In a recent announcement, Daniel Muijs, Ofsted’s Deputy Director of Research and Evaluation, has summarised Ofsted’s upcoming plans for research into the children’s care sector.
In the announcement, Mr Muijs says “As a responsible organisation, we also need to know whether our frameworks and methodologies are being implemented as intended and are having the outcomes we expect. That is why we now evaluate all our new frameworks and methods.”
This is not in itself ground-breaking and ongoing research is unlikely to bring about a sharp U-turn in current regulatory approach. However, for providers of children’s health and social care services, the announcement gives an indication of where Ofsted will focus its research priorities in the coming years.
In respect of children’s social care, the announcement suggests that Ofsted will:
- continue with its “good decisions” programme which explores how care-related decisions are made;
- carry out more joint targeted area inspections (JTAIs), with a focus initially on children’s mental health; and
- consider the impact that the ILACS (inspection of local authority children’s services) framework and SCCIF (social care common inspection framework) have had in the sector.
JTAIs are inspections of multi-agency arrangements for:
- the response to all forms of child abuse, neglect and exploitation at the point of identification
- the quality and impact of assessment, planning and decision making in response to notifications and referrals;
- protecting children and young people at risk of a specific type (or types) of harm, or the support and care of children looked after and/or care leavers (evaluated through a deep dive investigation into the experiences of these children);
- the leadership and management of this work; and
- the effectiveness of local safeguarding arrangements in relation to this work.
The ILACS framework was most recently updated in December 2019 and provides the framework under which Ofsted will inspect local authority children’s services. The SCCIF established a common framework for social care inspection of other services such as children’s homes and residential units.
Providers should have nothing to fear from the announcement. However, there is likely to be increased scrutiny from the regulator of children’s services and of providers, particularly those who provide care to children with mental health conditions or to children who have been identified as at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation. There may also be opportunities for providers to get involved in dialogue over reform in the sector, in future consultations and in research projects in order to help shape a better future for children’s health and social care, both from the perspective of service users, and providers.
Given that Ofsted plan to use its research to inform future inspection and regulatory work, providers are advised to keep an eye on Ofsted’s research activity. Further guidance from Ofsted on good (and not so good) practices are likely to follow.