Press release

Ofsted: improvement in the quality of assessment for children

Ofsted reports improvement in the quality of assessment for vulnerable children.

Two women discussing work

The quality of care assessments for vulnerable children and young people is improving, a report from Ofsted suggests.

A thematic survey report published today at 9:30am by the inspectorate points to steady progress being made in the quality, efficacy and timeliness of the assessments given to children and families.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, commissioned the thematic survey to gain an up-to-date picture of how effectively local authorities were carrying out their assessments in early help, children in need and child protection work.

Inspectors visited 10 local authorities and examined 123 cases. They sought the views of children, parents, carers and professionals from each of the authorities visited and its partner agencies.

Good quality assessment is essential to build an accurate picture of a child’s circumstances and to ensure they are given the right support for their needs. Without it, social workers may find it difficult to identify whether children are being harmed or are at risk of harm. As a consequence, action to protect children may be hindered.

In recent years a number of Ofsted reports have identified poor quality assessments across many local authorities, especially in those judged less than good. However, the thematic inspection points to a steady improvement in this important area of work.

Inspectors found that:

  • in 63 per cent of cases reviewed, professionals were carrying out assessments promptly and in line with the right timeline for individual children and families
  • in the majority of cases, social workers were talking and listening to the child and using their views to inform their analysis in assessment
  • assessments better reflected the views of parents, including close male family members. Parents told inspectors that workers spent more time listening to them than they had previously
  • the views of other professionals were more frequently and consistently included in assessments
  • importantly, social workers were not waiting for an assessment to be complete before offering help to children and their families
  • in most instances, where the local authority had adopted a way of working underpinned by a practice model, this had improved the quality of assessments

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said:

The improvement in the quality of care assessments is encouraging. It’s clear that local authorities and partners are taking this work seriously.

However, there is still more to do before we can be assured that all children and families are receiving the high standards of care required. As our report shows, good quality assessment is predicated on the local authority and other agencies ensuring that there is an accurate and ongoing assessment of need so that children and families are supported every step of the way.

I hope these findings will contribute to the learning and understanding around this important area of work. Ofsted will continue to monitor how local authorities are evaluating the needs of children and families through our children’s services inspections.

Despite the progress made, inspectors identified a number of common areas that authorities inspected needed to improve to ensure assessments are consistently good.

In a quarter of cases tracked, inspectors found that the assessment had not been timely enough, leaving too many children in circumstances where they were at potential risk of harm. Worryingly, in eight local authority areas, there were sometimes significant delays in being able to access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Too often, social workers did not routinely share written assessments with families or children. When they did, the language used was often unclear and used jargon, making it difficult for families to fully understand decisions and judgements and what needed to change to make things better for children.

In most of the cases reviewed, social workers had carried out assessments as a stand-alone process, rarely updating written assessments when new information came to light. As a result, plans to support children and their families were not always based on a comprehensive assessment of need.

Despite the overall and steady improvement in the quality of assessment, inspectors found that 21 per cent of subsequent support plans did not clearly demonstrate the help that children and their families would receive and how the best interests of children would remain the greatest priority.

Notes to editors

  1. The thematic report ‘The quality of assessment for children in need of help’ can be read in full on the Ofsted website: it will be published at 9:30am.

  2. 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 and Support Service (Cafcass), academies, 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 inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

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Published 4 August 2015