Press release

A major step forward for children's inspections

Proposals for a multi-agency inspection for the protection of children and a separate inspection for looked after children and care leavers.

Radical proposals for a new approach to the inspection of child protection services are being published today. Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and where necessary Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate will work together from 2013 to carry out no-notice inspections of multi-agency arrangements for the protection of children.

Currently, unannounced child protection inspections are carried out by Ofsted, but these can only examine in depth the performance of the local authority. Scrutiny of the vital contribution of health, police, probation and other services is not within Ofsted’s remit.

Ofsted is also publishing today proposals for a new programme of inspections of services for children in care, to be carried out jointly with the Care Quality Commission.

Deputy Chief Inspector, John Goldup said:

We are launching two very important consultations today that will significantly change the way we inspect and hold agencies to account for the quality of service they provide for children needing protection and for children in care.

Child protection is everybody’s business – it can’t just be left to local authorities. I am really pleased that inspectorates have been able to come together to make sure we can effectively scrutinise the performance of the whole system. These unannounced and joined up inspections will, I believe, have real potential for improving the protection of children in this country.

We are also publishing our proposals for a new inspection programme for children in care. There has rightly been much attention paid recently to failures in the care system for some of our most vulnerable children. These new inspections will have a really strong focus on ensuring that the most careful decisions are made about children’s placements, their safety and welfare are paramount at all times, and that authorities and providers work together effectively to share information and make sure children are well cared for.

I hope everyone who has an interest in the welfare of children and young people will take part in the consultations to ensure that we develop and shape inspections that will ultimately raise standards and improve lives for the most vulnerable children in our society.

Child protection

Under the proposals, inspection will be unannounced and carried out over a two-week period. The inspection team will look at the work of all local services responsible for protecting children including social care, health, education, police, probation and the criminal justice system. They will focus on the effectiveness of how all the agencies work together in partnership to identify, help and protect children who may be at risk of harm.

The joint inspection team will spend much of their time tracking the experience of children which includes observing and shadowing professionals working and interacting with children. Inspectors will also talk to practitioners to discuss casework and where possible to the children concerned, their families and carers.

Child protection does not begin when a child is referred to social care. Early identification and early help will be firmly within the scope of inspection. Inspectors will evaluate how effective agencies are at identifying, helping and protecting children that may be at risk of harm as well as considering how well agencies work together once children have been formally referred to social care. The inspection will consider the work of universal and specialist agencies including health visitors, school nurses, GPs, adult mental health and drug treatment service and the police.

The consultation for the joint inspection of multi-agency arrangements for the protection of children will run until 2 October 2012 and will be implemented by June 2013.

There will be four inspection judgements:

  • overall effectiveness of multi-agency work to protect children and young people
  • the effectiveness of help and protection
  • the quality of practice
  • leadership, governance and partnerships

Looked after children and care leavers

Alongside the launch of the child protection consultation, Ofsted is also consulting on the proposed changes to the inspection of services for looked after children. The proposal is to create a dedicated inspection programme for looked after children and care leavers replacing the current separate inspections for looked after children’s services, local authority adoption agencies and local authority fostering services.

Working with the CQC, Ofsted proposes that unannounced inspections will be carried out within a two-week period. Inspectors will meet and talk directly with children who are in care and care leavers, carers, adopters, practitioners and staff, and, where possible and appropriate, birth families.

The new inspection will focus on the effectiveness of local authorities as corporate parents, the provision of health services for children who are looked after, the quality of professional practice, and the impact of the care on children and young people.

The involvement of CQC is important because high quality health services are essential for the health and well-being of looked after children. These children often enter care with a worse level of health and have worse longer term health outcomes than their peers. Also, there is often a high level of mental health need among looked after children.

It is proposed that inspectors will look closely at a sample of cases, assessing each child’s experience from entering, through to leaving care, either to a permanent placement or as an adult care leaver. Inspection will give particular attention to evaluating outcomes for children in out-of-area placements.

Inspectors will make a judgment on how effectively the local authority achieves the right form of permanent and stable future for every individual child in its care. They will make a specific sub-judgment on the local authority’s adoption performance.

The consultation for the inspection of services for children looked after and care leavers will run until 18 September 2012 and the new inspection will begin in April 2013.

Inspectors will make judgements on:

  • overall effectiveness
  • outcomes for children and young people looked after and care leavers
  • quality of practice
  • achieving permanence for children, including a sub-judgement on adoption performance
  • leadership and governance.

Notes to editors

Welcoming statements from the joint multi-agency arrangements

Director of regulatory development at CQC, Philip King said:

CQC is delighted to be taking part in the new multi-inspectorate inspection programme of child protection services. This joint approach will review the child’s journey from needing to receiving help and will examine in detail the effectiveness of the local partnership in providing early help and keeping children safe.

CQC will also be working jointly with Ofsted to inspect health services and health outcomes for children and young people who are looked after. It is hoped that the external scrutiny provided by these inspections will identify strengths and weaknesses in local arrangements and contribute to improvements for this group of children and young people, who often have the worst health outcomes and are some of the most vulnerable within our society.

CQC welcomes the contributions of all professionals in this field to the consultations on these proposed inspections.’

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Dru Sharpling, said:

It is vital that inspectorates work together to ensure children at risk are getting the best possible services from those responsible for safeguarding them. Therefore I encourage those with an interest in this area to participate in this consultation.

Chief Inspector of Probation Liz Calderbank said:

We are delighted that a fully joint inspection is planned. This will reflect the multi-agency contribution to child protection and ultimately help children to stay safer. We will be looking particularly at the contribution of youth offending teams and probation trusts. We look forward to receiving feedback from those organisations so that we can make this inspection meaningful to everyone.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said:

A failure to provide children with the protection they need often lies behind the difficulties that cause some to end up in custody. There are inherent risks for children in closed institutions and we are pleased to be part of joint work by all relevant inspectorates to ensure that all children receive the protection they need.

  1. Proposals for the joint inspection of multi-agency arrangements for the protection of children will be inspected over a three-year period. These inspections will be conducted under sections 20–23 of the Children Act 2004. Ofsted is the lead inspectorate, working in partnership with the CQC, HMIC, HMI Probation and with the involvement of HMI Prisons where there is either a prison with a mother and baby unit, an immigration removal centre which holds children, young people and families or a young offender institution in the local area being inspected. In addition, these inspections may trigger inspection activity by HMCPSI where mainstream inspection activity raises concerns about the impact of CPS involvement in cases involving children or young people, either as victims or offenders, whose interests have been affected by criminal justice proceedings.

Local authorities need to provide appropriate level of scrutiny of child protection procedures within closed institutions as approximately a third of youth offending institutions comprise of children and young people who are or have been in care. Therefore, the involvement of HMI Prisons in inspections will be crucial where there are immigration removal centres, mother and baby units in prisons and youth offending institutions in the authority area.

Youth offending teams are multi-agency teams made up of for example, social workers, youth workers, police officers, probation officers, health, and education staff who work with children and young people who offend or who are likely to offend, and their victims. Probation Trusts work with adults who offend, and, in some cases, their victims. Probation Trusts have significant knowledge of offending by perpetrators, parental issues such as substance misuse, mental health and domestic violence, all of which may have a bearing on the protection of children.

Arrangements for the inspection of services for children looked after and care levers will be inspected over a four-year period. The proposals do not affect independent fostering services and voluntary adoption agencies regulated by Ofsted. They will continue to be inspected under the relevant inspection frameworks published in February 2012.

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator of health and social care in England. We make sure that care in hospitals, dental practices, ambulances, care homes, in people’s own homes, and elsewhere, meets government standards of quality and safety - the standards anyone should expect whenever or wherever they receive care. We also protect the interests of vulnerable people, including those whose rights are restricted under the Mental Health Act.

We register services if they meet government standards, we make unannounced inspections of services, both on a regular basis and in response to concerns, and we carry out investigations into why care fails to improve. We continually monitor information from our inspections, from information we collect nationally and locally, and from the public, local groups, care workers and whistleblowers. We put the views, experiences, health and wellbeing of people who use services at the centre of our work and we have a range of powers we can use to take action if people are getting poor care.

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