Following several news regarding poor practice and safeguarding concerns together with the children social care independent review, an usual debate on the “children social care internet” is regarding how fit OFSTED might be to fulfil its responsibilities of regulating and inspecting the sector, especially in what regards to Residential Children’s Homes.
Some believe OFSTED needs to do more, and some believe it is doing what it can, but it seems a general understanding that much more could be done to improve the impact that OFSTED should have to promote a better system. It is common the discussions around the lack of inspectors and, in some moments, professionals have expressed their concerns regarding how prepared and trained current OFSTED inspectors are.
Recently there was also a discussion about a pilot that OFSTED is implementing that will see managers from children’s home providers, inspecting other provisions, which can be a very complex and dangerous situation, but I will wait for more clarification around this before further comments.
Regarding the topic of this post, is my understanding that OFSTED is struggling with the lack of (experienced) inspectors, facing a situation where inspectors are leaving to other organizations and some due to their age. To make things worse, we are now expecting the minimum standards for supported accommodation, meaning that the number of inspectors needed will increase even more. I also believe that the current inspection framework is outdated and should be restructured together with the necessary changes to accommodate the new supported accommodation provisions and the changes that will potentially arise from the Children’s Social Care Review.
So, what could be done?
One of the Review’s recommendations was to replace the Independent Visitor (and IRO) role with an independent advocate. I do not agree with this recommendation, but as I wrote in July last here, I do agree that having Reg. 44 visitors could not be necessary if the children’s homes could have an OFSTED inspector that would be more present in the review of the development of a child’s placement
Currently, it will be normal if a children’s home will have only one inspection per year, meaning that inspectors would only visit the home 2 days a year. However, the reality and dynamics of a children’s home can change so fast, that this does not allow inspectors and OFSTED to have a clear understanding of how well are children protected and how positive is being the progress of their placement. Having an OFSTED inspector more present in the home, more in contact with the children leaving there and the professionals working there would be a positive change to guarantee and promote better care and better outcomes for each child.
As an example of this, I have recently seen two reports where there were significant changes in the overall judgment of a Children’s Home in a very short period:
- Case 1: Outstanding in March 2020, RI in December 2021, Declined in Effectiveness in March 2022 and Good in June 2022
- Case 2: Good in December 2021 and Inadequate in June 2022
Being more present, would also mean that the OFSTED inspector would be a familiar face to each child leaving in the home, could be someone to which the child would talk and go if they would be facing any difficulties, as well as it would be more knowledgeable of the changes that might happen at several different levels in a Children’s Home.
The financial aspect might be an issue, but I believe that if the amount that each provider pays for the service of the Reg. 44 visitors would be redirected to OFSTED this could be possible. Nevertheless, even if it would imply an increase in OFSTED’s budget, it would be something with a potentially very positive impact on the life of the children in care.
This means that there will not be an inspection that will focus on a specific moment in time but on an ongoing inspection and oversight of the provisions and the progress of every children’s placement.
This will also allow (even if it would be possible – and positive – without the above) to stop the current judgments and ratings in reports. Reports should continue being published, together with providers’ comments on those reports, but should not include a judgment.
The children, the families, the Local Authorities and the providers will then be able to stop focusing on a sentence or on a rating/judgment and focus on the content of the report, on the progress shown, on the ability and capacity to deal with any shortcomings or issues that were raised. With the above, there would be more reports, more moments where the inspector would be in the home, better knowledge and understanding of the child, the placement and its dynamics and, especially being able to develop a relationship with the child.