Social care common inspection framework (SCCIF): secure children’s homes

5. Evaluation criteria

The criteria that inspectors use to make judgements, including benchmarks of what good looks like.

5.1 The overall experiences and progress of children and young people

The judgement on the overall experiences and progress of children and young people takes into account the judgement on children’s education and learning and children’s health.

Areas of required evidence are:

  • the quality of children’s experiences on a day-to-day basis
  • the quality of individualised care and support provided and the influence and impact of the home on the progress and experiences of children
  • the quality of relationships between professionals, carers and children and their parents
  • the extent to which staff are sensitive to the impact of living in a secure environment for children
  • how well children’s views are understood and taken into account and how their rights and entitlements are met
  • how well the home ensures that the needs of children and young people who live far from their home area are met
  • the timeliness and quality of the home’s initial assessment of children’s prior attainment and their learning needs
  • the quality of teaching provided, its impact on children’s learning and the progress they make from their starting points
  • how well children are engaged in learning
  • the effectiveness of support to children with special educational needs and disabilities
  • the extent to which teaching staff actively promote equality, tolerance and diversity
  • whether children have good access to the health services that they need, at the intensity required and for as long as it is required
  • the progress children make in relation to their physical, emotional and mental health
  • how well children and young people are prepared for their futures and how well transitions are managed

Good

Children are able to build trusted and secure relationships with adults who are looking after them. Staff know the children well, listen to them, invest time in them, protect them and promote their welfare. Children are able to develop an appropriate sense of permanence and belonging. They make progress and have a range of positive experiences.

Children, including those who communicate non-verbally, are supported to actively participate in day-to-day and more complex decisions about their lives, as appropriate. They are sensitively helped to understand when it may not be possible to act on their wishes and when other action is taken that is in their best interests. Children have access to, and are actively encouraged to involve, an independent advocate and, when appropriate, an independent visitor.

Children know how to complain. The setting’s complaints policy is easy to understand, accessible and child-focused. Children understand what has happened as a result of their complaint. Their complaints are treated seriously and are responded to clearly. Urgent action is taken and practice and services improve accordingly.

Children, irrespective of any disability they may have, enjoy access to a range of social, educational and recreational opportunities, including activities in the local community when their plan provides for this. They are supported to engage in faith-based activities if they wish.

Children are supported to develop their independence according to their individual needs, while protecting themselves from being in unsafe situations or with unsafe people. The home works effectively with relevant agencies when planning for children’s discharges from the home.

Authorised visits out of the home are used effectively and appropriately to help prepare children for transitions or for their return to the community.

Specialist help is made available according to the individual needs of children, including those who live away from their ‘home’ authority. The help is available, as soon as it is needed, at the intensity required and for as long as it is required. When services are not available, or children are waiting for a long time for help, the home is proactive in challenging and escalating concerns with the placing authority and/or other partners.

Any specific type or model of care delivered or commissioned by the home is provided by staff who are suitably trained, experienced, qualified and supervised. There is evidence of benefits to children and the care is reviewed regularly.

Children who are new to the home are welcomed sensitively and with careful and considered planning. The planning for children’s successful transitions or return to the community begins at the point of their admission. The home actively challenges the responsible authorities when staff have concerns about any aspect of the future plans for children. When children leave the home, work promotes positive endings and helps with building their ‘life story’. When endings are unplanned, then the welfare and well-being of children remain paramount and staff act at all times with this in mind. The needs and feelings of other children living in the home are taken into account.

Children develop skills and strategies to manage their own conflicts and difficult feelings through developing positive relationships with staff. There are clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries for children.

Children are treated with dignity and respect. They experience care and help that are sensitive and responsive to their identity and family history, including age, disability, ethnicity, faith or belief, gender, gender identity, language, race and sexual orientation. The impact upon children of living in a secure environment is well understood and as a result, the care and help assist them to develop a positive self-view and to increase their ability to form and sustain attachments and build emotional resilience and a sense of their own identity. The care and help also assist them to overcome any previous experiences of neglect and trauma.

Staff place the well-being of individual children at the centre of their practice, irrespective of the challenges they may present. All their achievements are celebrated and appropriately rewarded. Their day-to-day needs are met, such as routine, privacy, personal space, nutritious meals and enjoyable mealtimes. Children have appropriate, carefully assessed, supported contact (direct and/or indirect) with their family, friends and other people who are important to them, such as previous carers. There are no unnecessary restrictions in place. Staff work proactively and positively with parents and former carers to promote meaningful and safe contact and continuity of care, when appropriate.

Requires improvement to be good

The overall experiences and progress of children and young people are likely to require improvement to be good if:

The secure children’s home is not yet delivering good help and care for children so that they receive positive experiences and make good progress.

There are no serious or widespread failures that result in their welfare not being safeguarded and promoted.

Inadequate

The overall experiences and progress of children and young people are likely to be judged inadequate if:

There are serious and/or widespread failures that mean children are not protected or their welfare is not promoted or safeguarded.

Their care and experiences are poor and they are not making, or not likely to make, progress.

Outstanding

The overall experiences and progress of children and young people are likely to be judged outstanding if, in addition to meeting the requirements of a good judgement, there is evidence of the following:

Professional practice, including work to prepare children for leaving the centre, consistently exceeds the standard of good and results in sustained improvement to the lives of children, even when they have complex or challenging needs. There is significant evidence of change and improvement because of the excellent quality of care provided. The progress of children is exceptional, taking into account their starting points.

The experience of living in the home enhances children’s life chances. For children with the most complex needs, staff are able to evidence the sustained benefit to the lives of children in their care. There are examples of excellent practice that are worthy of wider dissemination.

Research-informed practice, some of which may be innovative, continues to develop from a strong and confident base, making an exceptional difference to the lives and experiences of children.

5.2 Children’s education and learning

Good

Children receive a good quality of education. They make good progress from their educational starting points.

Initial assessments of children’s educational needs are accurate, rigorous and effective. Staff use this information well to plan effective learning programmes and inspire children to make good progress and meet their individual learning needs. When appropriate, children achieve qualifications that improve their future education, training and employability prospects.

Children make good progress from their starting points.

Children develop positive relationships with staff that help to build their resilience and help them to engage fully and actively in learning.

Children value their education. They participate enthusiastically in education and related learning activities. No groups of children are disadvantaged by low attendance.

Children are helped to develop personal and social skills that promote their independent living skills, increase their employability and prepare them to contribute positively to wider society.

Staff manage poor behaviour and derogatory language effectively. They prevent and tackle bullying. Learning sessions flow smoothly without unnecessary interruption. Children show respect for others’ ideas and views.

Teaching staff have the necessary knowledge and skills to work effectively and sensitively with children who have complex and wide-ranging needs.

Teaching staff set appropriately challenging targets for children and are effective in making sure children achieve them.

Staff provide regular and clear feedback to children on their educational progress. They involve children sensitively and appropriately in the planning of their individual learning programmes.

Staff liaise regularly and effectively with relevant professionals and with children’s parents/carers, as appropriate. Staff understand, and take account of, wider plans for children and any other factors in children’s lives that may have an impact on their learning.

Teaching staff ensure that children’s educational needs are effectively addressed in transition planning. High quality, impartial careers guidance helps children prepare for the next stage of their education, employment or training.

Requires improvement to be good

The outcomes that children achieve in education and learning are likely to require improvement to be good if: Children’s education and learning experiences are not yet good and they are not making, or are not likely to make, progress that is sufficiently good.

Inadequate

The outcomes that children achieve in education and learning are likely to be inadequate if: Children’s education and learning experiences are consistently poor and they are not making, or are not likely to make, sufficient progress, taking into account their starting points.

Outstanding

The outcomes that children achieve in education and learning are likely to be outstanding when there is evidence of the following:

Teaching, learning and assessment practice consistently exceed the standard of good, providing excellent education and learning experiences for children.

Children are making, or are likely to make, exceptional progress, taking into account their starting points.

5.3 Children’s health

Good

Children are in good health or are being helped to improve their health or to manage lifelong conditions, taking into account any risks to the child. Their individual health needs (including their mental, emotional and sexual health needs, as appropriate) are promptly assessed, planned for, accurately recorded and met by in-house or local health services in a timely way. All staff involved with the child work together to promote good health, effective multi-disciplinary working and to manage risk.

Commissioners and health providers ensure the provision of appropriate and high-quality healthcare for children in secure settings, delivered by suitably skilled and experienced staff.

Children receive good continuity of care and treatment, through effective arrangements with external health providers and other agencies throughout their time at the home and after they leave. When services are not available, or children are waiting for a long time for help, the home is proactive in challenging and escalating concerns.

The physical, emotional and mental health of children is actively and effectively promoted during their time in the home, leading to clear improved health outcomes. Health improvement and healthy lifestyle choices are supported by a whole-home approach, informed by national health promotion initiatives, that are based on the health needs of the current population. Children are encouraged to enjoy regular exercise and a balanced diet.

Arrangements for managing medication are safe and effective. When appropriate, children are enabled to manage their prescribed medication independently in preparation for leaving the home. This is supported by an up-to-date risk assessment to ensure their safety, and that of others.

Pregnant young women and their babies are fully supported and provided with a safe and comfortable environment. Their health and well-being are maintained or improved by staff who are suitably skilled to deliver appropriate care to both mother and baby and promote the baby’s development.

Good health outcomes are achieved, driven by, and monitored against, a comprehensive, up-to-date health strategy and policies and procedures. These promote improved practice and cover:

  • physical health, substance misuse, emotional and mental health
  • early identification and response to risk of self-harm and suicide ideation
  • medicine management
  • communicable disease
  • infection control
  • safeguarding
  • information sharing
  • emergency plans

Health services provided in the home meet Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulations and, as a minimum, current healthcare standards for children in secure settings.

Requires improvement to be good

Healthcare does not yet meet the standard of good, although the shortfalls in meeting children’s physical, emotional and/or mental health needs are not serious and/or widespread.

Inadequate

Healthcare is consistently poor. There are serious and widespread shortfalls in meeting children’s physical, emotional and/or mental health needs.

Outstanding

The outcomes that children achieve in health are likely to be outstanding when there is evidence of the following:

Healthcare consistently exceeds the standard of good.

Children’s health shows exceptional progress, taking into account their starting points.

5.4 How well children and young people are helped and protected

This judgement will take account of how well children are helped and protected by education and health staff as well as care staff.

Areas of required evidence are:

  • how well risks are identified, understood and managed and whether the support and care provided help children and young people to become increasingly safe
  • the response to children who have absconded or may be at risk of harm, including exploitation, neglect, abuse, self-harm, bullying and radicalisation
  • how well staff and carers manage situations and behaviour and whether clear and consistent boundaries contribute to a feeling of well-being and security for children and young people
  • how the use of restraint, single separation and searches of children are managed and minimised
  • whether safeguarding arrangements to protect children meet all statutory and other government requirements, promote their welfare and prevent radicalisation and extremism

Good

Children feel protected and are protected from harm, including neglect, abuse, sexual exploitation, accidents, self-harm, bullying and radicalisation. There is a strong, robust and proactive response from all those working with children that reduces actual harm or the risk of harm to them. That response includes regular and effective contact and planning with the child’s allocated social worker, youth offending worker and the child’s family, if this is appropriate and in accordance with plans for their future. The use of closed-circuit television and body-worn cameras effectively promotes children’s safety.

Children can identify a trusted adult they can talk to about any concerns. They report that adults listen to them, take their concerns seriously and respond appropriately.

Any risks associated with children offending, misusing drugs or alcohol, self-harming, absconding or being sexually exploited are known and understood by the adults who look after them. Individual, up-to-date risk assessments effectively address any known vulnerabilities for each child and set out what action should be taken to address the risks. There are plans and help in place that are reducing actual harm or the risk of harm and there is evidence that these risks are being minimised.

Children who abscond experience well co-ordinated responses that reduce actual harm or risk of harm to them. Risks are well understood and minimised. There is a clear plan of urgent action in place to protect them and to reduce further harm or the risk of harm. The home is aware of, and implements in full, the requirements of the statutory guidance for children who are missing. It challenges the local authority when an independent return home interview is not offered or arranged by the local authority. The home takes appropriate steps to escalate concerns. Parents and carers are made aware of incidents when the child has absconded, when this is appropriate and relevant to the plans for that child’s future care. Staff look for children when they have absconded.

Children are supported to take age-appropriate risks as part of their development of independent living skills.

Children are protected and helped to keep themselves safe, from bullying, homophobic behaviour, racism, sexism, radicalisation and other forms of discrimination. Any discriminatory behaviours are challenged and help and support are given to children about how to treat others with respect.

Children receive help and support to manage their behaviour and feelings safely. Staff respond with clear boundaries about what is safe and acceptable and seek to understand the triggers for behaviour.

Positive behaviour is consistently promoted. Staff use effective de-escalation techniques and creative alternative strategies that are specific to the needs of each child or young person and planned in consultation with them when possible.

Restraint, single separation and managing children away from others is used only in strict accordance with the legislative framework to protect the child or young person and those around them. All incidents are reviewed, recorded and monitored and the views of the child or young person, dependent on their age and understanding, are sought and understood. Conflict management is effective and includes the appropriate use of restorative practices that improve relationships, increase children’s sense of personal responsibility and reduce the need for formal police intervention.

Proactive and effective working relationships with the police help to support and protect children. Staff work with the police to protect the children living in the home from any unnecessary involvement in the criminal justice system. Staff understand the risks that use of the internet may pose for children, such as bullying, sexual exploitation and radicalisation. They have well-developed strategies in place to keep children safe and to support them in learning how to keep themselves safe.

Any searches of children or their rooms and possessions are carried out sensitively by appropriately trained staff with due consideration given to their need to feel safe and to have their dignity and needs respected. All searches are appropriately recorded, including the reasons for the search, efforts to seek the young person’s consent, any risk assessment and management oversight of the decision to undertake a search.

Careful recruitment and regular monitoring of staff and volunteers prevent unsuitable people from being recruited and having the opportunity to harm children or to place them at risk. The relevant authorities and professional bodies are informed of any concerns about inappropriate adults.

Staff working within the home are clear about, and follow, procedures for responding to concerns about the safety of a child or young person. Any child protection concerns are immediately shared with the placing and/or host local authority as required and a record of that referral is retained. There is evidence that staff follow up the outcome of the referral quickly and that appropriate action has been taken to protect the child or young person from further harm. When the setting is not satisfied with the response from either the local authority where the setting is situated or the placing authority, it escalates its concerns appropriately, including by writing to the director of children’s services in the local authority placing the child.

Investigations into allegations or suspicion of harm are shared with the appropriate agencies and are handled fairly, quickly and in accordance with statutory guidance. Children are supported and protected. Support is given both to the person making the allegation and the person who is the subject of the allegation.

The home has effective links with local authorities, designated officers and other important safeguarding agencies. There is good communication about safeguarding issues, such as any injuries sustained during restraints or allegations against staff. The home has good relationships with relevant local voluntary sector organisations that may be able to offer specialist support to children in keeping themselves safe.

The physical environment for children is safe and secure and protects them from harm or the risk of harm. Risk assessments are regularly reviewed and updated and comply with statutory requirements.

Effective contingency plans are in place for emergencies and serious incidents to ensure the safety of children, staff and visitors. Plans are regularly tested and reviewed, and any learning identified and actioned. All staff are confident in fulfilling their responsibilities set out in these plans.

Requires improvement to be good

The help and protection offered to children and young people are likely to require improvement to be good if children are not yet receiving good enough help and protection, but there are no serious failures that leave them either being harmed or at risk of harm.

Inadequate

The help and protection offered to children and young people are likely to be inadequate if there are serious and/or widespread failures that leave children being harmed, at risk of harm or their welfare not being safeguarded.

Outstanding

The help and protection offered to young people are likely to be judged outstanding if there is evidence of the following:

Professional practice results in sustained improvement to the lives of children; highly effective planning manages and minimises risks inside and outside of the home; when children are new to the home, any risks are well understood and are significantly reducing; proactive and creative safeguarding practice means that all children, including the most vulnerable, have a strong sense of safety and well-being; children are involved in creating ways to de-escalate situations and finding creative alternative strategies that are effective.

Research-informed practice, some of which may be innovative, continues to develop from a strong and confident base, making an exceptional difference to the lives and experiences of children.

5.5 The effectiveness of leaders and managers

This judgement will take account of the effectiveness of all leaders and managers across education, health and care.

Areas of required evidence are:

  • whether leaders and managers show an ambitious vision, have high expectations for what all children can achieve and ensure high standards of individualised care, health and education
  • whether leaders and managers have a clear understanding of the progress children and young people are making in respect of the plan for them and take effective action when necessary
  • whether leaders and managers provide the right supportive environment for staff through effective supervision and appraisal and high-quality induction and training programmes that are tailored to the specific needs of the children and young people
  • how well leaders and managers evaluate and promote the quality and impact of teaching, learning and assessment through performance management and appropriate professional development
  • how well leaders and managers know and understand the home’s strengths and weaknesses, prevent shortfalls, identify weaknesses and take decisive and effective action
  • whether the home is achieving its stated aims and objectives
  • the quality of professional relationships to ensure the best possible all-round support to children and young people in all areas of their development
  • whether leaders and managers actively challenge when the responses from other services are not effective
  • the extent to which leaders and managers actively promote tolerance, equality and diversity
  • the impact of children’s views and participation

Good

The home is effectively and efficiently managed by a permanent, suitably experienced and qualified registered manager. Urgent action is taken to address any vacancy of the registered manager post.

The home is properly staffed and resourced to meet the needs of the children. Staff are suitably vetted and qualified and are able to deliver high-quality services to children and their families. Arrangements for recruitment and appraisals are robust and include children as appropriate.

Leaders and managers actively and regularly monitor the quality of care provided. Those employed to undertake external monitoring have the necessary skills and experience. Leaders and managers use learning from practice and feedback to improve the experiences and care of children including, for example, direct testimony from children, young people, parents, carers, other professionals and other stakeholders. They learn from complaints, staff feedback, placement successes and breakdowns, and any serious events. They identify strengths and areas for improvement and implement clear development plans that continually improve the experiences of children. Robust action is taken to address all issues of concern, including any concerns or complaints from children and local residents. Proper investigations are undertaken. Placing and host authorities and youth offending services are engaged as necessary. Effective action has been taken to address all requirements and recommendations from previous inspections.

Leaders and managers take steps to ensure that plans for individual children comprehensively identify their needs. Plans take into account the local authority care plan for each child. Leaders and staff work proactively and positively with other agencies and professionals. They seek to build effective working relationships with parents and social workers from placing authorities, youth offending services and with the local authority where they are located to secure positive outcomes for children.

Leaders and staff work proactively with the local community, including neighbours, faith groups, leisure organisations and local businesses, to support children to use the facilities when their plan provides for this, and to develop a sense of belonging, security and purpose.

When children are not settling into the home, leaders and managers take steps to ensure that the plan is reviewed with the placing authority and/or youth offending services and the family, when this is appropriate, to consider the best steps to take next. They challenge effectively and take action when they are concerned that placing authorities are not making decisions that are in children’s best interests, when the statutory requirements for looked-after children are not met or when they cannot keep children safe.

Leaders and managers understand the plans for the children and actively drive the achievement of important milestones, goals and permanence for their futures. Leaders and managers monitor the progress that individual children make and can demonstrate the positive impact that living at the home has had on individual children’s progress and life chances.

Managers and staff receive regular and effective supervision that is focused on children’s experiences, needs, plans and feedback. Supervision is recorded effectively. There is effective support and challenge, including through team and management meetings, to ensure that the professional development of staff and leaders results in the right environment for good practice to thrive. The emotional impact on staff of the work is recognised and managed well by leaders and managers.

Training, development and induction activities are effective. They are focused on ensuring that staff can meet the specific needs of the children who they are responsible for. Activities are evaluated to ensure that they lead to effective practice. Leaders, managers and staff are up to date with current practice in their specialist area.

The staff team works collaboratively to provide consistency and stability. There are clear responsibilities and accountabilities and the staff team has a sense of shared ownership about its practice. Staff report that they are well led and managed and there is other evidence to support this.

Leaders and managers make child-centred decisions about children coming to live at the home, including giving consideration to the needs of children already living at the home.

The statement of purpose, which is kept under review, clearly sets out the ethos and objectives of the home. The manager and responsible individual ensure that the physical environment is safe, secure and maintained to a high standard. It meets the needs of the children and feels and looks like a family home for children taking into account the secure nature of the home. Any damage or wear and tear is quickly and regularly repaired.

The registered provider is financially viable and can deliver high quality, stable care for children.

Case records reflect children’s everyday lives and the work that is undertaken with children. They reflect their achievements and clearly relate to the plans for their futures. The style and clarity of records increases the understanding that children have about their histories, background and experiences. The records are available to children who are able to see or contribute to them as they wish, with appropriate support.

Volunteers who work with children living in the home are trained, supervised and supported to undertake their roles appropriately and to provide a high quality service that enhances the experiences of children.

The registered person ensures that notifications of all significant events that relate to the welfare and protection of children living in the home are made to the appropriate authorities. The registered person takes the necessary action following the incident to ensure that the child or young person’s needs are met and that they are safe and protected. The culture of the home is characterised by high expectations and aspirations for all children. The ethos and objectives of the home are demonstrated in practice.

Leaders and managers regularly review and act on any known risks to children, taking advice and guidance from local partners and agencies.

Requires improvement to be good

The effectiveness of leaders and managers is likely to require improvement to be good if there is evidence of the following:

The characteristics of good leadership and management are not in place.

When there are weaknesses in practice, leaders and managers have identified the issues and have plans in place to address them or they are less serious and there is capacity to take the necessary action.

Inadequate

The judgement on the effectiveness of leaders and managers will be inadequate if there is evidence of the following:

There has been no registered manager for more than 26 weeks.

The experiences, progress or protection of children are inadequate, and leaders and managers do not know the strengths and weaknesses of the home. They have been ineffective in prioritising, challenging and making improvements.

The home fails to work effectively in partnership with others in the best interests of children and young people.

Outstanding

The effectiveness of leaders and managers is likely to be judged outstanding if, in addition to meeting the requirements of a good judgement, there is evidence of the following:

Leaders and managers are inspirational, confident and ambitious for children and young people and influential in changing the lives of those in their care.

They create a culture of high aspiration and positivity and they have high expectations of their staff to change and improve the lives of the children they are responsible for. They lead by example, innovate and generate creative ideas to sustain the highest quality care for children.

They know their strengths and weaknesses well and can provide evidence of improvement over a sustained period.

They have working relationships with partner agencies that ensure the best possible care, experiences and futures for children.