Residential care: children’s safeguarding under scrutiny

One in 10 children’s homes in England are failing to keep young people in their care safe, according to a report published today.

Support workers are sometimes poorly trained in basic child protection along with staff in health care, schools and youth services, the joint chief inspectors’ report says.

Young people with disabilities, those in secure establishments and asylum-seeking children are also let down by inadequate safeguarding arrangements.

The 2008 Safeguarding Children review, led by Ofsted, did find “many improvements” in the work of agencies since the last periodic report in 2005.

The introduction of Every Child Matters and the phasing in of the 2004 Children Act resulted in greater emphasis on safeguarding for all children, according to Christine Gilbert, chief inspector at Ofsted.

“The improvements mean most children are safe in their homes, schools and communities,” said Gilbert.

“But we continue to have serious concerns that the most vulnerable children are not well-served.”

Some problems highlighted in the 2005 report still remain, such as welfare assessments of asylum-seeking children and the widespread use of detention.

The problems in children’s homes lie in a lack of experienced and competent staff, the report says, while supervision arrangements of staff are inadequate.

Physical restraint

In young offender institutions and secure training centres, measures such as physical restraint are disproportionately focused on security rather than welfare, the report says. Overall there is a lack of shared understanding of safeguarding issues between social care and the criminal justice system.

The report notes a lack of involvement within local safeguarding children boards from Connexions, Cafcass, and the youth offending service, which are all statutory partners. Inspectors also raise concerns over the lack of mechanisms to measure LSCBs’ performance, while some NHS and primary care trust boards are not making children’s issues a priority.

Although there is much greater awareness of the need for Criminal Records Bureau checking, many staff who were in their posts when the system began in 2002 have not been checked, while follow-up checks on existing staff are not being carried out.

Serious case reviews

The quality of serious case review reports, issued following child deaths in which abuse or neglect are suspected factors, “varies considerably”, with 25% judged to be inadequate.

Workforce strategies have helped to reduce vacancies and turnover of social workers within children’s services, but resources remain limited.

Other recommendations within the 110-page report include long-term funding for social workers based at young offender institutions.

Responding to the report, Kevin Brennan, minister for children and families said it “covers a period of tremendous change and acknowledges that most children feel safe and are safe.

Where the most vulnerable groups are still at risk we will continue to push forward with programmes already put in place and strengthen arrangements to protect them.”

Related articles

DCSF pledges to safeguard disabled children and young offenders

Immigration centres unfit to hold children, say inspectors

Low completion rate of child protection training recommended by Bichard

External information

2004 Children Act

Every Child Matters

The Safeguarding Children review

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