Councils 'not doing enough' to tackle domestic abuse, says Ofsted

By Joe Lepper

| 13 December 2017

Ofsted has criticised children's services' response to domestic abuse, saying social workers are too focused on victims and need to do more to tackle perpetrators and prevent abusive behaviour.

Ofsted said children's services need to improve their work with domestic violence perpetrators to prevent abuse. Picture: Istock/posed by models

The inspectorate's 2017 annual report says domestic abuse is the most common factor in the lives of children who need social care support, but while victim support is strong, prevention work is underdeveloped.

In particular, Ofsted wants to see more work with perpetrators to understand why they are abusive and to prevent further incidents.

"Our joint inspections this year found that while there is a need to prevent, protect and repair the effects of domestic abuse, it is really only protection that is being given consistent attention," says the report.

"Everyone needs to place more emphasis on tackling perpetrators and understanding what works to stop abusive behaviour.

The report adds: "Both prevention and repair are underdeveloped. If these aspects are to receive greater attention, there will need to be a shift away from the current focus being so much on the victim. While it is natural and right to prioritise the victim, sometimes little is done to tackle the behaviour of the perpetrator."

The 2017 annual report is the first in three years that focuses on both social care and education, after the inspectorate decided earlier this year to abandon the publication of a standalone report on the state of children's social care services.

The last social care annual report was released in June 2016. Since then, there have been 82 monitoring visits to 26 councils judged to be "inadequate".

Ofsted found that a failure to protect children is the most common reason for a children's service to be handed its lowest rating.

Of those judged inadequate, almost all (23) were failing to help and protect children. In contrast, just half (13) were judged inadequate for their support of looked-after children.

Only two councils were found to be inadequate across all areas, including adoption and care leaver services.

Despite the concerns raised in the report the inspectorate says the quality of children's services is improving overall.

The proportion of children's services judged to be either "outstanding" or "good" now stands at 34 per cent, compared with 26 per cent at the time of the last social care report.

Ofsted's report also says that areas with high levels of deprivation are more likely to be rated "good" than more affluent areas and there was no strong relationship between deprivation and those judged "inadequate".

It also found no link between spend and overall effectiveness, adding that "good local authorities do not spend more than lower performing authorities".

Last month, a survey by the Greater London regional branch of the Association of Directors of Children's Services found that nine out of 10 councils in the capital are overspending on children's services by almost 10 per cent, due to rising demand and central government funding cuts.

Ofsted's report concedes that councils, particularly those in less affluent areas, will need to continue to overspend to meet demand.

"Levels of spending on children's services are often achieved through consistently spending more than had been originally planned," Ofsted's report states.

"It is clear that highly deprived local authorities that have high demand and that are facing further reductions to funding will have the greatest challenges to either achieve or maintain good services."

Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said: "The report finds that outcomes in many local authorities have improved as a result of them maintaining a focus on ‘getting the basics right'. Whilst all local authorities are committed to this endeavour it is increasingly difficult to achieve given the estimate that children's services face a £2bn funding gap by 2020. This is likely to grow if left unaddressed and could reverse much of the good progress being made."

Ofsted's report also contains an overview of standards in schools, early years and further education and skills.

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