Surveillance and monitoring in residential childcare settings

Information for providers and managers on the use of surveillance, including CCTV, in their residential childcare settings and how Ofsted will evaluate its use.

Applies to England


This guidance explains how Ofsted’s inspectors will evaluate providers’ and managers’ administration and use of surveillance, including closed-circuit television (CCTV).

In the following residential settings inspectors will expect that the remit-specific regulations and guidance are being followed:

  • children’s homes
  • residential family centres
  • secure children’s homes

For residential accommodation in schools, inspectors will evaluate the arrangements against the best practice principles set out in this guidance.

Ofsted’s approach

We expect providers, managers and carers to create a positive environment for children to live and learn in and where staff interact positively with children. Providers can use ‘Positive environments where children can flourish’ when assessing the suitability of arrangements for any use of surveillance and monitoring.

We look at how children’s rights are respected first, then consider whether the use of surveillance complies with the legislative framework, national minimum standards (NMS) or relevant guidance. We take account of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998.

We expect staff to be skilled and confident in finding the best ways to keep individual children safe.

We gather information to help us understand any use of surveillance. We explore the reasons why the use of less intrusive safeguards would not be as effective.

Principles you should follow

These principles are set out in line with the relevant regulatory and statutory guidance for children’s homes, residential family centres and secure children’s homes. Inspectors will regard these as best practice principles in the residential accommodation of schools. Inspectors will take a proportionate view of the school’s rationale and approach to the use of surveillance.

The use of any kind of surveillance must meet the needs of the individual and be justified at the time of its use.

The use of surveillance in children’s homes and residential family centres is only permissible at the direction of a court or to safeguard an individual child’s welfare.

It is not acceptable to use surveillance as a default approach to monitoring children’s behaviour, neither should groups of children be subject to indiscriminate monitoring.

The use of surveillance and monitoring devices should be for the protection of the children only, not staff. This will differ for secure children’s homes.

When CCTV or audio monitoring is used for the protection of children, plans must include how enough staff will be available to continually monitor images and to take immediate action to safeguard children without reducing the quality of care provided in the home. This may differ for secure children’s homes and schools.

The effect of the use of surveillance or monitoring devices on individuals and their privacy should be considered. Regular reviews should take place to ensure that its use remains justified.

Parents, children (if possible) and social workers should give consent to the use of surveillance and be informed about how they can make a complaint about its use, if necessary.

Images and information should be stored securely, for their stated purpose, and only for as long as necessary.

Security arrangements for sharing footage, for example, when used as evidence in court hearings, should be included in the setting’s written policy.

CCTV monitoring screens should only be accessible to those staff who need to see the images at the time, for example, in a staff office where there is appropriate privacy.

Recordings should be stored in a secure place at the residential provision.

Work mobile phones and other work devices used for surveillance activity must only be used for monitoring purposes inside the residential home. They should not be used to store data recorded for surveillance if taken outside the home.

Staff should have regular updated training on handling information gathered by surveillance. This should include:

  • what to do when people ask for access to recordings
  • how and when to share information
  • what to do if there are complaints about surveillance
  • what to do if children or parents withdraw their consent to surveillance

Residential family centres: additional principles

In residential family centres, staff must only use monitoring devices for:

  • safeguarding the welfare of the resident or other residents in the centre
  • assessing or monitoring parenting capacity under regulation 13A

This is subject to any requirements for electronic monitoring imposed by the court. This monitoring must meet the requirements of the court order.

The reasons and rationale for the use of surveillance should be set out in the family’s or child’s care plan, based on an individual risk assessment and agreed with the placing authority’s social worker. Parents, children (if possible) and social workers should be involved in regular reviews about whether surveillance remains necessary.

Secure children’s homes: additional principles

The use of surveillance for safeguarding children in secure children’s homes is permissible.

Every secure children’s home should have a policy that sets out how surveillance is used and how searches are carried out in that setting. This should include the use of ‘real time’ CCTV recording in common areas that could be used to help monitor the use of restraint and assist decisions on safeguarding and child protection interventions. The CCTV may not be monitored all the time. The specific monitoring arrangements should be set out in the policy.

Activities that inspectors may carry out

Inspectors may:

  • explore how you comply with the relevant regulations for your setting and/or follow the best practice principles concerning surveillance, monitoring and the protection of privacy
  • explore your reasons for any use of surveillance devices on a ‘just in case’ basis, the continued use of them once the reason for the original purpose has ended, or any blanket use
  • expect you to show that you understand and observe the guiding principles set out in the relevant legislation and guidance
  • pursue lines of enquiry about possible failures in how the guiding principles and regulations have been followed
  • review the quality of your written policy and procedures
  • use inspection reporting and judgements to highlight any shortfalls when settings have not found the best ways to keep children safe, promote their rights, respect their dignity and help to equip them for their futures

This list is for guidance only. Inspectors will explore your arrangements as necessary.

Things your policy should include

As a minimum, your policy should set out:

  • the legitimate purpose and aim of the surveillance, with each purpose and activity individually addressed
  • how the surveillance will keep children safe
  • why surveillance is the best way of achieving a child’s safety
  • how any data is processed and stored
  • what security measures are in place to safeguard against unauthorised access and use
  • how often the surveillance activity will be reviewed to ensure that it is still necessary
  • how surveillance and monitoring activities are agreed with the placing authority, parents, carers and children (if appropriate)
  • how others (for example, health visitors) are notified that they are being recorded

This is not an exhaustive list. It is for guidance only.

Types of surveillance and monitoring

Surveillance and monitoring devices

Surveillance and monitoring devices include CCTV (both with and without voice-recording), listening devices, location trackers on personal electronic equipment, door sensors, noise sensors and movement alarms. Some equipment, such as listening devices, is used to monitor individuals. Other equipment may capture activity in the environment, for example body-worn cameras, exit alarms, noise sensors and movement-activated mats.

Baby monitors are included as a listening device unless they are being used to monitor the welfare of a baby when adults are not present, for example when the baby is sleeping during the day. Families may choose to use their personal mobile phones as a baby monitor when the baby is sleeping, and this is acceptable. It should not be used to monitor another person’s activity.


CCTV is a closed-circuit television system on a private network. Footage is monitored mainly for surveillance and security purposes. The system uses strategically placed cameras that send the images to monitors placed elsewhere.

If a setting uses CCTV to monitor places of public access, such as the exterior of a building, there should be clear notices alerting the public to its presence and use.

CCTV must not be used to replace or supplement staffing.

Monitoring of personal electronic devices

This includes monitoring the use of a child’s or family’s own laptop, desktop, tablet, mobile phone or any other personal electronic device. This must be carried out with their permission.

You may monitor online activity if it relates to the use of filters and monitoring the effectiveness of those filters to protect children from exposure to inappropriate online material and contact. You must include this activity in your setting’s written policy and procedure.

Covert surveillance

Surveillance is covert if it is carried out in such a way that the individual is not aware that they are being monitored. This can be with the use of equipment such as hidden cameras and listening devices, or secretly following individuals.

You cannot carry out covert surveillance unless this has been directed by a court.


Searches include those of bedrooms, personal spaces and persons by staff (with or without consent).

Staff should always seek the person’s cooperation first, to provide them with an opportunity to hand over any dangerous or illegal items.

You should have a written policy that sets out the arrangements for carrying out searches with or without a person’s consent or presence. This should include how the search is recorded and who is notified of the search.

It may be appropriate for staff to carry out a search of a person’s belongings or room if there is reasonable cause to believe that they have concealed weapons, illegal drugs, or other items that may place them or others at risk of injury.

You cannot carry out intimate body searches.

Compliance with legislation and guidance

Each setting should follow their remit-specific regulations and relevant surveillance guidance.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) regulates the collection of information about people, including the use of CCTV. It provides guidance about what you as a provider or manager should do to carry out these kinds of activities legally.

You can find more guidance on the Information Commissioner’s Office website.

Published 3 October 2019
Last updated 18 October 2019 + show all updates
  1. Added clarification on which settings are covered by regulation and which by best practice principles.

  2. First published.