Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)|
CBE, VANESSA HOWLISON,
9 FEBRUARY 2009
Q380 Mr Timpson: It seems from
this announcement that you give specific prominence to child protection
in your wide remit as an inspectorate of children's services.
It would be helpful to know how that came about. Is it a reaction
to the findings in Haringey or was it discussed prior to those
events and envisaged regardless of them?
Christine Gilbert: It was discussed
prior to those events and the draft proposals were published last
September. They were out for consultation. To be fair, we will
add more time than we would have added in September. We have reflected
hard on what went on, and on what we saw in Haringey. We have
added to the inspection inspector days in the authority that will
look at what is going on there. However, the proposals were all
written out in September.
Q381 Mr Timpson: In your annual
report, there is a list of failings that are still too prevalent
throughout children's services. Of private fostering arrangements,
about 27% were inadequate. Almost 200 children's homes were still
rated as inadequate. How will the new inspecting regime that replaces
APAs and JARs be different in managing the risks that you know
are out there? I apologise for using so many colloquial terms.
Christine Gilbert: Individual
inspections of children's homes will carry on. Private fostering
is another matter, because the CSCI did one year of inspections
and we are doing two. That is not bound in legislation and I will
come back to that in a moment. We will continue to inspect children's
homes as we do now. That may change over the coming year as the
inspection framework changes and as the new minimum standards
come in. The inspections will carry on and we will continue to
re-inspect homes that are inadequate more quickly. The difference
from the APA is that we will look at the children's homes in an
area and at the authority's commissioning of placements in children's
homes. We will then make a judgment on whether the service the
children are getting is good, inadequate and so on. That will
influence the overall rating for the authority.
Q382 Mr Timpson: Is this a recognition
that APAs were not working?
Christine Gilbert: APAs had a
three-year life. When I came to Ofsted, I tried to make some changes
in year 2. To be fair, those were not the changes that we are
making now. It was very difficult to do that. The commitment had
been given to local authorities that there would not be many changes
in the final year. We had sent out proposals to make some changes.
For example, an authority could not be satisfactory or good if
it was inadequate in the areas of living safely and safeguarding.
I said that we would come back with more radical plans the following
year, which is what we did. APA was of its time, and I never thought
that it got sufficiently underneath some of the issues on the
ground. That is why we made the changes that we did last September.
Q383 Mr Timpson: Perhaps I can
put it like this. Are you confident that the new inspection regime
that you are bringing in will be better at rooting out substandard
practice as well as promoting good practice where it is found
throughout the rest of children's services in other local authorities?
Christine Gilbert: I am more confident
that it will be more effective in doing those things than the
Q384 Mr Timpson: When you gave
evidence on 10 December, during one of the comments that you made
about looking forward to an inspection in the area of child protection
and children's services you said, "We need to get underneath
the practice of social work, which involves not only looking at
what social workers do, but detailed discussions with users about
what they think." With these new annual inspections, will
there be a greater emphasis on speaking to those on the front
line and users of children's services, in order to try and form
a judgment as to whether the service that has been provided is
of the highest quality that we expect?
Christine Gilbert: There will
be some attempt to do that, but there will not be a lot of time
to do it in the time that we are there. We are carrying out an
annual survey of the views of social workers and usersthere
are two different sorts of surveys. We want to hear the views
of users, which will inform and influence us as we go into an
Q385 Mr Timpson: The availability
of support to care leavers is something that comes up again and
again. We certainly debated it on a number of occasions during
the passage of the Children and Young Persons Bill. Will the inspectorate
look at support for care leavers as part of its remit, and will
it be on an annual basis rather than the three-year cycle of the
comprehensive area assessment?
Christine Gilbert: We will look
at that issue in detail in the three-year assessment. The short
inspection is mainly focused on assessment, referral and those
sorts of things. If those matters show up issues that worry us
deeply, we will bring the inspection forward. It will help us
in our timetabling of the inspections. We are going to do the
safeguarding inspection and the inspection for looked-after children
together. Those inspections, particularly of looked-after children,
will address the issue that you have identified. We are also worried
about that matter; it is identified in both the annual report
and the safeguarding report. Although there have been significant
improvements, there are still a number of serious weaknesses in
Q386 Paul Holmes: I do not know
whether this has already been touched on, but in the evidence
that we took, one of the starkest experiences was talking to children
who were leaving care aged about 16, 17 and 18. Their experiences
of leaving care, and what happened to them at that stage, were
widely varied around the country. You said that inspectors will
talk to service users. How much emphasis will there be on talking
to children in that situation about what they have experienced?
Christine Gilbert: Absolutely,
there will be. However, we will not just be waiting for the three-year
inspection. We take a number of issues and look at them in some
detail. For example, Roger Morgan has a weekly texting system
with children in care regarding a particular question or issue.
That issue has been brought up time and time again by those children.
For example, one of the things that they are most concerned about
is the lack of decent housing on leaving care.
Q387 Paul Holmes: Let us go back
to what has already been talked about, the fairly high number
of private fostering arrangements and care homes that are judged
not to be adequate or to be inadequate. How often do they get
re-inspected? With a school in special measures, the process is
very short and brutal. What happens in this instance?
Christine Gilbert: They are two
separate things. For private fostering, there are no arrangementsthat
is one of the things that we shall be recommending in a report
to be published in a couple of weeks. I am talking about this
at a conference.
Q388 Chairman: Is that 11 February?
Christine Gilbert: I am doing
a talk on 11 February.
Q389 Chairman: But the real report
is coming out on Wednesday?
Christine Gilbert: The report
will be a little later, because we want to put some other things
in that were not there. Essentially, I shall be talking about
the headlines of the report on Wednesday. So, that is one of things
that we think should happenthere should be another system.
There is some agreement, I understand, for one three-year phase,
and this is the last year. We do not know what will happen, so
we are in negotiation with the DCSF about that being extended.
That is separate, because the pattern is still a very poor one
in terms of inadequacywith the same sort of figure now
that was quoted a moment ago, even up to 82.
Q390 Paul Holmes: Is it not very
worrying that there is no vigorous follow-up on private fostering
arrangements and care homes?
Christine Gilbert: Care homes
are different. It is worrying that there is no follow-up with
private fostering. It has really just been coming to the surface
of people's attention.
Q391 Paul Holmes: At the same
time, there is pressure for the expansion of the use of private
fostering arrangements, rather than the normal council-based ones.
So, the Government are urging greater use of a system that is
not inspected very well and, when it is inspected, is found to
be not very satisfactory.
Christine Gilbert: It is not that
it is not inspected very well. Whatever the agreement was with
the CSCI, it was that this area be inspected for three years.
It is not, unlike the other things that we do, built into legislation
in some way. Children's homes are very different. We inspect them
regularly. If a home is inadequate, we are back generally within
three months to see what is going on. The real worry with children's
homes, particularly the inadequate ones, is that they are so volatile,
in a way that schools and other areas are not. That is the biggest
pattern that we are worried about and want to try and focus attention
Q392 Chairman: May I clarify,
Chief Inspector? Your report that is coming out on private fosteringthat
is only where a local authority uses a private sector company
to arrange the fostering.
Christine Gilbert: No.
Q393 Chairman: That is what I
am taking, but from Paul's question to you, that is not the case,
Christine Gilbert: No.
Q394 Chairman: It is any local
authority using families to provide fostering.
Christine Gilbert: What we are
talking about is the sort of situation that Victoria Climbié
was in, when she was fostered with a relative and no one knew
about the arrangement at all. There are all sorts of questions
about whether the right number are being identified and so on.
Q395 Chairman: So, the report
of yours that is about to come out is about that sort of arrangement
and not about using private sector companies to find foster parents.
Christine Gilbert: Yes. I thought
you were looking blank.
Chairman: I wanted to make it clear that
that was the case.
Q396 Fiona Mactaggart: Thank you,
Chief Inspector, for your letter of 29 January following my questions
on 10 December about safeguarding and safeguarding procedures
with your inspections.
On reading the safeguarding policy, which is good in many ways,
I am concerned that it does not connect the safeguarding strategies
enough to inspection reporting. My anxiety is in cases where there
are reasons to be concerned about safeguarding. Your policy rightly
focuses on current cases, but it also recognises cases that might
be historic. In such cases, parents and others are very concerned
to ensure that the issue has been addressed and dealt with and,
for example, where staff at a school have been convicted of abuse,
that there is not any problem remaininga ghost of the issue.
Your policy does not seem to ensure that this is addressed in
inspections. I cannot believe that that is right.
Christine Gilbert: Can I reassure
you then? Earlier, I was asked some questions about the changes
that are taking place, and I talked about looking at the different
inspection and regulation remits that we have. What we have done
as a result of that review is insert a judgment on safeguarding
for every single inspection and regulation remit. That will happen
now in every single one of our remits.
Q397 Fiona Mactaggart: Will your
inspectors be asked to look at the history of the issue, as well
as the current policy in the school, in relation to employment
and things like that?
Christine Gilbert: The inspectors
will look at employment and those sorts of things, but they would
not always knowunless there had been a reason for their
attention to have been drawn, and in some cases they would be
drawn to ask about the historyif there had been a particular
case or something. Is that what you are asking about?
Q398 Fiona Mactaggart: Yes, I
suppose that it is. All those incidents are reportedthere
is a reporting centre in Darlington, where serious incidents are
always reported, is there not? Therefore, that data must be available
Christine Gilbert: The investigation
would not wait for an inspectionthat would take place straight
away. I do not think that it is automatic that we get that information
from anywhere. I would ask Miriam whether that is the case for,
for instance, school inspections.
Miriam Rosen: We would not necessarily
be informed if there had been a prosecution in a school, but we
would look in detail at what was happening in the school at the
time of the inspection.
Q399 Fiona Mactaggart: I understand
that. What I am concerned about is the footprint of previous issues.
They create footprints that are not necessarily obvious, unless
you are aware of previous history. I am wondering why you do not
automatically check to see whether there was an issue in a school
that you were investigating and reporting.
Miriam Rosen: We check to see
whether there is a current issue.
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