On 17th March 2020, Ofsted suspended all routine inspections in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a part of their phased return to routine inspections, Ofsted have been carrying out ‘assurance visits’ to children’s social care providers. Assurance visits commenced in September 2020 and are expected, at present, to continue until March 2021. Ofsted have now released a summary of their findings from assurance visits undertaken with 161 social care providers, between 1st September and 4th December 2020. The focus of the summary relates to findings from secure children’s homes and those in independent foster care.
Secure children’s homes
Ofsted’s findings highlight, in particular, the negative impact COVID-19 measures have had on children’s mental wellbeing. Ofsted highlight that the requirement for children to isolate for 14 days when they move into a secure children’s home has increased anxiety; both for children and staff. It is, in effect, 14 days of solitary confinement. The increase in anxiety in some cases has resulted in children physically attacking others or self-harming. Staff shortages as a result of the pandemic have also had an impact on children’s feelings of safety and the use of temporary staff who did not have experience of working within secure children’s homes led to a reduction in their confidence.
An important positive finding highlighted by Ofsted, however, is that children in secure children’s homes received individualised support to continue their education. In some cases, Ofsted found that children were more engaged in education than before the pandemic.
Independent fostering agencies
In relation to independent fostering agencies (IFA’s), Ofsted found that when children responded negatively to COVID-19 restrictions, supervising social workers helped foster carers to understand how children’s fears and anxieties might influence their actions. IFA’s were found to have been sensitive to carers’ own needs and tailored help and support in order to meet these. Ofsted highlight that with regard to educations, decisions about where children in foster care attended school were taken on an individual basis. IFA’s were found to be working closes with foster carers and school leaders to ensure children’s education continued.
The pandemic has, without doubt, brought significant challenges to the children’s social care sector. What is clear from Ofsted’s summary findings is that providers and their staff are working hard to adapt to the difficulties faced, whilst also safeguarding children.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, has praised education and social care staff for their hard work and resilience:
“Faced with all of these pressures, the education and social care sectors are showing considerable resilience and creativity to provide children and learners with the best experience they can… and all of this being done against the most challenging backdrop for staff in recent times”.
The outcomes of assurance visits are summarised in concise narrative reports, with no graded judgements. Whilst this does, somewhat, take the pressure off providers with regard to visits in the interim period, it is still important that they are aware of the focus of assurance visits and look to ensure they are meeting focused requirements in particular. Where Ofsted identify any serious or widespread concerns as a result of assurance visits, they will make requirements and recommendations to be actioned and will follow up with a further monitoring visit. In the most serious of cases, enforcement action may still be taken.
How can we help?
Our specialist Ofsted lawyers regularly assist providers in respect of factual accuracy challenges, complaints to Ofsted, and enforcement action being taken by Ofsted. Please visit our case studies page find out more about how we’ve helped childcare providers, education providers and social care providers in England and Wales challenge Ofsted inspections.
If you would like assistance with an Ofsted matter, it is imperative that you seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible given the time frames involved. For a confidential discussion with a member of our team, please contact us on 0161 696 6250 or complete our online enquiry form.