Local authorities must do more to make sure the needs of looked after children living far away from home can be met.
As corporate parents for the children they look after, it is worrying that there is often limited management oversight and monitoring of the quality of care that is provided, the report says.
Ofsted is calling on the government to review the impact of strengthened regulations on children’s homes providers and local authorities, to ensure that the risks to, and needs of children and young people are properly met and regularly reviewed by those with responsibility for them.
8,000 (12%) looked after children live more than 20 miles from their home. For some, this will clearly be in their best interests, but the report finds that the most common reason for children to live out of their home area was a shortage of sufficient carers closer to home. Evidence available to inspectors showed that the further away from home children live, the less likely it is that their health and education needs will be met.
‘From a distance: looked after children living away from their home area’ examines how well local authorities carry out their responsibilities for looked after children, tracking 92 cases where children live outside of their home local authority.
Inspectors saw many cases where children were well-settled in their placements, and examples of good practice from individual social workers, who worked well to establish beneficial relationships, maintaining regular contact with young people despite the long distances involved.
However, in nearly half the cases tracked, children and young people arrived in new areas without the right specialist support being in place for them, with poor information sharing leading to potentially damaging delays in their care. In a third of cases, the quality of the support and help offered by services out of area had not been properly considered.
Debbie Jones, Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care said:
Becoming looked after is difficult enough for any young person, even more so when they move away from their family, friends, and familiar surroundings to an unfamiliar place, without proper access to the help and support they so desperately need.
Given the serious risks sometimes associated with out of area placements, corporate parents must prioritise and understand the needs of this group – particularly as the numbers of looked after children living out of area are only set to rise.
The delays for children and young people accessing the mental health support they need, often because of funding disputes between local authorities is frankly unacceptable, and should immediately be resolved as we have recommended.
Some young people experienced serious deficiencies in their education, while others – nearly a third of tracked cases – had difficulty accessing health care, most commonly from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). These delays usually resulted of poor liaison between different local authorities and agencies, a lack of capacity, or disputes about funding.
Debbie Jones added:
Local authorities face significant challenges in ensuring high-quality local placements to meet the unique needs of looked after children, but as demand continues to grow, more and more children will find themselves placed at distance from their families and communities. This issue is not going to go away.
Policy makers and local authorities must urgently consider the options available to develop new solutions to create more local placements for children and young people of the quality we need and they deserve.
Ofsted is clear that all looked after children should be offered the same high quality care, regardless of where they live and in what setting. That some are being damaged further by unnecessary delays and gaps in their support is unacceptable, and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Notes to editors
- 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.
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Published: 8 April 2014