State of the nation report draws on over 5,600 inspections of a range of crucial social care services
Many local authorities and their partners are struggling to provide a good enough standard of help, care and protection for some of England’s most vulnerable children, Ofsted’s second annual social care report reveals today. The report highlights the difficulties authorities are facing within a children’s social care system under pressure, with increasing demand for services and continued intense public scrutiny.
Ofsted’s findings draw on over 5,600 inspections of a range of crucial social care services, including local authority children’s services, children’s homes, fostering services, adoption support agencies, secure training centres, and residential family centres.
Although some authorities are performing well under difficult circumstances, over half of the local authorities inspected for their children’s social care provision in 2013/14 are not yet good enough. Of 43 inspections, seven authorities were found to be inadequate, with a further 26 requiring improvement. Ten areas were judged to provide a good standard of care and protection for children and young people.
The report, however, highlights that despite numerous challenges, there are areas of high quality practice demonstrating what can be achieved.
In these authorities judged to be good, inspectors found:
- strong leaders and managers have a relentless focus on outcomes for children
- social workers work directly with children and families at an early stage to prevent the need for further intervention
- managers and social workers have a discernible ‘grip’ on cases at all times
- managers have strong oversight of caseloads, vacancies, and a high quality of training and supervision
The 26 authorities judged to require improvement were not consistently demonstrating this kind of good practice across all their work. While children were not immediately at risk, inspectors often found that managers were not overseeing practice consistently, and there was inconsistent challenge and support for social workers.
The number of inadequate authorities remains broadly in line with previous years. The picture is unsettled however, with authorities rated inadequate changing over time, and some declining rapidly. Today’s report therefore raises the question of how best to ensure effective oversight of the performance of authorities between Ofsted inspections.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said:
“Ofsted has raised the bar with robust, in-depth inspections of children’s services and we make no apology for this tougher stance. Children deserve no less than a good standard support from those charged with caring and protecting them.
“Today’s report shows that although some authorities are working well for vulnerable children and young people, there is still room for significant improvement.”
Debbie Jones, Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care, added:
“Inspectors have seen examples of high quality practice which puts the outcomes for children at the heart of decision-making. These areas demonstrate that it can be done, so we urge other authorities to learn from their example.
“We recognise, however, the context and constraints within which social workers and their managers work – they have a difficult and demanding role and do not always get the support and recognition they deserve.
“Ofsted will be rigorous in holding local councils and social care providers to account but we will also support them to make the improvements that children need.”
Many of the weaker authorities inspected shared problems, in particular a lack of early and direct action to support families. Effective intervention at the earliest opportunity can support children before problems within families escalate and damage becomes irreparable, but – as highlighted in a thematic inspection which is also published today – many areas had missed earlier opportunities to intervene or lacked clarity on who had the responsibility to do so.
Today’s report also raises significant concerns about the weakness of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) in making sure partners work together to tackle safeguarding issues. Around three-quarters of those reviewed by Ofsted to date have been found to be less than good, including eight that were rated inadequate. Ofsted is calling on the government to clarify and strengthen the role and responsibilities of LSCBs to ensure effective oversight and action at a local level.
Volatility in the sector continues to cause concern – maintaining consistent leadership in children’s services is a challenge for many areas. Over the last year a third of local authorities had at least one change of Director of Children’s Services.
In a separate report, also published today, Ofsted looks in-depth at the leadership of children’s social care services, with a focus on authorities previously found to be good or outstanding and those that had improved from inadequate. The aim is to learn from them but also to highlight their success in a sector that, all too often, focuses on short-term reactions to terrible tragedy.
The report also finds that over the past year the proportion of good and adequate children’s homes has remained relatively constant, at 56% and 24%, respectively. Disappointingly, the proportion of inadequate homes has increased from 5% to 6% and the proportion of outstanding homes has reduced from 16% to 12%. From April 2015, Ofsted’s new framework for the inspection of children’s homes will focus even more on outcomes for children and the quality of care they receive.
The annual report finds that high profile cases and increased awareness of child sexual exploitation mean that overall leaders are giving more strategic priority to the needs of children at risk of being exploited. However, some services are not yet sufficiently alert to the risks which children and young people face, or equipped to provide responsive services to meet their needs. Worryingly, responses to looked after children who go missing are still lacking, despite this group being particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
Ofsted has strengthened its focus on child sexual exploitation and on children who go missing in all single inspections. Inspectors are clear that local authorities should be found inadequate if they are not doing all they can to identify and tackle these issues. A specialist team of Her Majesty’s Inspectors with expertise in child sexual exploitation has also been created to support inspections where it appears that the local authority is not effectively addressing the risk of child sexual exploitation.
Along with fellow inspectorates for the police, probation and health services, Ofsted has also announced that it will be introducing targeted joint local area inspections later this year to assess how well agencies work together to protect children. The new inspections will be targeted on specific areas or issues of concern, such as child sexual exploitation.
Debbie Jones continued:
“Successful joint working between local agencies is paramount if children are to be effectively safeguarded. From this autumn we will be introducing a programme of joint inspections that is much more targeted, more responsive, and that provides a shared narrative about what is happening locally.
“We hope this model will enable inspectors to report clear examples of both good and poor practice from which others can learn.”