Today the National Safeguarding Panel published its phase 2 report looking at the abuse experienced by disabled children in settings run by the Hesley Group. The report considers wider issues for children with complex needs and disabilities who are placed in residential settings and makes 9 recommendations for further action.
NASS has been party to many of the discussions which have led to the publication of this report and we have generally been very encouraged by the process, which we feel has worked hard to suggest solutions that have a good chance of making settings safer without feeling unduly punitive towards providers or putting up barriers to existing excellent practice.
You can read the report here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1151060/Safeguarding_children_with_disabilities_in_residential_care_homes_phase_2_report.pdf
The recommendations cover a range of topics - independent advocacy for children, improved inspection - including joint inspections between Ofsted and CQC for some settings and a push to DfE and providers to improve recruitment and retention. There are some very helpful statements about the need to be clearer about mandatory qualifications and what counts as reasonable equivalents. At this point, it is not clear how DfE will implement all the actions and we can expect that they will attempt to shoehorn as many as possible into planned work as part of the SEND and children’s social care reforms. Earlier today, Children’s Minister, Claire Coutinho gave a written statement to Parliament (delivered by DfE Minister Baroness Barran): https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2023-04-20/hlws717 As noted, there is little detail on specifics and much reference to the existing SEND and social care programmes as the drivers for any changes.
We are encouraged that DfE sees NASS as a key partner in working on implementing the recommendations. We are also giving thought to what further we can do to support our members with the challenges of recruitment and retention and high-quality, supportive leadership training. We are already actively involved on work for new standards for children’s homes and residential special schools and in regular discussion with SEND officials as various pilots start out. In our opinion, these activities alone will not be sufficient to drive the sorts of changes the report sets out - for example, there is nothing tangible in either strand of work that looks at recruitment and retention in either schools or children’s homes to date. Also, some actions are at a very early stage of development, such as joint working between Ofsted and CQC, so we are not expecting major change in the near future. There’s no suggestion at this stage that Government will be seeking to make a major investment in this area of work and no indication that independent advocacy will be made a reality for all children who need it.
Media coverage today has generally been fair and it has been good to see the panel Chair, Susan Tranter, state clearly that the actions in the aftermath of the discovery of the abuse suggested that children currently placed in residential settings are safe and well cared for. Nevertheless, the report still makes for difficult reading and we need to ensure that we make good use of it in reflecting on practice to make changes or ‘even better ifs’.