I am pleased to see that the Government is responding speedily to concerns that some children and young people living in children’s homes are being preyed on by sexual abusers. A review conducted by Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England, Sue Berelowitz, has highlighted the nature and extent of this problem.
It is of concern that these problems do not appear to have been identified by the inspection regime, with Ofsted finding only 2% of children’s homes unsatisfactory. Perhaps the reason for this is that Ofsted places more emphasis on compliance with legislation and requirements than it does on creating a safe environment.
Ofsted published new guidelines for the inspection of children’s homes in April 2012. Paragraphs 24 and 25 of these state:
24. An overall effectiveness judgement of inadequate is made where there are failures to comply with requirements and, as a result, the outcomes for children and young people are inadequate or their welfare is not safeguarded.
25. Where a children’s home is judged inadequate, the inspector will set requirements to achieve compliance with the Care Standards Act 2000 and the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001. The registered person/s must meet these requirements as set out in regulation.
Notice in paragraph 24 that the cause of inadequate safeguarding is assumed to be “failures to comply with requirements”. But those who draw-up the rules are not infallible and it is quite possible to imagine a serious safeguarding failure might occur even when all the rules are followed. Likewise it cannot be assumed, as paragraph 25 does, that compliance with regulations will remedy a safeguarding deficit.
This is more evidence of wooden thinking by Ofsted. Rules and regulations may on balance make children safer, but they can never guarantee it. And in some cases the rules may even make children less safe, particularly if they are too numerous.
An inspectorate that focuses too much on the issue of compliance, and too little on the issue of safety, will be likely to fail those it is designed to protect.