The report was introduced by Sheila Murphy and covered the period of 1 April 2018 – 31 March 2019. The role of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) was to ensure that LAC received the best quality care from the LA, that LAC’s needs were met and IROs held the LA to account. During the reporting period, the IRO service had remained stable with one change in personnel due to retirement and with the continued number of five permanent IROs. A total of 755 caseload reviews had been undertaken which was an increase from the previous year and 93% had been held within timescale, also an improvement from the year before.
Referring to paragraph three on page 118, Paula Robinson questioned if there were underlying reasons as to why the percentage of LAC from Black/Black British backgrounds had remained unchanged over the years and was still higher than the total population. Sheila Murphy explained that data was always analysed on factors such as a child’s age and ethnicity. The service had noticed that the number of Black/Black British LAC was slightly higher than Thurrock’s Black/Black British children population and would be aiming to undertake a deep dive study to analyse who the LAC were, if they were appropriately looked after and whether enough support was given to them before they had come into the service’s care. Work was being undertaken with the service’s Edge of Care Team on the availability of support. She went on to say that the figure of LAC from Black/Black British background could also be affected by the number of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) in the service’s care as there was usually a higher proportion of UASC in care in Thurrock.
On UASC, Paula Robinson said that with safeguarding concerns, there needed to be a shared understanding of what a good parent was and for some cultures, the idea of a good parent might be different. She went on to question if there was work undertaken in this area regarding this. In response, Sheila Murphy said that there had been issues of physical abuse/chastisement which occurred in some cultures and some children may have attended school with severe injuries where an emerging pattern was seen which was then flagged up with the service. A programme for parents by a voluntary organisation had been set up to improve understanding on what was acceptable and what was not in terms of discipline in western culture which had proved helpful for some parents.
Paula Robinson questioned what support services were in place to support the children themselves and if there was a pathway that enabled them to seek help. Sheila Murphy explained these types of issues with children were usually brought to the service’s attention through schools. A children’s group was also run with Thurrock’s commissioned services.
Noting the one change with the IROs, Councillor Anderson commented that the trust with an IRO was important so stability was of the utmost importance. He asked how the service would ensure that the stability of the IRO service would continue when recruiting to vacant posts. In response, Sheila Murphy stated that the IROs were paid at a competitive rate and was offered many training opportunities. The IROs in Thurrock had stayed with the service for a considerable period. Recent recruitment had been very positive with keen interest in these roles both internally and externally.
The Chair sought more detail on the Mind of My Own app mentioned in the report. Sheila Murphy explained that the app was used by children and young people to communicate with their assigned social worker, IROs and manager. There were numbers provided for the young people to report their feelings to and younger children had emojis to send through to explain how they felt. The social workers were encouraged to use the app and the app makers sent data over that detailed the number of usages of the app. This helped the service to understand the feelings of children and young people and what other support could be offered.
Alicia Jones questioned whether the app had been rolled out elsewhere and who to. Sheila Murphy answered that the app had been rolled out to the service’s LAC and the app was used by other LAs but the app makers had informed the service that Thurrock had made the most of the app and had really embraced it. All new staff were taught how to use the app and encouraged to use it.
That the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted the IRO Annual Report 2018-19 and the recommendations in the report.