting. We are also hoping to try where possible to have them away from social work offices as we know children and young people don’t like this, and also not have them during school time. Children and young people are now asked when they would like their meeting and who they would like to take part.

The team also hope that there will be a particular focus on use of clearer and non-institutional language, such as avoiding words young people have told us they don’t like – siblings, respite and contact – as well as many others.

Our care plan discussions will have a much stronger emphasis on family time and family support to keep families together where possible, and to keep children and young people connected to their birth families with the help of their current carers. There is also an attempt at more creative and varied types of care plans agreed which will include promotion of relationships and time for children and young people with those who are important to them especially their brothers and sisters. If children and young people are unable to live with their families then a key focus of care planning by the team will be that brothers and sisters must stay together where safe to do so, or have regular good quality time and relationships with each other. We are already seeing the benefits of this for young people who are taking part more in their meetings and from feedback from their families and carers, that they are much more positive experiences.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly presented challenges in terms of how we have had to do things differently than we would have liked in terms of direct practice. For example asking children and young people to adapt to online platforms for our meetings and communications with them; however we have been pleasantly surprised about how much this has been embraced by young people and how actually in many cases this encourages their participation. This is therefore also learning we are taking forward in terms of our new model.

We are aware that the need for this changed practice in care planning will also be reflected in the new Children’s Act which will become law next year in Scotland and will place certain duties on local authorities, in particular in relation to brother and sisters who we care for so we are hoping in Glasgow we will be already leading the way with this by this point. I have also made links with SUFS within my new role in the team and our work stream of promoting brother and sister relationships as someone who personally and professionally values the importance of this work.

It is hoped that this overall will now mean the child or young person should have a clear plan following their meeting which they can personalise if they wish, along with a letter from their IRO directly to them about their meeting. We will also have a role in tracking the progress of care plans between reviews.

The overarching goal of the new IRO team is that there is greater partnership work across children’s services to create good quality and more inclusive care planning for children and young people, their brothers and sisters and their families while upholding the recommendations from the Care Review. We will also have an audit role in terms of looking at how our current systems in children and families in Glasgow are functioning.

We are so excited about this new team, and I know I speak for my other 3 IRO colleagues when I say we feel very privileged to have the opportunity to be part of this important work and to work with partners such as CELCIS and the Promise team, and many others, to hopefully make a lasting difference to Glasgow’s looked after and accommodated children, young people and their families by listening to those voices in the Care Review who have told us we can and must do better.

You can contact Janine Fraser via Janine.fraser@glasgow.gov.uk

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