7 The performance framework for the
211. Inspection of Children's Services is undergoing
a major transition. Triennial Joint Area Reviews of services for
children will be replaced from April 2009 by a Comprehensive Area
Assessment (CAA) looking at all public services across
each area once every three years. Annual Performance Assessmentspaper-based
assessments of outcomeswill no longer take place. Progress
against the new National Indicator Set (NIS) for local authorities,
which is intended to replace all previous performance indicators,
will form part of the evidence used in CAA judgements. The NIS
will also help to inform a new performance profile of outcomes
and services for children and young people in each local authority
area, which will be reviewed quarterly; the first of these profiles
will be published in June 2009. An overall rating will be published
212. The NIS contains 11 indicators that make particular
reference to looked-after children or care leavers, covering the
following aspects of local authority performance:
- educational attainment (NI
99, 100, 101; mandatory in Local Area Agreements);
- emotional and behavioural health of children
in care (NI 58);
- timeliness of adoption placements (NI 61);
- placement stability (NI 62, 63);
- completion of case reviews within required timescales
- numbers of children who run away from home or
care overnight (NI 71);
- accommodation for care leavers (NI 147);
- employment, education and training of care leavers
Of the eight indicators relating to looked-after
children which local authorities can choose to include in their
Local Area Agreements, one has been chosen by 29 councils (NI
63), one by 16 councils (NI 62), and the others by 8 councils
or fewer. At the
national level, these indicators are subsumed into a range of
Departmental Strategic Objectives and Public Service Agreements.
213. The Minister told us that, alongside CAAs,
]because of the incredibly important role
of the corporate parent, the programme of inspection led by Ofsted
for services for looked-after children and safeguarding services
for children will continue to have a specific and detailed inspection
every three years [
] While all the other inspections are
being unified into a streamlined process for light-touch local
authority inspection, we are maintaining an intensive and important
three-year inspection process for children's services
These three-year "full" inspections of
safeguarding and looked-after children's services will be supplemented
by annual, unannounced inspections of contact, assessment and
referral arrangements for children's social care, including their
impact on minimising the incidence of child abuse and neglect.
Inspectors will not normally be on site for more than two days
for these annual visits. Where the annual inspections raise serious
concerns, the full inspection can be brought forward in response.
Evidence from Local Safeguarding Children's Boards, of Serious
Case Review evaluations, or whistleblowers, could also be considered
grounds for bringing forward the full inspection.
214. We questioned Her Majesty's Chief Inspector,
Christine Gilbert, about the lessons that could be learned about
inspection of children's services, particularly safeguarding,
in the wake of the Baby P case. Haringey children's services had
received an Annual Performance Assessment (APA) rating of "good"
in 2007, the year Baby P died. Christine Gilbert acknowledged
the reliance of the APA on data provided by the local authority
and other partners, and sought to provide reassurance about Ofsted's
future approach, telling us, "I have no time for a tick-box
approach, and statistics are no substitute for inspections."
No grading judgements on services will in future be issued without
some form of on-the-ground investigation.
At the same time, she warned that inspections only give a snapshot
of services: "Things do not stand still; they get worse or
215. While we welcome the move away from desk-based
assessments and the high profile of safeguarding and looked-after
children's services in the new inspection regime, we nonetheless
have concerns about the new arrangements and their potential to
restore public confidence in inspection following events in Haringey.
We fear that the increased emphasis on self-assessment and
light-touch, "proportionate" inspections in schools
and children's services as a whole is exerting an inappropriate
influence on the inspection of children's social care. In particular,
it may lead to unwise over-reliance on the National Indicator
Set as a barometer of authorities' ability to keep children safe.
There is potential for quarterly updates of performance profiles
to engender false confidence, and this practice seems to be at
odds with the Chief Inspector's reassurance that on-the-ground
investigation will be a prerequisite for passing judgement on
services. We recommend that ways of promoting more frequent,
informal contact between inspectors and local authorities be explored,
such as designating a named inspector for each authority who would
make regular visits.
216. We were concerned to hear from Christine Gilbert
that Ofsted routinely destroy the evidence on which reports and
APA letters are based three months after publication, particularly
in the light of information about the time it can take to produce
a Serious Case Review.
We consider that the evidence on which performance assessments
are based should be retained by Ofsted for at least three years
217. The Minister told us, "We have pockets
of good practice and an inspection regime coming into play that
I expect to bring up the level of less good practice to the best."
The Government clearly sets great store by inspection not only
as an accountability mechanism but as a driver for service improvement.
However it is not obvious to us that this is currently a function
which Ofsted is equipped to perform.
Christine Gilbert told us that it is the role of Children's Services
Advisers in Government Offices, not Ofsted, to "challenge
and support local authorities".
We recommend that the Government reassess how the new inspection
regime for children's services can be made a more effective vehicle
for spreading good practice, perhaps through the inclusion of
a peer review element, or whether a different mechanism is needed.
Ofsted must also improve the representation of officers with extensive
social work experience in its senior leadership positions.
Ensuring that the most important
things are measured
218. We heard from Colin Green, ADCS safeguarding
spokesperson, about the potentially pernicious effects of performance
]the pressure on local authorities to
collect that information and perform in relation to it can become
] In an ideal world [
] if people do
the right things to try to improve what they achieve for children
and young people, their performance indicators should follow behind.
What can happen under pressure is that they end up chasing the
indicator, not focusing on the outcomes for children and young
Children themselves worry about indicators and targets,
we heard, "because of the risk of targets and indicators
becoming the same thing [
] and being applied at an individual
measuring placement stability fail to take into account the fact
that a change of placement can sometimes be in a child's best
interests, and may be a planned part of the package of care.
The Children's Rights Director, Dr Roger Morgan, reported children
contacting his office to say that they are being moved from their
placement to meet the authority's objectives rather than because
it is the right move for them personally.
In certain circumstances, a change of school or an out-of-area
placement might help a child escape a difficult environment or
access the most appropriate provision, and policies must be flexible
enough to recognise that.
Roger Morgan told us that, "It boils down to trying to avoid
making some of those global assumptions and going back to individualisation
of decision-making in care."
219. Professor Ian Sinclair expressed the view that
the current performance framework for the care system is characterised
by "a lack of being really clear about what things really
Part of the difficulty lies in the enormous amount
of inspection effort that goes on the managerial aspects of the
system, rather than its quality. An enormous number of different
things are measured, and there is a great variety of measurement,
but the failure to say that certain things really matter and that
we will home in on them to try to get everybody up to a high standard
across the board works against that inspection effort. If you
said, 'Well the key thing is the quality of the care in the individual
places,' the quality of the quality assurance system in local
authorities would be key. How do they know what that quality is?
] in fact, so many messages are going out [about what aspects
to measure] that you can pick and choose to some extentthere
is a great variety [
Several witnesses remained unconvinced that performance
indicators are an effective means of assessing and improving the
quality of placements and relationships between children and carers.
Research by Professor Sinclair and others concludes that Government
target measures do not tell us much about how well children are
doing, because they rely on "proxies" that are "easier
to measure than well-being, and may or may not relate closely
to it." Steve
Goodman of Hackney Council commented that "process matters
are importantbut they do not get to the nub of outcomes
for looked-after children."
220. Children and young people in care are clear
that many of the things that are most important to them are not
those that can be legislated for or measured by performance indicators.
They are the sort of everyday details overlooked by careless corporate
parents, who fail to grasp the often low-key ways in which looked-after
children are deprived of personal care and attention: having photographs
of themselves and their family, having someone attend sports day
to cheer them on, or turning up to parents' evening to find out
how they are doing at school.
Barnardo's pointed out that "these measures cost very little,
but require workers and professionals to put the same value on
them as young people do".
The issue, said Pam Hibbert of Barnardo's, is how to make front-line
workers and local authorities responsible for those things.
221. One answer may be to include measurements of
children's levels of satisfaction with their care in the performance
framework. Pam Hibbert pointed out that
]if we were providing a service to any
other group of people, we would look very much at their satisfaction
] When children leave care to return home or leave
as young adults, an independent person should give them a real
opportunity to be frank about their satisfaction with the service
that they received. Key performance indicators are for local authorities
and do not necessarily involve those who are receiving the service.
The Minister told us:
The needs of the child or young person, as articulated
by them, must be central and must be listened to and taken into
account. I think that that is a fundamental shift that has happened
in recent years. The system will take time to absorb that shift
fully, but we will press that as hard as we can from the Department.
222. Processes and outcomes are both important, but
if what we are primarily concerned about is how happy children
are in care, then we need to do more to assess quality of placements
and quality of relationships. We believe that quality assessment
and children's satisfaction with their care are undervalued by
the current performance regime. Good parenting is a response to
a child's individual needs and personality. It seems unlikely
that blanket indicators can effectively incentivise the sort of
individualisation that is needed in decisions about children's
care. By measuring children's satisfaction with their care we
may get closer to finding out how happy they are with what the
state is providing for them, and how "cared about" they
really feel. There is at present too much emphasis on measuring
processes in the care system and not enough on assessing its quality.
The quality of decision-making and the quality of relationships
are difficult things to measure, but they are fundamental to the
success of the care system. To help address this problem, children's
satisfaction with the care they receiveindependently sought
and expressedshould feature prominently in performance
indicators and assessments of the care system both locally and
The annual 'stocktake'
223. The Care Matters White Paper proposed
the introduction of an annual "ministerial stocktake"
for the care system to "review progress in improving outcomes
for children in care with key stakeholders and representatives
of local government, health and young people in care."
The first such stocktake is planned to take place in 2009. Roger
Morgan and Maxine Wrigley (A National Voice) argued strongly that
the Stocktake should be based very much on children's own views
and opinions, solicited by an independent agency.
We look forward to examining the first of the annual ministerial
'Stocktakes' of the care system, and we welcome the focus and
priority this process promises to place on how well the whole
state is performing as a corporate parent. We recommend that children's
views and their satisfaction with the care system should form
a crucial part of the evidence used in the Stocktake. In order
that Government as a whole can be held to account for its performance,
the Stocktake must involve the Home Office and Ministry of Justice
as well as the Department of Health and Department for Communities
and Local Government.
224. Professor Mike Stein told
us that "the way we measure performance does not do justice
to the progress made by many young people who are looked after
or who have been in care."
Performance indicators, especially educational ones, are a poor
guide to the progress that children can make in care as they fail
to take into account a child's starting point, privilege certain
markers of educational achievement over general wellbeing, and
do not capture the experience of care leavers later in adulthood.
He told us, "I am not against [performance indicators] being
used, but we use them as the only measure of progress. Some young
people make an enormous journey just by re-engaging with education
when they are 14 or 15."
The present performance framework is insufficiently flexible
to allow the progress children make in care to be captured. The
Stocktake should promote a comprehensive view of outcomes for
young people who have been in care (up to age 25).
225. There are some worrying gaps in the information
that is available about the care population in England. The Refugee
Children's Consortium highlighted the limited availability of
data on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the UK; there
are no official national figures on the numbers of refugee children
in school, the number who go on to higher education, the number
who get in trouble with the law, or the number of trafficked children
who go missing.
There is also as yet no definitive national data set for the proportion
of young people in the youth justice system with looked-after
status, although the Youth Justice Board believes it may be possible
to collect this from 2009-10.
Di Hart of NCB commented, "we do not know who these children
are or where they are. Because of the way services are inspected,
they are not picked out. We do not know anything about their outcomes
in relation to other young offenders."
John Hill of the What Makes The Difference? Project told us that
local authorities gather information about the circumstances of
care leavers up to age 21 (for whom they must provide personal
advisers), but that the Government only collates it at age 19.
226. We consider that lack of data about some
sections of the care population, and care leavers, compromises
the corporate parenting task. The Stocktake should be used as
an opportunity to fill some of the gaps in data relating to looked-after
children; specifically, the lack of information about the circumstances
and outcomes of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and about
looked-after children in the criminal justice system.
227. The Government's publication of a Young Runaways
Action Plan in June 2008 was a welcome recognition of the need
for better partnership working between local authorities, the
police and other agencies to prevent and respond to the estimated
100,000 cases of children going missing from home or care each
year. Better data
collection, both through a new police code of practice and local
authority National Indicator 71, should improve local and national
responses to this issue, and we welcome the Government's commitment
to monitoring and reviewing whether this is the case.
In particular we expect that such information will be used to
analyse the specific factors that lead children in care to run
away, including the role played by failures of placement and contact
planning and a failure to protect children from sexual exploitation.
We are pleased that data on children missing from care will
be included in the Stocktake, and we look forward to seeing evidence
of improved performance in this area.
593 Ofsted, Comprehensive Area Assessment: assessing
children's services and adult learning, February 2009 Back
Q 554 Back
Ofsted, Comprehensive Area Assessment, February 2009 Back
Transcript of uncorrected oral evidence taken before the Children,
Schools and Families Committee, The Work of Ofsted, 10
December 2008, HC 70-i (Session 2008-09), Q 212 [Christine Gilbert] Back
Ibid., Q 282 Back
Ibid., Q 246 Back
Ibid., Q 252 Back
Q 561 Back
Neil Weeks, Fitter for the future? The new accountability
framework (Children's Services Network, February 2009) Back
Transcript of uncorrected oral evidence taken before the Children,
Schools and Families Committee, The Work of Ofsted, 10
December 2008, HC 70-i (Session 2008-09), Q 283 ff. Back
Qq 636-8 Back
Q 21 Back
Qq 314-5 [Professor Sinclair] Back
Q 21 Back
Q 14 [Dr Morgan]; Ev 82 [Care Matters Partnership] Back
Q 14 Back
Qq 124-5 Back
Q 124 Back
Q 123 [Professor Sinclair]; Q 511 [Pauline Newman]; Q 637-8 [Colin
Green]; Q 638 [Henrietta Heawood] Back
Sinclair et al, The Pursuit of Permanence, p 307 ff. Back
Q 511 Back
Q 10 [Pam Hibbert]; Q 21 [Maxine Wrigley] Back
Ev 2 Back
Q 10 Back
Q 21 Back
Q 577 Back
Care Matters White Paper, para 1.24 Back
Q 21 Back
Q 309 Back
Q 277 Back
Q 309 Back
Q 366; Ev 194 Back
Q 338-40; Ev 195 Back
Q 313 Back
Q 310 Back
HC Deb, 9 Jan 2008, col 305; DCSF, Young Runaways Action Plan,
June 2008 Back
HC Deb, 20 June 2008, col 1260 Back