Changes to inspection regime prompt fears of slipping standards at leading performers

Plans to focus on struggling services prompt campaigners to be concerned about knock-on effects, reports Amy Taylor

Children’s social services inspections are to be targeted more on poor-performing providers while those doing well will be given more freedom, under government proposals.

Although campaigners and providers have welcomed the thrust of the plans, some have raised concerns about the lengthy gaps between inspections for some services.

The most controversial changes centre on children’s homes and fostering services. Children’s homes are currently inspected twice a year but good performers may be examined only once a year, while fostering services could be checked as rarely as once every three years (see table).

Sheila Scott, chief executive of the National Care Association, supports the focus on poor performers but is concerned by the reduction in inspections for children’s homes. “It’s a worry because when a breakdown happens it happens so quickly, particularly with facilities for children.”

Jim Goddard, secretary of the Care Leavers’ Association but speaking in a personal capacity, says he is alarmed by the plans to reduce the frequency of inspection for good providers. He believes services for vulnerable looked-after children need more scrutiny. “Given the long history of abuse in the care system, any watering down of inspection regimes for children in care is dangerous.”

The government says newly identified risks, such as when managers are appointed, could trigger extra inspections.

But Goddard says many children’s homes suffer a high turnover of less skilled staff because of low pay and long working hours.

He claims this factor, coupled with the high turnover of young people in children’s homes, means annual inspections are too infrequent.

At the other end of the scale, poor-performing children’s homes could be inspected at least three times a year. Andrew Rome, spokesperson for the Independent Children’s Homes Association, says his organisation supports this proposal and there may be cases where even more frequent inspection is needed.

The government has also proposed that providers should carry out an annual quality assurance assessment.

Rome says: “Most good providers should be monitoring their organisations as a matter of course on outcomes and how well they are achieving the minimum standards.”

The proposal to reduce the frequency of inspection of good fostering services is welcomed by David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. “As long as the risk assessment proposed in the consultation is done well and as long as the self-assessments are done well the proposals are workable,” he says.

But Rome, speaking in his other role as an independent consultant on children’s services, says: “To be trying to move some of the more challenging children into a fostering environment while making the inspection less frequent would seem to be in conflict.” 

Planned changes in inspection frquency

 Service  Now Proposals 
Children’s homes  Twice a year

Poor-performing homes to be inspected at least three times a year; adequate home twice a year, the rest at least once a year
Poor-performing homes at least three times a year; at least once a year for the rest 

Fostering and residential family centres Once a year  At least once every three years
Adoption services  Every three years  No change 
Residential special schools  Once a year  At least once a year 

Addtional reading
Modernising the Regulatory Framework for Children’s Social Services. Consultation closes on 10 November.
Inspection of Children’s services: Special Report

Further information
Care Leavers Association
Independent Children’s Homes Association
British Association for Adoption and Fostering

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