All child protection inspections will be unannounced from May, according to Ofsted’s new inspection framework.
Under the new child protection framework, published today, councils will be notified on the day a lead inspector arrives, followed by two more inspectors the next day.
For the first time, the team of inspectors will shadow social workers in their day-to-day work over a two-week period. They will also observe multi-agency working and speak directly to children, families and professionals about their experiences of services.
The watchdog will examine twice the number of cases (around 50), while social workers and managers will be expected to sit alongside inspectors to go through case files and discuss the packages of support provided for each child.
Inspectors will be asked to evaluate child protection services in three key areas: the quality of practice; leadership and governance and the effectiveness of the help and protection provided to children, families and carers. They will also evaluate the overall effectiveness of the service, including areas for development.
John Goldup, Ofsted’s deputy chief inspector, said the updated framework will ensure the child’s experience is central to inspections.
“We want to ensure that inspectors are able to judge the impact that professionals working in child protection are making to help children and protect them from harm.
“We won’t just look at what happens to children when they become subject to formal child protection processes – it’s just as important to evaluate the help that children and families do or don’t get early on because that can make a critical difference to whether the problems get worse and the risks to the child escalate,” he said.
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said the organisation “wholeheartedly supports” unannounced inspections.
“We have anecdotal evidence of how poorly performing local authorities can still get through inspection processes through unscrupulous means such as altering information. We also hear from members that the current Ofsted process is not effective or trusted by social workers,” Mansuri said.
But she added: “We do have reservations about proposals for giving local authorities currently rated ‘outstanding’ longer periods between inspections, as they could easily revert to poor practice.”
Children’s minister Tim Loughton said: “In her independent review of child protection last year, Professor Munro advised inspections should give greater weight to feedback from children and families, and that Ofsted should move to unannounced inspections because professionals and local authorities were spending too much time preparing for inspections.
“Ofsted’s changes will help put the focus back on the child and assess whether they and their families are really getting the help they need – rather than being a tick box exercise.”
Ofsted could accompany social workers on child visits