“Ofsted chief criticises government cuts, but rules out 'context' weighting in judgments”

By Joanne Parkes

| 12 June 2019

Ofsted's social care chief has admitted that inadequate funding is affecting the quality of council child protection services, but has ruled out taking this into account when issuing inspection judgments.

Writing in a blog published this week Yvette Stanley, the inspectorate's National Director for Social Care, highlights the harmful impact of cuts on the quality of children's services at some councils.

She warns that 60 per cent cuts to early help and preventative family work over seven years are storing up costly and unsafe crises for the future, adding: "Family issues left unchecked eventually escalate."

Stanley describes the risk to families of taking any more money out of budgets as a "fundamental consideration for policymakers as they contemplate the future sustainability of the system".

She also lists the ways in which inspections already flag resource and demand issues and how they are stopping social workers from working effectively.

These include overly high caseloads and unrealistic expectations of the amount of work managers can safely oversee.

Ofsted reports also acknowledge the councils that are investing in children's social care "in the face of stark financial choices", she writes, adding: "The wider context fuels the challenges that so many local authorities face."

However, she rules out taking this into account when considering quality, writing: "I am sometimes asked if we should be reflecting these factors in our inspection judgments, either across the board or by applying a lower standard in local authorities with particularly challenging contexts."

She continues: "But despite this context, all vulnerable children deserve the same good help, protection and care service, regardless of where they live", adding: "The bar for good judgments must relate to practice, not context."

Stanley's comments contrast with predecessor Eleanor Schooling's views in February 2016, when Schooling expressed some sympathy with Local Government Association calls for inspections to recognise the tougher funding climate for children's services.

"If councils have less resource, we need to demand less of them through inspection," said Schooling, who was also quick to point out that there is not an automatic correlation between quality and funding.

Stanley also touches on this in her blog, highlighting how 60 per cent children's services departments have been rated "good" or "outstanding" in relation to children in need of help and protection under the new inspection framework applied from 2018.

These get credit for "getting good, basic social work practice right" and for "managing demand and caseloads well", she states, adding that many councils are getting better at responding effectively to each the needs of each child and family.

Her advice is for councils and child protection agencies to prioritise joint working on a level with family work, to enable more children to remain at home or return safely to their families.

She states: "My view is that for social care practice to be successful, and for more children to remain or return safely with their families, all local partners must continue to work together to tackle these contextual factors."

This will "no doubt be a priority" across new safeguarding partnerships, she adds.