If you’re a foster carer you’ll be overly familiar with what an IRO is. If you’re an adopter you may not know. Every child that is in care will usually have an IRO – Independent Reviewing Officer. They are meant to be there, amongst other things, to ensure that the best interests of the child are being represented and that everyone is doing their jobs properly.
Every few weeks/months a child in care will have a LAC (Looked After Child) review – which is a meeting that is meant to have all the main people involved with the child there – foster carer, social workers, health visitor (if appropriate), education representative (if appropriate) and the IRO.
I don’t have experience of many of these, as I am not a foster carer, I may even have got the wrong end of the stick about what they’re about. When a child is placed with you for adoption they are still classified as a LAC and they will still have reviews during that time.
We had just one of these reviews before we put in the adoption order paperwork. We had not been told about the requirement for the review, it was just sort of dumped on us a couple of weeks before it occurred without much explanation other than the phrase “don’t worry about it, it’s just to make sure that WE are doing our jobs properly” from our social worker.
Leading up to the meeting there were some odd miscommunications and contradictions coming from the social workers involved with the children. The review was scheduled for one day, but it got cancelled and rescheduled, but no one thought to tell the Health Visitor who turned up anyway. We also had our social worker telling us that the IRO wouldn’t need to see the children, the children’s social worker telling us that she would. They both changed their minds a couple of times before the meeting actually happened, but it took us forcing the issue (because we needed to get a babysitter if she didn’t want them there) to get them to actually ask the IRO if she wanted to meet the children in their new home.
As it turned out she did, but only briefly before the meeting happened. So, we arranged for my Mum to come and collect them just after the time the meeting was due to begin. Cue the disarray of helping take child seats out of our car and into hers while attempting not to look like we didn’t know what the hell we were doing in front of 3 social workers, 1 IRO and the health visitor (who didn’t get invited to the rescheduled meeting by social services but we told her about it so she came).
This was also mid-potty training for our Eldest, who we had doing a wee when my Mum arrived. We left him a bit too long and he went and greeted the social workers with his trousers and pants around his ankles! Oh, what a good impression we were making!
Once the IRO had met the children, said hello and got Eldest to do a few development tests (standing on one leg, hopping etc) my Mum whisked them away and the meeting started in earnest.
Something changed then. The IRO instantly made us feel comfortable, we had some banter and I made an incredibly inappropriate joke about her age (no idea why, she just made me feel comfortable enough to do so), she battered one back and we laughed. The social workers looked on edge.
It was the first time we had been in a meeting involving social services where we weren’t the most nervous people in the room. The IRO challenged the social workers on what support they would be giving us (both things named in that meeting went on the official “this is what you’re going to get” document, neither of which we have had), she questioned them on how the Life Story Book was getting on and the Later Life Letter both of which needed to be given to us before the adoption order was made official. She sounded delighted when we told her that we planned on putting the paperwork in at the earliest opportunity, meaning the social workers didn’t have much choice but to say they were supporting it. We had been told by them not to mention that unless the IRO did first, I think we may have said it anyway as we’ve never been ones to hide our intentions – we believed, and still do, that honesty is the best policy.
There was a brief discussion about what level of contact with birth family was planned, she then scheduled another LAC review ‘just in case’ the Adoption Order didn’t go through, and that was that. Meeting over.
Since the boys were placed, and even though we are all “on the same side” this was the first time we had really felt that there was someone sitting with us in our corner. Yes, our social worker had given us a lot of support, and no one had ever really done anything that made us feel they were challenging our parenting skills, but at the same time with all the social worker and health visitor visits we never really felt like they had confidence in us. We always felt uncomfortable and that they were monitoring us, waiting for us to fail.
Maybe that was just us being insecure in our new position as parents, maybe that’s something that all new parents feel. What I do know is that the extra scrutiny that we were under in those first few weeks as parents added to the stress unnecessarily and certainly raised the blood pressure!