How safe and healthy are children looked after by registered childcare providers in England? A new Ofsted report published today examines the evidence.
It gives an overview of good and bad practice uncovered by inspectors between April 2005 and March 2006, focusing on safety and health, two of the five Every Child Matters outcomes. (The other three are enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and economic well-being).
The report emphasises that 97 per cent of 25,000 childcare providers inspected – including nurseries, children’s centres and childminders – were satisfactory or better at keeping children safe and protecting them from harm.
However there is no room for complacency.
Ofsted’s director of early years Dorian Bradley, said: “There is still some way to go” to make sure that every child is safe.
In nearly half of inspections carried out Ofsted identified ways for providers to further improve children’s safety, making over 14,000 recommendations.
Ofsted received 1,500 complaints about the safety of children in childcare settings over the year. It considers such levels of concern to be “small” (equivalent to 1.4 per cent of all providers) but “significant”.
Safety was inadequate at three per cent of settings.
Four per cent are praised for outstanding work keeping children safe.
As well as inspections of 25,000 providers, the report is also based on evidence from Ofsted enforcement activity and more detailed small sample surveys.
The 1.500 complaints about safety included:
• Concerns or allegations about mistreatment not being reported to social services or Ofsted
• A person living or working on daycare premises or living in a childminder’s house being not suitable to have unsupervised access to children
• A child being smacked or mistreated
• Poor behaviour management, leading to mistreatment of a child
• Provider not assessing and dealing with risks
To keep children safe, providers must comply with local safeguarding children’s board procedures, take proper precautions to avoid accidents and offer a secure and welcoming environment, says Ofsted.
Outstanding providers fully understand the issues involved in safeguarding children, the report explains.
“They take all reasonable steps to minimise the risk of harm, and they are fully prepared to identify any concerns about a child’s welfare and to respond and report them appropriately. Adults view the protection of children as of supreme importance. They would not hesitate to take the difficult step of acting on a concern; they know when and how to seek advice, and they report concerns competently to the appropriate people and authorities,” according to the report.
Staff in outstanding settings will ensure parents know providers’ responsibilities and polices in safeguarding children.
These will include detailed steps to follow if an allegation is made, according to the report.
Ofsted says in the best settings, adults “build trusting relationships so children feel comfortable to talk to an adult for advice or to express concerns. Adults treat children with respect; they value children’s views and feelings and take them seriously. Adults listen attentively and respond positively to every child.”
The best settings operate efficient recruitment and vetting and make sure staff are experienced, highly skilled, qualified and receive good inductions, training, monitoring, supervision and support.
Ways of improving children’s safety and security implemented by providers following earlier Ofsted inspections noted in the report include:
• better procedures for vetting staff and volunteers, including applicants who are unsuitable due to substance addiction
• more care supervising entrances and exits
• more thorough checking the identity of visitors and keeping records
The report finds that 98 per cent of childcare settings are satisfactory or better at helping children be healthy, including opportunities for exercise and eating fresh, nutritious food.
Dorian Bradley, Ofsted’s director of early years said he was pleased that childcare providers are taking children’s health seriously, given the highly-publicised rise in childhood obesity.
The report includes a practice checklist.
In total, Ofsted says 108,000 childcare settings in England provide over 1.5 million places for children under eight.