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08.04.14

LGA attacks Ofsted over children in council care report

The Local Government Association (LGA) says Ofsted’s new report on looked after children is “disappointing” and says the regulator is just “jumping on the bandwagon”. 

Ofsted has demanded that local authorities improve the care of looked after children living in care homes far away from their families. 

But Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Ofsted are jumping on the bandwagon again with this rather than offering constructive suggestions, especially as Ofsted is directly responsible for inspecting children’s homes provision.” 

The new report – ‘From a distance: looked after children living away from their home area’ – examined how well local authorities carry out their responsibilities for looked after children, tracking 92 cases where children live outside of their home local authority. 

Inspectors saw many cases where children were well-settled in their placements, and examples of good practice from individual social workers, who worked well to establish beneficial relationships, maintaining regular contact with young people despite the long distances involved. 

However, in nearly half the cases tracked, children and young people arrived in new areas without the right specialist support being in place for them. In a third of cases, the quality of the support and help offered by services out of area had not been properly considered. 

Debbie Jones, Ofsted’s national director for social care, said: “Becoming looked after is difficult enough for any young person, even more so when they move away from their family, friends, and familiar surroundings to a unfamiliar place, without proper access to the help and support they so desperately need. 

“Given the serious risks sometimes associated with out of area placements, corporate parents must prioritise and understand the needs of this group – particularly as the numbers of looked after children living out of area are only set to rise.” 

In the report, Ofsted has recommended that central government should review the “impact and effectiveness” of recent changes to the regulations that strengthen the requirements and duties placed on local authorities and children’s home providers to share information. 

Additionally, local authorities should carry out their responsibilities as corporate parents “properly”, ensuring that they give high priority to the needs of looked after children living out of their local area. 

They should also notify local agencies promptly before placements are made whenever a child moves into another local authority area, to ensure that appropriate health and educational services are immediately available. Councils have also been told they should give these children the same opportunities to influence the planning and delivery of services that are available to all children looked after. 

However, Cllr Simmonds said: “The biggest concern for councils is the welfare of the children they care for, and the flexibility to place children away from the area where abuse or neglect has brought them into the care system can be a vital way of giving them a new beginning away from these problems. 

“There are very good reasons why some children in residential homes are placed outside their home area. This could be for their own safety, to break gang affiliation, to place them near other family members or to access specialist services. 

“Residential children's homes play an important role in caring for some of the most vulnerable children in society at difficult times in their lives and councils have a key role in making this happen.” 

A Department for Education official added that every child deserves a safe and stable home. They added that the department has also increased transparency about the location and quality of children's homes, and is working closely with Ofsted to improve inspection. 

“We have been clear that children should only be placed out of area when it is in their best interest. We have already changed the rules so that any such decision must be approved by a senior council official,” said the spokesperson in a statement. “There are now clearer expectations for children's homes, police and councils to ensure they work closely together when children are at risk of going missing.” 

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