Children’s services, residential care and social care – policy update

7th July 2016

Definition of the word policy, close upPolicy documents are like buses, you wait months for one and three turn up within a week. We’ve had Ofsted’s annual social care report, the Department for Education’s vision for social care and an independent review of children’s residential care. MFON looks at the main points of the publications. Read on or click these links to jump to the individual policy updates.

Ofsted reports on social care

At the end of June, Ofsted published its Social Care Annual Report 2016. It is the inspectorate’s third annual report on the state of children’s social care in England and it paints a mixed picture. Under the headline of, ‘Strong leadership [is] vital for children’s services improvement’, it found that weak leadership is letting down the most vulnerable children.

Ofsted’s report shows that a quarter of children’s services departments, 21 in total, are currently rated ‘Inadequate’, while 43 ‘Require Improvement’. Many areas rated ‘Inadequate’ received the lowest rating for ‘help and protection’; the part of the system that assesses what the risks to children are, and takes action to protect them. The report argues that problems here remain the greatest challenge to the system as a whole.

In poor performing authorities, weaknesses in leadership and management oversight, along with high caseloads, often mean children do not receive the right support at the right time.

Despite this, for the first time under new inspection arrangements, the London Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, along with Westminster, recently received ‘Outstanding’ ratings. A further 21 authorities have been rated ‘Good’.

In high performing areas, inspectors saw strong leadership, both at a political level and throughout the organisation. Leaders create the systems and culture that enable high quality social work to flourish, and understand the skills and qualities the workforce need to do their jobs well. In these places, children do not wait for help and support, and social workers are given time to work with families.

The report also found that:

  • An ‘inadequate’ judgement is not related to size, levels of deprivation, or funding. The quality of leadership in an area is the single most important factor in the standard of help, care and protection given to children.
  • Once children are in the care system, they are often well cared for; it is children who have not yet entered the system because their needs have not been recognised, or whose support has been too superficial and ineffective, who need attention.
  • There are many outstanding and dedicated professionals working with children. However, they need the right leadership and support to succeed. In strong authorities, they make a huge difference to children’s lives.

Ofsted found that manageable workloads are also crucial. The variation between local authorities in terms of the numbers of children in need per social worker is very wide, ranging from seven in some areas, to as high as 34 in others. Inspectors found 14 local authorities where social workers’ caseloads were too high.

The picture for residential care has continued to improve. Inspections show that many children are benefiting from the help authorities provide. Four out of five children’s homes are now rated ‘Good’ or better. And at nearly 80%, the proportion of ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ children’s homes is higher than that of secondary schools. Meanwhile, inspections of independent fostering agencies found 85% of providers to be ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’.

While there are many local authorities rated ‘Inadequate’ for help and protection, in many cases the support that they give to looked-after children is better. The majority of local authorities also deliver ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ adoption services, reflecting a pattern that has been established for many years.

Putting children first: our vision for children’s social care

The Department for Education has published its vision for children’s social care. Putting children first: our vision for children’s social care sets out the Government’s reform programme for children’s social care in England over the next five years. It builds on a previous policy paper, Children’s social care reform: a vision for change.

In the ministerial foreword, Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education and Edward Timpson, Minister of State for Children and Families wrote, ‘This plan involves fundamental reform of each of the three pillars on which the children’s social care system stands:

  • First, people and leadership – bringing the best into the profession and giving them the right knowledge and skills for the challenging but hugely rewarding work ahead, and developing leaders equipped to nurture practice excellence.
  • Second, practice and systems – creating the right environment for excellent practice and innovation to flourish, learning from the very best practice, and learning from when things go wrong.
  • Third, governance and accountability – making sure that what we are doing is working, and developing innovative new organisational models with the potential to radically improve services.

Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, Isabelle Trowler said, ‘Putting Children First is the gateway to the kind of practice social workers want to be doing every day. Probably the single most refreshing thing about Putting Children First is its central recognition that relationships and long-term social connection is the cornerstone to child and family welfare. This, of course, goes to the core of social work. It is why social work is such a pivotal player in the public service landscape and why social work is important to government…Some of you might have to suspend disbelief to become part of this progressive movement of change, and I urge you to do so. Don’t let others interpret this opportunity for you and don’t let it pass you by.’

Independent review of children’s residential care

Finally, Residential Care in England is the report of Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care. In October 2015, the Prime Minister, David Cameron and Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan announced a comprehensive review into children’s residential care, to help put an end to a life of disadvantage for some of the most vulnerable children in care.

Sir Martin Narey, former Head of the Prison and Probation Services in England and Wales and Chief Executive of children’s charity, Barnardo’s, looked at which children should be in residential care, how it can be improved and how government can achieve the very best for every single child in their care.

The review makes a number of important recommendations under eight headings:

  • Obtaining better value for money in the commissioning of residential care.
  • Fostering, closeness to home, the size of homes, and secure care.
  • The criminalising of children, staff confidence, setting boundaries for children, and the use of restraint.
  • Staff qualifications, pay and recruitment.
  • Staying Put rather than Staying Close?
  • A note on European Social Pedagogy.
  • Conclusions and the need for system leadership.

The report has been welcomed, however, it did not consider the needs of disabled children. Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau said, ‘We remain concerned that the review did not report on the needs of disabled children who live away from home, who are amongst the most vulnerable children in residential care, and urge the Government to conduct an independent assessment of current provision.’

Policy on children’s services is moving forward. Clearly, the over-riding theme is that strong leaders are pivotal to good support. However, it is important that children with additional needs are considered in all aspects of reform and policy.

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