Safeguarding Update

Department for Education written statement – made on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Claire Coutinho Claire Coutinho The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The child safeguarding practice review panel (‘the Panel’) today published phase two of its national review into safeguarding children with disabilities and complex health needs in residential settings. I want to thank the Panel for their vital work on this review which has focussed our attention on this particularly vulnerable group of children and brings to prominence their distinct needs. I am grateful too, that the review highlights the importance of care provision being respectful and non-discriminatory. All children with disabilities and complex health needs deserve the best support, protection, and care from all those who are charged with looking after them.

I was appalled to hear of the abuse and failings in three dual-registered children’s homes and residential special schools in Doncaster, owned by the Hesley Group. Due to the ongoing live criminal investigation, I am unable to comment on the specifics of the case, but my thoughts are with the children and their families who suffered abuse and neglect in settings where they should have been safe and cared for.

I, and the department’s officials, take the welfare of these children incredibly seriously and we have taken swift action to improve children’s safety in response to phase one of the review. Most importantly we have now received assurance that all local authorities have reviewed the safety and welfare of all children placed in specialist residential provision. This is an area where we all need to remain vigilant given the inherent risks in the nature of residential provision which the report identified. In January, my Right Honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Education met with providers of residential special schools and children’s homes to consider the changes needed to ensure that disabled children with complex health needs are kept safe. We have also been working with stakeholders including the LADO Network, Ofsted, Home Office and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) to review the role of the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), the officer responsible for managing allegations against adults who work with children.

Our comprehensive reform programmes to transform children’s social care and the experiences for children and young people with SEND, lay the foundation for improving outcomes for this group of vulnerable children. As we consider the review’s phase two recommendations, we will continue to engage with providers to tackle the issues that the review highlights. We are working closely with the sector and with care experienced young people to review the current regulatory system governing the care of children who are looked after. In Stable Homes, Built on Love we committed to developing plans for a financial oversight regime of the largest providers of children’s homes and Independent Fostering Agencies, and we are working with regulatory bodies to understand what more is needed to strengthen their inspection and regulatory powers to hold providers of children’s homes to account.

We agree with the Panel that safe, sufficient and appropriate provision is needed for all children with disabilities and complex health needs. That is why, in the SEND and Alternative Provision improvement plan, we have committed to introducing local SEND and alternative provision partnerships. These will bring together partners across education, health and care to set out the provision and services that should be commissioned, in line with the National SEND and Alternative Provision Standards. We plan to publish non-statutory guidance outlining expectations for local partnerships and will seek to introduce primary legislation at the next available opportunity to put these partnerships on a statutory footing.

In addition to this, in Stable Homes, Built on Love we described our vision for Regional Care Co-operatives to promote better collaboration between children’s social care and partners in the commissioning and delivery of homes for looked after children. We are investing in two pathfinders to co-design and test the model, and will work with the pathfinders to include measures to improve commissioning for children with disabilities and complex health needs, as recommended by the National Panel.

We value the Childrens Social Care Workforce and we agree with the review findings that highlight the importance of a stable and skilled workforce in children’s homes and residential special schools. We have already committed in Stable Homes, Built on Love to develop a programme to support improvements in the quality of leadership and management in the children’s homes sector and will be exploring proposals for introducing professional registration of the residential childcare workforce. We recently launched a workforce census which included residential special schools and covers recruitment, retention, diversity and qualifications and training of the workforce. Most significantly, our reforms prioritise compassion at the heart of the care system to create stable, loving homes.

We need to ensure that children with disability and complex health needs are fulfilling their potential and have committed to track the experiences of children with a disability through the care system. We will establish pathfinders in up to 12 local areas, to start delivering our Family Help reforms. This will provide the right support at the right time so that children can grow up safely and thrive with their families. We will incorporate a strong focus on specific support for disabled children and their families in our Pathfinder testing.

Listening to the voice of all children is important and is particularly significant for disabled children. This year we will consult on revisions to the National Standards for Advocacy and Guidance for children and young people. These draft standards apply to children in receipt of social care services, residential settings (including those in Residential Special Schools) and secure settings. The draft standards have been strengthened and will include a new standard on ‘non-instructed advocacy’ for children and young people unable to instruct an advocate for themselves, to enable children and young people to communicate their views in ways that work for them. Additionally, we have set out in Stable Homes, Built on Love, our commitment to work with the sector to develop a model of opt-out advocacy for all children in care that will empower and listen to children and young people.

I am grateful for this review and the recommendations that it makes to improve the system for a cohort of children who are often overlooked. As we consider the review recommendations in more detail, we will work closely across Government and with partners to reflect on the requirements of children with disabilities and complex health needs, recognising the importance of non-discriminatory care for children and families. There is more that can be done to support and protect these children and we intend to focus our existing reform programme to ensure that they consistently receive the care and support that they need and deserve, enabling them to thrive and fulfil their potential.