Looked-after Children - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by Christine Gilbert CBE, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector Ofsted

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills is a new organisation, established on 1 April 2007 and built on the strengths of four predecessor inspectorates. The reach of the new inspectorate is extensive. It brings together the regulation and inspection of day care and children's social care and the inspection of local authority children's services, schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services, adult education and more. At least one person in three in England makes use of the services Ofsted inspects or regulates.

  2.  The Education and Inspections Act 2006, which established the new Ofsted, sets out three overriding considerations to underpin the work of Ofsted:

    (a) To promote improvement in the services we inspect or regulate.

    (b) To ensure that these services focus on the interests of the children, parents, adult learners and employers who use them.

    (c) To make sure that these services are efficient and effective.

  3.  On 1 January 2008, Ofsted held responsibility for the inspection of 276 independent fostering agencies, 140 local authority fostering agencies and 2000 children's homes in England.

  4.  Ofsted has lead responsibility for the integrated inspection of children's services, Joint Area Reviews (JAR) and for the annual performance assessment of 150 local authority children's services. The methodology underpinning JARs was modified from 1 April 2007 to increase the focus on the most vulnerable children and young people, including those who are looked after.

SUMMARY

  5.  This submission informs the Select Committee Inquiry on Looked After Children scheduled for February 2008. The inquiry seeks firstly to examine the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Bill, consider the extent to which the Bill reflects the outcome of the consultation process, and make recommendations for amendment where appropriate; and secondly, examine provision for looked-after children more widely in the context of the Care Matters: Time for Change White Paper and the Government's proposals for change on:

    —  corporate parenting;

    —  family and parenting support;

    —  care placements;

    —  education;

    —  health and wellbeing;

    —  transition to adulthood; and

    —  role of the practitioner (including training and workforce development).

  6.  The response is based on the evidence gathered by Ofsted through its inspection, review and annual performance processes notably:

    —  Joint Area Reviews conducted between November 2005 and December 2007.

    —  2007 Annual Performance Assessments of 150 councils.

    —  Performance data for children's service—Appendix 1.

    —  1,632 inspections of children's services conducted in accordance with the Care Standards Act 2000 between 1 April 2007 and 31 December 2007.

    —  Inspection of Cafcass East Midlands region conducted in 2007.

    —  Reports of the Children's Rights Director produced between 2006 and 2007.

  7.  Between the period from April 2007 to January 2008, 27 JARs have been completed under the new methodology. These judged services for looked after children to be outstanding in three areas, good in 18 areas, adequate in five areas and inadequate in one area.

  8.  The number of looked after children, measured per 10,000 population under 18, has increased slightly over the past seven years but has stabilised over the past three years. In 2000-01 the rate was 52.6, rising to 54.6 in 2006-07. The rate peaked in 2003-04 to 55.2 and has remained constant from 2005-06 to 2006-07. However, this national data masks considerable variation across regions. North West, West Midlands and outer London regions show significant increases over this period. East Midlands, South East, South West and Inner London regions all show a decrease. The rate within Inner London region is reducing but remains significantly higher than elsewhere.

  9.  Evidence from regulatory inspections, joint areas review and annual performance assessment shows that:

    —  Corporate parenting is increasingly effective in most areas.

    —  Family and parenting support is increasingly accessible and effective but is yet to make a significant impact on numbers of looked after children and young people.

    —  Processes to secure the number of placements to meet the local needs of children and young people have been strengthened in most areas with some impact on placement stability. However choice and consistency in the quality of placements are areas for concern.

    —  The quality of fostering services and of children's homes is inconsistent and 10% of all provision does not meet the national minimum standards and regulations for safeguarding children and young people. These impact directly on the health and safety of children within these settings.

    —  The stability of placements is improving overall.

    —  Planning arrangements for individual children and young people are satisfactory overall but vary from outstanding to inadequate.

    —  The quality of Children's guardians' practice in care related proceedings is variable, with some front line practice judged inadequate.

    —  Arrangements to engage and support the education of looked after children and young people have been strengthened in most areas but are yet to make sufficient impact on raising their attainment and attendance levels. Virtual schools for looked after children are emerging but it is too early to judge whether these can deliver sustained improvements nationally.

    —  Processes for monitoring the health and wellbeing of looked after children have improved in nearly all areas but these are not always leading to improvements in outcomes. One in five regulatory inspections of children's homes result in requirements to improve the quality of provision for their treatment and health care.

    —  Arrangements for preparing and helping young people to leave care have improved and are satisfactory or better in nearly all areas. However safe accommodation for care leavers remains a concern.

    —  The quality of front line social work practice across the range of provision for looked after children is adequate or better in nearly all areas. However, it is of concern that in a few areas it remains inadequate and impacts adversely on the experience and well being of looked after children and young people.

CONCLUSION

  10.  Both regulatory and service inspections show that strategic arrangements across agencies and processes for the care of looked after children and young people are improving overall. However, this masks inconsistencies within and across areas in the implementation of current policy and guidance resulting in one in ten children receiving an inadequate quality of care.

  11.  A key feature of services for looked after children which are judged to be outstanding is that they do all the important things well that impact directly on the experience of parenting for children and young people. This spans the range of national minimum standards, regulation and guidance relating to assessment, care planning, health care, education support and day-to-day personal care which directly affect the experiences of looked after children and young people. Doing some things well is not good enough. This is relevant to future inspection methodologies and in particular to judgements.

  12.  The evidence from inspections suggests that current arrangements for the corporate parenting function are effective where they are implemented fully, where Members across the council are engaged and demonstrate a commitment and understanding, and address all aspects of provision for looked after children and young people. However, the variation in performance is significant and supports the proposal for the introduction of an independent review body.

  13.  Inspection findings identify a few areas where policy or guidance needs to be strengthened. Children's homes do not always have sufficient numbers of qualified and competent staff to be able to respond effectively to the complexity of needs of looked after children in their care. Guidance is needed to ensure effective management of behaviour is in place and implemented.

  14.  Inspection of field social work practice is limited currently to Joint Area Reviews. The proposal to discharge some functions to independent providers of social work services would require consideration of an appropriate inspection framework for this purpose.

  15.  The findings demonstrate the need for a closer alignment of regulatory and service arrangements and a stronger focus on effective commissioning of care provision, value for money, stability and security in placement and improving outcomes for looked after children and young people.

PROVISION FOR LOOKED AFTER CHILDREN

CORPORATE PARENTING

  16.  There is increasing attention to Corporate parenting in most areas. Corporate parenting boards comprising members and officers across council departments and agencies involved in the delivery of children's services have been established in nearly all areas. These vary in size and composition particularly with regard to the involvement of children and young people themselves. Most boards have developed clear processes for consulting with looked after children and young people through links with well established participation groups specifically for looked after children and young people. However opportunities for face to face discussions between members and senior officers are limited in the main to small groups of children and young people. Children and young people placed with foster carers or with families are less likely to participate in consultation activities.

  17.  A positive development is the increased number of corporate parenting boards which celebrate the achievements of looked after children and, in a few areas, those of carers and staff working directly with looked after children. Such events are highly valued by adults and children and contribute to the well being of the children concerned.

  18.  In most areas, boards have been effective in raising the priority and profile of looked after children across councils and partner agencies. However their impact on the understanding of the role of the corporate parent by all members and officers is yet to be fully achieved in most areas and varies from very good to poor. A key feature of areas judged to be outstanding is an excellent approach to corporate parenting which provides strong leadership from senior councillors and officers, effective championing and rigorous challenge to performance across all aspects of care for looked after children. Where they have been effective, corporate parenting boards have contributed to improving compliance with assessment, care planning and review processes, strengthening joint working arrangements and in increasing access to leisure activities for looked after children. Where they have been less effective, corporate parenting boards share characteristics of limited representation from officers, weak mechanisms for hearing the views of children and young people and an over-reliance on high level performance indicators to monitor local performance.

  19.  The evidence from inspections suggests that current arrangements for the corporate parenting function are effective where they are implemented fully and address all aspects of provision for looked after children and young people. However, the variation in performance is significant and supports the proposal for the introduction of an independent review body.

FAMILY AND PARENTING SUPPORT

  20.  Family and parenting support is increasingly accessible but is yet to be effective in reducing the numbers of looked after children and young people. The development of children's centres, extended school provision and an increase in multi-agency integrated services to support children, young people and their families have increased the range of services potentially available to support families. These developments, led by the Children and Young People Strategic Partnerships, are nearly all targeted appropriately on areas of highest needs among children and young people. Children and young people's plans show that further development is scheduled over the next three years in most areas. However the current position is insufficient overall and reveals significant variations in access to support for children and their families; with broad and effective provision in some localities and patchy or uncoordinated services in others. Access to these services is particularly difficult for children and families who live in rural areas.

  21.  Expenditure by local authorities on those children in need who are not looked after as a percentage of expenditure on all children's services has increased to a national level of 40%. (See Appendix 1 PAF CF/E44) Just over a half of local authorities were judged to be performing well against this indicator in 2006-07. However, in 17 % of local authorities, performance was judged to be less than acceptable.

  22.  Family and parenting support is highly valued by professionals and users of services. Much anecdotal evidence has been provided on improvements to the wellbeing of children, young people and their parents and carers. Examples include improved parenting skills, improved attendance at school and increased opportunities for vulnerable young people and parents to engage in education or training. Reliable and consistent measures of the impact of this provision are yet to be developed.

  23.  Evidence is emerging that only the most targeted family support has any effect on reducing the numbers of children looked after. Examples of effective provision include family conferences, designated children's centres for assessment of parenting skills, evidence-based therapeutic interventions and rapid response teams to family breakdown. Where services are most effective, they are characterised by multi-agency staffing arrangements with high levels of experienced and qualified staff from social work, health and education services.

  24.  Most areas have established clear thresholds for admissions of children into care although a shared understanding of these across agencies is yet to be developed in some areas. A wide range of gate-keeping arrangements are in place and in some areas these are leading to reductions in emergency placements. The most effective arrangements include multi-agency panels which can access and coordinate a combination of local specialist and mainstream services quickly and effectively.

  25.  Inspection of field social work practice is limited currently to Joint Area Reviews. The proposal to discharge some functions to independent providers of social work services would need further consideration of an inspection framework for this purpose.

CARE PLACEMENTS

  26.  Processes to secure the number of placements to meet the local needs of children and young people have been strengthened in most areas with some impact on placement stability. However choice and consistency in the quality of placements are still areas for concern. Strategic placement planning and management arrangements for looked after children are being strengthened in nearly all areas with some evidence of impact on increasing placement choice and ensuring qood quality in care provision. Where councils have been judged to be good or better, joint commissioning arrangements are established and supported with effective contract monitoring arrangements. Further, a clear commitment to maintaining children and young people safely within their local communities has resulted in a reduction of children being placed in out-of-area placements. However, in most areas joint commissioning arrangements are under developed, particularly for children with learning difficulties and/or disabilities both within children's services and with partner agencies.

  27.  Nearly all local authorities have entered into some form of collaborative regional arrangement to strengthen their commissioning of out-of-area placements. Such initiatives have increased consistency in contracting practice but the impact on expenditure and providers' pricing strategies is less evident. High levels of expenditure arising from enhanced provision of individual support for children and young people within residential and foster homes is not always well evidenced by commissioners. Further, joint commissioning arrangements for children's placements are at an early stage of development in most areas. The gross weekly expenditure per looked after child in foster care or in a children's home has increased year on year. In 2006-07 the national average was £753 with variations between £467 and £1826. The proportion of local authorities judged to be performing below an acceptable level in relation to expenditure on looked after children has increased year on year to 40%.

  28.  Placement choice remains limited for nearly all children and in particular for children from black and ethnic minority communities, sibling group and children with complex needs. These children feature frequently amongst those who are placed more than 20 miles from their home. In 2006-07, 86% of local authorities, placed at least 14% of their looked after children more than 20 miles from their home.

  29.  The range of placements provided for looked after children spans a wide range of family and residential placements. The proportion placed with relatives and friends peaked in 2002 at 14% and has fallen to its lowest point of 12.7% in 2006-07. This is in part due to improved arrangements in many areas for discharging care orders following successful rehabilitation of children and young people with their families. The vast majority, 81% of children aged under 10 are placed in family placements. Support and training for foster carers is improving in most areas and some recent developments such as intensive treatment fostering schemes are contributing to improved outcomes for young people with challenging behaviours.

  30.  The quality of fostering and residential services is inconsistent and 10% of provision does not meet the national minimum standards and regulations for safeguarding children and young people. This has a direct impact on the health and safety of children within these settings. Inspections of fostering services conducted between 1 April and 31 December 2007 show that the quality of service is inconsistent and more so in the public sector. Inspections judged 76% of independent and 55% of local authority fostering services to be good or better. Seven per cent of independent and 10% of local authority fostering agencies were judged to be inadequate. Nine independent agencies ceased to operate from 1 April 2007. Inspections found the highest levels of concerns in independent fostering agencies related to Staying Safe, 8%, Being Healthy, 3% and organisation arrangements 7%. For local authority fostering agencies, levels of concern relating to Staying Safe and Organisation were higher at 10%, the same for Being Healthy and 5% for Making a Positive Contribution.

  31.  Inspections have found higher levels of concern about inconsistency in the quality of residential children's homes. Inspections conducted between 1 April 2007 and 31 December 2007 judged 61% as good or better and 10% as inadequate. During this period 143 homes have closed. Actions requiring providers to improve reveal there is a widespread failure to comply with regulations and national minimum standards. These failures impact directly on the health and safety of children and young people. The 10 most frequent actions are set out in Table 1. Concerns about compliance with health and safety requirements are compounded by less frequent but significant (7%) failure to comply with requirements for risk assessment to be completed and safe maintenance of gas, electrical and water equipment. One or more of the actions identified in Table 1 featured in 66% of all inspections. The findings from regulatory inspections contrast sharply with the outcomes of Joint Area Reviews which found that only one area is providing inadequate services for looked after children.

  32.  The role of staff in keeping children safe in children's homes is a critical feature that distinguishes good or outstanding providers. In these homes, children and young people talk positively about the support they receive. However, for some children, this is a key area for concern:

    One group told us that staff in their children's home were important in keeping them safe, and being people they could talk to. But, they said, their staff often spent a lot of their time in the staff office rather than with the children and young people, so couldn't see what was happening around the home, and weren't around to keep people as safe as they could have been. (OCDR JAN 2007 Children's views on the DCFS Priority Review)

Table 1


Action % of
inspections


1Compliance with fire regulations 18
2Safe management of medication 16
3Staff training15
4Quality of individual children's plans 12
5Safe recruitment practice 11
6Supervision of staff 10
7Administration of medication to children and young people 9
8Adequate staffing arrangements 9
9Compliance with child protection procedures 8
10Records of methods of control (behaviour management) 8




  33.  The evidence from inspection supports the proposal to strengthen arrangements for the enforcement of national minimum standards and regulations within children's homes and fostering services. Further, it supports a model for the proposed rolling programme for inspection of services for looked after children which more closely aligns findings from regulated settings with those of wider service inspections.

  34.  The stability of placements is improving overall. Short term placement stability has improved with a national average outturn of 12% of children having three or more placements in 2006-07. (PAF CF/A1) Over 93% of councils performed at a very good level against this indicator. With regard to longer term placement stability, a new indicator introduced in 2007 identified a national average outturn of 66 % of children who had been looked after continuously for at least 2.5 years, who were living in the same placement for at least two years, or are placed for adoption. (PAF CF/D78). However there is considerable variation in performance with 20% of local authorities performing below an acceptable level.

  35.  Planning arrangements for individual children and young people vary from outstanding to inadequate. Joint area reviews and inspections of regulated services have identified inconsistency in compliance with guidance and requirements in relation to assessment, recording practice and sharing of information between social workers, commissioners and providers of children's placements. Furthermore, whilst in nearly all areas children have individual care plans with supporting plans specific to the current placement and health and education arrangements and the quality of these plans is satisfactory or better overall, there is significant variation from very good to poor across and within local authorities.

  36.  Planning for permanence for looked after children is improving. Despite the gradually increasing numbers of children made subject to guardianship orders, the number of children adopted has stabilised in recent years at 8.3%. Numbers of children adopted in councils show significant variations year on year often due to ongoing delays in court proceedings but also to the significant proportion of children who are safely rehabilitated to the care of their families.

  37.  The numbers of asylum seeking children who are accommodated can form a substantial proportion of the looked after children population particularly in areas where numbers are small. Inspections have found that the quality of care planning and provision varies from outstanding to inadequate across local authorities for this group of children. In a few areas, the quality of service for this group of children and young people is poorer than for other looked after children and young people in those areas.

  38.  Compliance with arrangements for statutory reviews of care arrangements for looked after children has improved overall with a national outturn of 85% of reviews completed within timescales in 2006-07 (PAF CF/C68). However, 24% of local authorities are performing below an acceptable level with the lowest recorded in 2006-07 at 34%.

  39.  The quality of Children's guardians' practice in care related proceedings is inconsistent and some of it is inadequate. Inspections have found insufficient guidance within Cafcass as to how the tasks should be undertaken to ensure a consistent and high quality service, and a lack of transparency about the way assessments are undertaken. This disadvantages those adults whose parenting capacity is being scrutinised. Further, a key responsibility for children's guardians in care related cases is to validate the work undertaken by the local authority social worker. This role sometimes leads to boundary confusion, particularly about the respective functions of the children's guardians and the local authority social workers. Although stakeholders, including courts, voluntary and statutory agencies and service users, who were consulted during the inspection, considered the work of children's guardians was generally good, there was widespread concern that management arrangements for public law work were unsatisfactory. These stakeholders lack confidence that Cafcass effectively addresses issues of poor performance by its front-line staff.

  40.  Inspections found that progress has been made across Cafcass in developing management and quality assurance arrangements but that these are not yet fully effective. Part of this strategy includes a significant organisational restructuring in order to prioritise front-line services. These changes also aim to strengthen Cafcass's capacity to successfully play its part in the implementation of planned changes in how courts manage public law cases from April 2008 onwards ("the Public Law Outline").

EDUCATION

  41.  Arrangements to engage and support the education of looked after children and young people have been strengthened in most areas but are yet to make a significant impact on raising their attainment and attendance levels. Evidence from both Joint Area Reviews and regulatory inspections of children's services show that support and planning arrangements for looked after children in schools and their care placements have improved overall. Designated teachers for looked after children are effectively established in schools in nearly all areas. Most children and young people receive encouragement and assistance from their carers to attend and achieve in school. Whilst compliance across areas for all looked after children to have a personal education plan has increased substantially, the quality of these plans is inconsistent.

  42.  School attendance by looked after children is an area of serious concern. In 2006-07 the percentage of looked after children who missed at least 25 days of schooling, nationally, 13.3%, was higher than previously in 2004-05. (PAF CF/C24) The proportion of councils who are performing below an acceptable level in this area was 30% in 2006-07.

  43.  The proportion of children who achieve one of more GCSEs at Grade A*-G (PAF CF/A2) has shown year on year gradual improvement. This national average, however, masks considerable variation from 26% to 89%; and with performance in 20% of local authorities falling below an acceptable level. This very low measure of performance clearly demonstrates that the gap in attainment compared to other children is not narrowing.

  44.  Ten per cent (presumably this is a more recent figure than the 12% identified in the last AR?) of looked after children nationally leave care with five or more good GCSEs.(PI 3073SC) Whilst comparisons across local authorities are not reliable due to significant variations and some small cohorts of children, this level of performance nationally is unacceptable.

  45.  It is clear that the current arrangements for the provision of education for looked after children and young people are not impacting sufficiently on reducing the gap in attendance and attainment when compared to most children and young people. Inspections have identified that some local authorities are developing measures to track the progress of children which reflect the individual difficulties experienced by these children and young people. Examples include progress in development of language skills for children whose first language is not English and attainment of other qualifications for children who have difficulties in learning within a classroom setting. In a few areas, virtual schools have been developed but it is too early to judge whether these can deliver sustained improvements in education attendance or attainments.

  46.  Where councils were judged to be outstanding, joint working arrangements did not differ from elsewhere, yet the children had achieved better levels of performance. It is arguable that children who receive a good standard of care overall, are able to engage better in their education.

  47.  A recent small survey of 21 schools with particularly good practice in respect of looked after children identified the following key elements of their practice which were increasing the progress made by these pupils in these schools:

    —  a focus on looked after children within a framework of high expectations and good teaching and learning for all pupils, for example recognising that looked after children may well be gifted and talented;

    —  looked after children engaged in and taking responsibility for their learning;

    —  close monitoring of academic, social and personal progress;

    —  the involvement of looked after children in learning outside the classroom and after school activities;

    —  unified but low profile support in school for each looked after child so that they were not made to feel different from other children;

    —  swift and early intervention if a problem began to emerge, for example with behaviour or attendance; and

    —  the successful engagement of carers and parents wherever possible.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

  48.  Processes for monitoring the health and wellbeing of looked after children have improved in nearly all areas but one in five regulatory inspections of children's homes result in requirements to improve the quality of provision for their treatment and promotion of their health care. The national outturn for the percentage of children who had their teeth checked and an annual health assessment (PAF CF/C19) reached a very good level of 84%. Nearly all local authorities performed at a good or better level. This contrasts sharply with findings from regulatory inspections which found high levels of failure to comply with regulations and national minimum standards relating to the management of medication and the administration of medicine to children. (See Table 1). In addition, actions from regulatory inspections requiring improvements to the quality of individual health plans and access to health care provision to address identified health needs were made in 9% of all regulatory inspections.

  49.  Joint Area Reviews found that fast tracking arrangements for looked after children to specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and other therapeutic services were effective in nearly all areas for those with high levels of needs, such as risk of self harm or imminent placement breakdown. However, in some areas, children and young people who display lower levels of concern, such as behavioural difficulties, often have to wait long periods before having an assessment or treatment. These delays impact adversely on the wellbeing of the children and young people and on the quality of life for foster carers and their families.

  50.  High levels of physical and emotional needs have been identified in the group of young people who entered the care system as asylum seekers. Nearly all these young people have endured trauma, abuse or bereavement. In some local authorities, very good health care practices which are sensitive to the needs of this group have been developed in consultation with the young people concerned.

TRANSITION TO ADULTHOOD

  51.  Arrangements for preparing and helping young people to leave care have improved and are satisfactory or better in nearly all areas. Compliance with requirements for care leavers to have pathway plans and personal advisors is at a good or better level in nearly all areas. The majority of care leavers who met with inspectors during Joint Area Reviews said that services had improved and were very positive about the care leaving service. Transition planning for care leavers with profound learning difficulties and/or disabilities has also improved with good joint working arrangements between children and adults services having been maintained in most areas despite structural changes in local authorities.

  52.  The engagement of care leavers in education, employment and training is at a high level and 90% of local authorities are performing at a level judged by the performance assessment framework (PAF) as very good.[3] However, the quality of provision varies with some young people being occupied in activities which do not lead to qualifications or opportunities for employment. The best performing councils provide a fixed number of apprenticeships and other forms of employment for care leavers. Funding arrangements for care leavers are broadly consistent across most areas, with variations in incentives to achieve qualifications or to ease difficulties arising from transport difficulties particularly in rural areas.

  53.  The best performing authorities are providing opportunities for care leavers to remain within their foster carers or in supported accommodation. However, in some areas, young people are still required to live independently before they are ready.

  54.  Housing is the biggest concern for care leavers in nearly all areas, despite some good joint working arrangements between housing providers and children's services. Choice of accommodation is limited for nearly all care leavers and many feel unsafe within their localities.

    Many were keen to make the point that their accommodation was filthy, and that they did not feel particularly safe or secure. Other young people expressed concern at what they described as being forced to share residence with adults and other young people who they said they would never have been allowed to mix with whilst in care. (OCDR Jan 2007, Children's views for the DCFS Priority Review)

THE ROLE OF THE PRACTITIONER

  55.  The quality of front line social work practice across the range of provision for looked after children is adequate or better in nearly all areas. However, it is of concern that in a few areas it remains inadequate and impacts directly on the experience and well being of looked after children and young people. There are still significant concerns about the recruitment and retention of good quality staff. Evidence from both service and regulatory inspections for looked after children and the views of children and young people show that the quality of practice at the front line is the key feature that differentiates good or outstanding services for looked after children.

    "Recognise that staff and carers are important in children's lives. People working with children and young people must be the right people, properly recruited and checked." (Views of children and young people on the Care Standards Act OCRD Dec 2007)

  56.  In most areas, the practice established in children's homes of including young people in the selection of staff, has been extended to enhance selection procedures of wider groups of staff including social workers and managers.

  57.  Joint Area Reviews have found that whilst the allocation of looked after children to qualified social workers is just over 95% nationally, and that nearly all local authorities are performing near to this high level, children and young people in most areas continue to experience frequent changes of social workers. Much of this change arises from staff turnover, but some is also due to local arrangements for managing high caseloads. These impact adversely on continuity of planning and in delays in delivering the objectives of their care plans.

  58.  Vacancy rates in social work staff directly employed in children and families services have shown a downward trend over the past three years with a national average outturn of 11% in 2006-07. This masks significant variations across regions and local authorities between one and 38 %. Turnover rates of social work staff and levels of reliance on agency staff show similar trends. Strategic workforce plans are developing in most areas with some evidence of a positive impact on recruitment and retention rates in children's services. However, in some areas, workforce development strategies are yet to fully involve partner agencies and difficulties are compounded by pressures in recruitment of CAMHs workers, foster carers and adopters.

  59.  Inspections of regulated services show high levels of actions requiring services to improve their staffing arrangements. (See Table1) These include ensuring experienced and competent staff are employed in sufficient numbers for the safe running of the service and meeting the individual needs of children and young people. In sharp contrast to mostly good supervision arrangements for field social workers, compliance with requirements for the supervision of staff in children's homes is inadequate in 10% of children's homes.

  60.  Inspections found that access to training for front line staff is inconsistent. Evidence from Joint Area Reviews show that social workers have mostly good access to training particularly with regard to child protection. The proportion of social workers with the PQ1 qualification has increased to and national average of 56%. Access to training for foster carers and for staff working in children's home is more difficult. The percentage of residential child care workers with NVQ 3 has fallen well short of the national standard of 80% with a national average outturn of 56% in 2006-07. In 25% of local authorities, the proportion of staff achieving NVQ3 is less than 33%. This performance measure is consistent with findings of inspections which identified that 15% lead to actions requiring improvements in training. The most frequent training issues related to child protection procedures and behaviour management including restraint.

February 2008






3   Performance Assessment Framework indicator CF/A4 is defined as the ratio of the percentage of those young people who were looked after on 1 April in their 17th year (aged 16), who were engaged in education, training or employment at the age of 19 to the percentage of all young people in the population who were engaged in education, training or employment at the age of 19. The PAF banding of "Very good" is awarded to a local authority if the above ratio is above 0.6. Back


 
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