We’re standing up for the rights of teenagers in care
Article 39 is deeply disappointed with the Department for Education’s response to the growing revelations of harms suffered by children in care in unregulated accommodation – the majority of them teenagers aged 16 or 17.
The Department for Education:
1) Has changed the law to make sure that children in care aged 15 and younger always live in settings where they receive care. This legal change came into force on 9 September 2021. It benefits fewer than 100 children at any one time, leaving several thousand teenagers aged 16 and 17 without care where they live. We are legally challenging this change because we believe it discriminates against 16 and 17 year-olds, boys and children from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Families don’t stop caring for teenagers, and neither should the care system.
2) Is proposing four standards which organisations running supported accommodation in England will have to follow when 16 and 17 year-olds who are in care live in their property. These new standards will continue to allow organisations who own and run the accommodation to bypass the children’s homes quality standards.
The law says that any establishment which wholly or mainly provides care and accommodation to children up to the age of 18 must be registered as a children’s home with Ofsted. Children’s homes must follow the existing nine quality standards (which have been in law since 2015). The biggest problem, therefore, with the proposed new standards is that they deliberately miss out care, so that organisations do not have to follow the existing quality standards.
In addition, adults who have recently left prison and/or are struggling with addiction or mental health problems will still be able to live in these properties alongside teenagers in care. We want adults to get the right help too, but teenagers in care have their own needs and rights as children which should be met separately (though we support young adults who were in care being able to stay in their children’s homes for as long as they need to). It is not right that supported accommodation for adults can provide care (see the end of our answer to Question 2 below), yet teenagers in care are expected to go without.
3) Is proposing that Ofsted inspects supported accommodation where 16 and 17 year-olds who are in care live. However, the Department for Education suggests that it may not be necessary for each place to be inspected and the organisation managing the accommodation (called ‘providers’) could be inspected instead. It is asking for views on whether inspections should be provider-level or the accommodation itself.
Three-quarters of the organisations who run supported accommodation where children in care live are private companies. This means they run the places as a business to make profit. Often a company has many places where children in care live. The Department for Education suggests a selection of places (a sample) could be inspected, if there is support for provider-level inspection.
You can read our response to the Department for Education’s consultation below. The deadline to get views to the government is the end of Monday 19 July 2021.
QUESTION 1: To what extent do you believe that each of these indicators is helpful in determining whether a provider is delivering ‘care’ or ‘support’?
The indicators are very unhelpful.
The consultation document itself is clear that the government’s reasoning for developing these standards, and “much stronger” statutory guidance which distinguishes care and support, is to avoid providers of accommodation for looked after children having to register as children’s homes and meet the existing quality standards.
Children’s best interests should be at the heart of policy development (Article 3, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Section 7, Children and Young Persons Act 2008).
We do not accept the government’s arbitrary choice of 16 as the age when looked after children can be deemed to no longer need care. This is not what happens in families, including foster care where legislation was passed in 2014 to allow young people to ‘stay put’ until the age of 21.
All children who are looked after by the state should receive care within their home which is tailored to their individual needs, preferences and circumstances. This is not about stifling teenagers’ growing autonomy and capacity to make choices; it is about ensuring they can test out and enjoy new freedoms and opportunities while still having adults around to care for and guide them, in a way that works best for them.
QUESTION 2: Please explain your answer
Article 39 submitted a detailed response to the Department for Education’s 2020 consultation on unregulated provision for children in care and care leavers. This was based upon children and young people’s direct experiences, and the harms they have suffered in this type of accommodation. We are presently awaiting a decision from the High Court in response to our application for judicial review of the Secretary of State for Education’s decision to change the law so that children aged 15 or younger always live in regulated settings where they receive care. We contend that excluding 16 and 17 year-olds from this legal change is discriminatory.
We are also deeply concerned that the Department for Education failed to properly consider the views and experiences of young people who contributed to that consultation. The academics who were commissioned to analyse the responses were not asked to review young people’s contributions, and they formed no part of their published analysis.
Further, the Department for Education states in this latest consultation that over 70% of those who responded to its 2020 consultation supported the introduction of national standards. That consultation did not directly ask respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the introduction of national standards. Instead, it asked respondents two questions about the proposed standards:
- Please set out any positive and/or negative impact the introduction of new national standards would have
- Please set out any other areas you think should be covered in the new national standards
Article 39 obtained a copy of all of the responses to the 2020 consultation via a freedom of information request and a very significant proportion of respondents who expressed support for national standards explicitly referred to them having requirements around caring for children aged 16 and 17 and/or improving the quality of care for this group of children. We are not surprised that there is a general assumption that standards for accommodation for children in care would include care, since omitting such a requirement goes against the principles and provisions of the Children Act 1989 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as wider societal norms and expectations.
The introduction and context section of this latest consultation document states that, “We already set a high bar for the level of care that must be delivered in a children’s home or by a foster carer. This gives both the provider and the commissioner of these placements confidence that placements are high quality. We believe that we should pursue this for independent and semi-independent provision for 16- and 17-year-olds”.
The consultation document then proposes a set of four standards which are inferior to the existing quality standards for children’s homes (and fostering standards). The most serious omission is the quality standard relating to the care of children. We ask that the Department for Education look again at the care quality standard in the children’s homes regulations – Table 1 below – and ask which of these elements it considers looked after children aged 16 and 17 can manage without.
Children do not enter or stay in the care system for housing alone. Of the 80,080 children looked after on 31 March 2020, the primary reason for 65% of children being looked after by the state was abuse or neglect. The general duty of local authorities towards all looked after children (whether they are the subject of a care order, accommodated or have looked after status because they are on remand) is to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. We cannot see that this is possible without the provision of care where the child lives (tailored to their individual needs, views and circumstances).
The statutory corporate parenting principles in the Children and Social Work Act 2017 do not divide the parenting role and responsibilities of local authorities according to age, and families do not live like this either. They apply to all children and young people who are in care, and who were in care – up to the age of 25. How can these principles – see below – be fulfilled by local authorities without ensuring all children, including teenagers, have care available to them where they live?
|Corporate parenting principles: |
* To act in the best interests, and promote the physical and mental health and well-being, of those children and young people;
* To encourage those children and young people to express their views, wishes and feelings;
* To take into account the views, wishes and feelings of those children and young people;
* To help those children and young people gain access to, and make the best use of, services provided by the local authority and its relevant partners;
* To promote high aspirations, and seek to secure the best outcomes, for those children and young people; For those children and young people to be safe, and for stability in their home lives, relationships and education or work;
* To prepare those children and young people for adulthood and independent living.
Polling for the Together Trust asked parents (n=1,060) what they would expect a parent to provide to a child aged 16 and 17 and found that:
- 90% would expect parents to help children aged 16 or 17 cope with disappointment and setbacks.
- 87% would expect rules or agreements about behaviour in the home.
- 87% said they would expect parents to have time together just as a family.
- 83% would expect parents to check where children are at night and give permission where necessary.
- 88% would expect parents to help children prepare for university.
- 80% said they would expect parents to help children with their studies.
The law requires that children remain in education or training until the age of 18. We refer the Department for Education to some of the responses it received to its prior consultation, including:
Staff noted that under the current proposal, it is still possible for a young person in Year 11 to have to undertake their final year of secondary school in semi-independent accommodation. In reality this would mean that there might be no-one would be there to support with homework, to prepare and cook their meals, and to wash their uniform – large, national children’s charity
No one under 16 should be in semi-independent accommodation, but we need to go one step further and include if they are 16 and still at school. As a parent, I did not make my 18 year old leave home. We need the same expectations for our care experienced and provision needs extending to 25 – local authority
The ban should extend until 16 year olds have finished Year 11 at school to prevent disruption to their education – national provider of semi-independent accommodation
I have seen young people who are 15yo push their social workers into letting them go early but they were not ready to have such minimal support when trying to go to high school every day as they were not mature enough to maintain good attendance – police
The Department for Education’s own data shows that 4 in every 10 children who currently live in unregulated provision went there within less than a week of entering care. Our analysis of responses to the Department’s first consultation on unregulated accommodation found overwhelming concern (including among young people) that there are not enough homes for children in care. This is why teenagers are increasingly being put by local authorities into unregulated accommodation, not because individual needs assessments (which must always include the child’s wishes and feelings) have concluded that the best arrangement is for them to live in a setting devoid of care and supervision. The Department for Education’s own data shows the exponential rise in the use of this type of accommodation for 16 and 17 year-olds:
- On 31 March 2010, there were 40 looked after children aged 10 to 15 years living in settings deemed to be ‘independent accommodation’.
- By 31 March 2019, this figure had reduced to 20 children (it had halved).
- On 31 March 2010, there were 60 looked after children aged 10 to 15 years living in settings deemed to be ‘semi-independent accommodation’.
- By 31 March 2019, this figure had increased to 70 children (17% increase).
- On 31 March 2010, there were 2,390 looked after children aged 16 and 17 years living in settings deemed to be ‘independent accommodation’.
- By 31 March 2019, this figure had increased to 3,370 children (41% increase).
- On 31 March 2010, there were 940 looked after children aged 16 and 17 years living in settings deemed to be ‘semi-independent accommodation’.
- By 31 March 2019, this figure had increased to 2,710 children (188% increase).
Table 1: Care standard in children’s homes quality standards
|The quality and purpose of care standard|
6.—(1) The quality and purpose of care standard is that children receive care from staff who—
(a)understand the children’s home’s overall aims and the outcomes it seeks to achieve for children;(b)use this understanding to deliver care that meets children’s needs and supports them to fulfil their potential.
(2) In particular, the standard in paragraph (1) requires the registered person to—
(a)understand and apply the home’s statement of purpose;
(b)ensure that staff—
(i)understand and apply the home’s statement of purpose;
(ii)protect and promote each child’s welfare;
(iii)treat each child with dignity and respect;
(iv)provide personalised care that meets each child’s needs, as recorded in the child’s relevant plans, taking account of the child’s background;
(v)help each child to understand and manage the impact of any experience of abuse or neglect;
(vi)help each child to develop resilience and skills that prepare the child to return home, to live in a new placement or to live independently as an adult;
(vii)provide to children living in the home the physical necessities they need in order to live there comfortably;
(viii)provide to children personal items that are appropriate for their age and understanding; and
(ix)make decisions about the day-to-day arrangements for each child, in accordance with the child’s relevant plans, which give the child an appropriate degree of freedom and choice;
(c)ensure that the premises used for the purposes of the home are designed and furnished so as to—
(i)meet the needs of each child; and
(ii)enable each child to participate in the daily life of the home; and(d)ensure that any care that is arranged or provided for a child that—
(i)relates to the child’s development (within the meaning of section 17(11) of the Children Act 1989) or health; and
(ii)is not arranged or provided as part of the health service continued under section 1(1) of the National Health Service Act 2006,satisfies the conditions in paragraph (3).
(3) The conditions are—
(a)that the care is approved, and kept under review throughout its duration, by the placing authority;
(b)that the care meets the child’s needs;
(c)that the care is delivered by a person who—
(i)has the experience, knowledge and skills to deliver that care; and
(ii)is under the supervision of a person who is appropriately skilled and qualified to supervise that care; and
(d)that the registered person keeps the child’s general medical practitioner informed, as necessary, about the progress of the care throughout its duration.
While the number of teenagers in care has increased significantly over the past decade, this does not correspond to the even higher number of children being put into unregulated accommodation. There was a 33% increase in children aged 16 and 17 in care in England between 31 March 2010 and 2019 yet, as shown above, the use of unregulated semi-independent accommodation for this group of children increased by 188%.
Table 2 below sets out the purpose of the children’s homes nine quality standards, next to the proposed four national standards for independent and semi-independent accommodation for 16 and 17 year-olds. The official summary of the purpose of each standard is also provided.
Table 2: Headline comparison of existing quality standards and proposed national standards
|Existing children’s homes quality standards||Proposed national standards for independent and semi-independent provision|
|Quality and purpose of care standard|
Children receive care from staff who:
– understand the children’s home’s overall aims and the outcomes it seeks to achieve for children;
– use this understanding to deliver care that meets children’s needs and supports them to fulfil their potential.
|Children’s views, wishes and feelings standard|
Children receive care from staff who:
– develop positive relationships with them;
– engage with them; and
– take their views, wishes and feelings into account in relation to matters affecting the children’s care and welfare and their lives.
Children make measurable progress towards achieving their educational potential and are helped to do so.
|Enjoyment and achievement standard |
Children take part in and benefit from a variety of activities that meet their needs and develop and reflect their creative, cultural, intellectual, physical and social interests and skills.
|Health and well-being standard |
The health and well-being standard is that:
– the health and well-being need of children are met;
– children receive advice, services and support in relation to their health and well-being; and
– children are helped to lead healthy lifestyles.
|Positive relationships standard |
Children are helped to develop, and to benefit from, relationships based on:
– mutual respect and trust;
– an understanding about acceptable behaviour; and
– positive responses to other children and adults.
|Protection of children standard |
Children are protected from harm and enabled to keep themselves safe.
This standard should ensure that young people feel safe and their needs are met.
|Leadership and management standard|
The registered person enables, inspires and leads a culture in relation to the children’s home that:
– helps children aspire to fulfil their potential; and
– promotes their welfare.
|Leadership and management standard|
This standard should enable a young person to have confidence in the organisation providing their accommodation and support, and the people responsible for running it.
|Care planning standard |
The care planning standard is that children:
– receive effectively planned care in or through the children’s home; and
– have a positive experience of arriving at or moving on from the home.
This standard should ensure that young people experience a comfortable and secure environment.
This standard should ensure that young people experience high quality, tailored support.
As the Table above illustrates, the proposed four standards deliberately omit a great many ordinary features of caring for growing children in addition to the help which teenagers in care often need to recover from extremely difficult experiences. This is why the nine quality standards are so vital.
Moreover, the indicators proposed by the Department for Education to distinguish between care and support are problematic in themselves too. For example:
- The indicator about children going outside the establishment without the permission of staff fails to specify the circumstances in which this would be necessary in a regulated settings providing care. It inaccurately suggests that children in settings where they receive care are deprived of their liberty.
- The indicator about children having full control of their own finances wrongly suggests looked after children living in settings where they receive no care are able (legally and practically ) to have full control of their finances. This would mean them having full control of paying their rent and utility bills, which does not reflect what happens in reality. Children aged 16 and 17 who are looked after by local authorities are required by law to be in education or training and they are unable to claim social security (see universal credit eligibility rules here). Only in very exceptional circumstances will such children have independent means to fund their accommodation and living expenses themselves.
- The indicator about children having control over what they wear and resources to buy clothes inaccurately suggests that teenagers living in care settings are not able to exercise choice and control over what they wear. This indicator further suggests that looked after teenagers in non-care settings have their own resources for clothes, which is different from the arrangements for looked after children living in care settings. Statutory guidance issued by the Department for Education in respect of children’s homes makes it clear that children should be encouraged to exercise freedom and choice over many aspects of their care arrangements, including clothing.
- The indicator about children being in charge of all of their health needs including medication again creates a false binary between children in care and non-care settings. The reference to arranging specialist health care appointments is shocking since it suggests that it is legitimate for looked after children who have health conditions to be placed in accommodation lacking in day-to-day care and adult supervision, and to have to arrange their own specialist health care appointments. The Department for Education will recall from its 2020 consultation those responses which explained the challenges in graphic detail. For example, YMCA said: “Young people have shared with us stories where due to their mental health, the care that they were placed in was not able to meet their needs and so they were relocated”. The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium told the Department for Education about a young person who had lived with foster carers and then in semi-independent accommodation: “He has consistently said that he is unhappy, that he feels unsafe, and that he is worried that people will hurt him or steal from him. All of his material needs have been met, and it was clear from very early on that he had significant unmet needs in terms of his mental health. These were not addressed at all throughout four different placement breakdowns. He is now currently under the care of a mental health hospital and is receiving the care he needs. However, he was asking for this for at least six months before he had a full assessment”. The North West Association of Directors of Children’s Services asked in its response for semi-independent accommodation providers to be able to take children to hospital appointments and support them through bereavements – “It may be useful for any legislative definition [of care] to articulate ‘exceptional circumstances’ – which would be limited by nature – in which support may be flexibly and temporarily increased or have the characteristics of care. Examples could include provision of transport to hospital in an emergency, or additional support arising from situations such as a bereavement”. This request should have stopped the Department for Education in its tracks, and made it realise what it is doing by legitimating in law and policy the absence of care. No child in care should ever have to face attending a hospital appointment or going through bereavement without emotional and practical help from an adult carer.
- The indicator about staff access to medical records suggests that data protection law and the right to respect for private life (Article 8, European Convention on Human Rights / Human Rights Act) apply differently in care and non-care settings. However, these legal protections follow the child, not the setting. Similarly, placement plans and pathway plans require details of children’s health needs irrespective of setting.
- The indicator about children choosing to stay away overnight without staff permission epitomises the lack of adult supervision, care and guidance the Department for Education is willing to tolerate for teenagers in care. Families (including foster families) and staff working in caring settings routinely have arrangements in place which balance teenagers’ growing autonomy with respectful care and protection. Staying overnight with friends who are themselves cared for and supported is entirely different from a teenager ‘choosing’ to stay overnight with older adults who coerce and exploit them.
- On the indicator around sanctions policy, the Department for Education appears to be unaware of the often very strict policies in place in semi-independent accommodation which go well beyond what would be acceptable in families and other caring settings. In the consultation session facilitated by Article 39 (observed by a DfE civil servant), young people recounted their friends having to show passports or other forms of ID before being allowed to enter their bedrooms or flats, being issued with warnings (with the threat of eviction) for not tidying their rooms, missing support sessions or fighting and security guards being present at the property at night. One young person referred to this type of environment being “borstal-type accommodation”; another said it feels like prison.
- The indicator about adults living in the property having the same or different arrangements appears to legitimate vulnerable children living alongside adults who are not themselves care leavers but are in supported accommodation following their release from prison and/or because they have significant addiction and mental health problems – as highlighted by the Children’s Commissioner in her 2020 investigation. The needs and rights of children in care are different from vulnerable adults (who were not themselves formerly looked after).
- The indicator about there being significant periods of time on a regular basis when looked after children are without direct staff supervision appears to legitimate vulnerable children in the care of the state not having adults available to reassure and deal with practical emergencies (such as running out of food, power cuts, flooding, break-ins or a household fire) and not having adults available to talk through and deal with challenging experiences which have happened within or outside the accommodation. The cumulative effect of regularly not having adults available for significant periods of time is communicating to children that they are on their own. This is not acceptable for a ‘care system’.
- The final three indicators – relating to after care, documents describing care and the arrangements for specialist support services – serve to emphasise what is being deliberately designed out of the ‘care system’ for 16 and 17 year-olds, and entrenched in law. These do not serve the interests of children.
For the avoidance of doubt, we consider each of the 12 indicators to be ‘very unhelpful’.
Finally, we draw the Department for Education’s attention to the government’s guidance on supported housing for adults, issued October 2020. This includes a minimum standard (under general expectations and suitability) that the
“Housing is accessible, suitably located, appropriate and suitable to meet the needs of residents, including health, care and support needs.”
QUESTION 3: Do you agree that the Government should define all of this provision as ‘supported accommodation for older children’ in future?
QUESTION 4: Please explain your answer, including any alternative suggestions
Formalising ‘supported accommodation for older children’ seriously risks legitimating current decision-making and practice which has developed during austerity with local authorities struggling to meet the needs of children and families, and the lack of any national strategy for the care of vulnerable children. It is not in children’s best interests to base policy on the misapprehension that children who need the state to care for and protect them can manage without care and supervision from the age of 16.
The government’s emerging policy on 16 and 17 year-olds in care is taking us back decades when children in care were expected to fend for themselves and live independently from the age of 16. This is not how families operate, and it is not how fostering works. Children living with their families or with foster carers are not routinely put into shared accommodation or ‘trainer flats’ from the age of 16 in order to build their independence. Families work on mutuality and interdependence over the whole life course; they do not operate on the basis that children will, from 16 or 18, have to stand alone in the world.
We have consistently advocated one set of quality standards for all forms of residential care, just as there is in fostering.
The children’s homes quality standards currently apply to:
- Children’s homes
- Residential special schools when children live there for more than 295 days a year
- Boarding schools when children live there for more than 295 days a year
- Children’s homes providing short break care
- Secure children’s homes
They will also apply to secure schools / secure 16 to 19 academies.
In our response to the Department for Education’s 2020 consultation, we suggested that children and young people be asked about a new description for children’s homes. There remains much prejudice and stigma around children’s homes, illustrated by consistent community hostility to the opening of these establishments. A term such as ‘children and young people’s house’ may be preferable. An overarching term like ‘children’s and young people’s residential care’ could be useful for all of the different settings which come under the umbrella of the quality standards. The reality is that the vast majority of children living in this type of accommodation are aged 14 to 17 years. A change in terminology could help to dispel public prejudice against teenagers living in this type of accommodation while also conveying dignity and respect.
QUESTION 5: Please provide examples of the types of independent or semi-independent provision that exist in the sector. For local authorities responding, this may be types of provision that you commission or, for providers, this may be a description of the service you offer. We are keen to hear a range of perspectives on this. These may be broad categories of provider types or bespoke examples.
a) What do you call the type of provision(s) that you use/deliver?
b) Could you tell us about the provision, including who the provision accommodates, and how the needs of those accommodated are met through different forms of support?
c) What are the positive features and characteristics of the provision that you would want to retain in future?
d) What are the negative features and characteristics of the provision that you would not want to retain in future?
The information requested above should have been obtained by the Department for Education before it decided to introduce secondary legislation to make it a requirement that children in care aged 15 or younger always live in environments where they receive care. We believe this discriminates against 16 and 17 year-olds and will lead to more teenagers this age being pushed into unsuitable accommodation many miles from home. The data published by the Department for Education in February 2020 showed that 45% of children in care in semi-independent accommodation were living outside their home local authority (31 March 2019 data).
QUESTION 6: Are there examples of where it would be appropriate to place a looked after child or care leaver aged 16 or 17 in a setting that does not deliver any care or support?
We cannot imagine any set of circumstances where it would be acceptable for a teenager in care not to have care or support available to them where they live. Children and young people’s needs can change very quickly, whether they live with their parents, or are in care. It is not acceptable that teenagers who, for a period of time, need extra care and attention – due to bereavement, difficulties at school or college or family relationships or friendships changing, for example – have to move to get this. The Department for Education’s plans are entrenching instability into the care system, which is detrimental to growing teenagers. Those who manage and work within establishments should be able to adapt what they offer and provide in accordance with each child’s individual needs and circumstances – just as happens within loving families.
Families (including foster families) and children’s homes adapt the care, protection, support and guidance they provide to 16 and 17 year-olds in response to their changing and developing individual needs. This is what central government should be supporting (including through sufficient funding to local authorities) rather than trying to give legitimacy to the absence of care.
We are deeply disappointed that this consultation does nothing to address the needs and rights of 16- and 17-year-olds who are not in care and are living alone in unregulated accommodation without care from their families. Freedom of information research by Just for Kids Law found around 2,500 teenagers a year are being put into accommodation by councils under housing legislation rather than the Children Act 1989. This means they are not receiving the care and protection that should come from being looked after, and they are denied leaving care entitlements including vital financial support.
QUESTION 7: Please explain your answer
We explained in our response to the 2020 consultation why all looked after children must receive care. Please also see our answers to questions 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 above.
QUESTION 8: Are the proposed national standards missing anything that you would expect of any provider of independent and/or semi-independent provision?
The children’s homes quality standards should apply to all forms of residential care. This will require dedicated funding from national government and a national strategy for children and young people’s residential care, which should also include Staying Put.
QUESTION 9: Are there any elements of the proposed national standards that you think would be difficult for providers to implement?
QUESTION 10: Which elements of the proposed national standards do you expect would carry the most significant costs? Please explain your answer, providing estimates of cost where possible.
QUESTION 11: How much do you expect the costs of provision to increase by if these national standards are introduced? Please explain your answer, providing estimates of cost where possible.
The children’s homes quality standards should apply to all forms of residential care. This will require dedicated funding from national government and a national strategy for children’s residential care.
QUESTION 12: What do you think the main advantages would be of a model where Ofsted registers and inspect at individual-setting level?
Registration and inspection at individual-setting level would ensure the quality of care, protection and support, as experienced by children and young people, can be assessed and monitored.
QUESTION 13: What do you think the main disadvantages would be of a model where Ofsted registers and inspect at individual-setting level?
QUESTION 14: What do you think the main advantages would be of a model where Ofsted registers and inspects at provider level?
Provider level inspection of multiple residential settings would not be in the interests of children and young people.
QUESTION 15: What do you think the main disadvantages would be of a model where Ofsted registers and inspects at provider level?
The primary purpose of inspection must be to check that children and young people are receiving high quality care, protection and support which meets their needs and fulfils their rights. The inspection process needs to become more, not less, connected to children and young people’s day-to-day experiences. Provider-level inspection takes the focus from children and young people’s experiences and feelings about their home and the staff employed to look after them. It risks the process being predominantly about the perspective and presentation of the organisation running the service. It gives an advantage to larger providers and builds-in safeguarding risks as the larger the provider the more they will be able to hide poor practice and unsuitable living environments from inspectors.
Successive inquiries and investigations, from the 1990s onwards, have consistently underlined the human rights and safeguarding risks inherent in institutional settings. The Independent Inquiry into Children Sexual Abuse found that “children in residential settings are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse by adults working in those settings who are responsible for their welfare”. It is vital that children and young people know about the purpose and process of inspection; that they can meet inspectors themselves in a private and comfortable space; and they also know how to raise concerns with Ofsted.
QUESTION 16: If you think an alternative model would be appropriate, please explain this.
Provider-level reviews of policies and general arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children could be a separate process from setting-specific inspections.
The universal application of the children’s homes quality standards would mean each establishment is visited each month by an independent person whose focus is to assure children are effectively safeguarded. We believe the independent person role needs further development to ensure its independence from providers.
In addition, we recommend routine ‘exit interviews’ after children and young people have left the home, which can feed into inspections. Independent advocates could undertake these routine exit interviews, providing information directly to Ofsted.
We also believe that every child (and their parents whenever possible) entering a residential setting should be positively informed of the role of Ofsted and provided with a named contact should they ever have concerns about the care, safety and protection of children living there.
QUESTION 17: How often do you think providers and/or settings should be inspected? Please explain your answer, including if you think this inspection should be at provider- level or individual-setting level, as set out in the previous question.
We consider the established arrangement of twice-yearly inspections of children’s homes remains necessary. (The legal requirement for this was temporarily suspended due to COVID-19).
Department for Education consultation documents can be found here (deadline Monday 19 July 2021):