To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to ensure that Ofsted (a) provided oversight to local authorities in applying the legislative flexibilities provided by the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, and (b) had the requisite resources necessary to do this for all local authorities.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department took to ensure that remote and virtual visits by social workers to (a) children’s homes and (b) other children’s care placement settings are adequate to understanding the potential issues facing children in care and meet the needs set out in their Education, Care and Health plans.
The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (2020) came into force on 24 April 2020 and expired on 25 September 2020. Where local authorities deemed it appropriate to make use of these flexibilities, taking account of all available information, every decision had to be agreed at senior manager level and recorded. This includes decisions taken around dealing with complaints. We set guidance that flexibilities should only be used when absolutely necessary and must be consistent with the overarching safeguarding and welfare duties that remain in place.
As the inspector of children’s services, Ofsted is expected to take note of any use of these flexibilities, and local authorities should be ready to explain why their use was necessary. As it stands, Ofsted is conducting assurance visits, determined using a risk-based approach, to ensure that children’s safety is a priority. Ofsted is arranging visits based on the most recent inspection judgements, other information it holds about the provider or local authority, the amount of time since the last inspection and, where appropriate, whether the provider is newly registered and therefore has not yet been inspected.
Our approach to monitoring the regulations was based on a triangulation of information gathered from a variety of sources, including local authorities, charities and key partners including Ofsted. The monitoring information is published within the consultation document on children’s social care and is available here: https://consult.education.gov.uk/children2019s-social-care-covid-19-co-ordination-unit/changes-to-the-adoption-and-children-regulations-c/.
We are clear that the use of virtual visits should be the exception. Our children’s social care guidance document has some advice on virtual visits: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-childrens-social-care-services/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-local-authorities-on-childrens-social-care. It advises that virtual visits can be used as a result of public health advice or when it is not reasonably practicable to have a face to face visit relating to the incidence or transmission of COVID-19. Considerations should also be given to the wishes of the children and young people affected and to the ability of the child or young person to engage in a virtual visit due to reasons including their age or disability. Wherever possible, visits should be held face to face.