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Too many children and young people are receiving services that are 'patently inadequate' despite broad improvements across schools, children's services and further education.
That is the picture painted by the Annual Report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills, Christine Gilbert.
The report covers the first full year of Ofsted's wider remit - inspecting and regulating education, childcare, social care, children's services, adult learning and the skills sector.
There are 59,500 children and young people looked after by local authorities, but some 8% of children's homes are judged to be inadequate, with safeguarding and management the areas most frequently requiring improvement. Concerns remain that staff in some services are less well equipped to recognise and respond to signs of abuse and neglect. In addition, Ofsted evaluations have highlighted the poor quality of many serious case reviews conducted by Local Safeguarding Boards after a child has died or been seriously hurt. Of 92 reviews evaluated since April last year, 38 were judged as inadequate. There are often long delays in producing review findings, severely restricting potential to learn from them.
Commenting in the report, Christine Gilbert said: This report leaves me encouraged by the recognition that so much is going well for so many children, young people and adult learners; but frustrated that there is still too much that is patently inadequate and too many instances where the rate of improvement is unacceptably slow. Too many vulnerable children are still being let down by the system and we are failing to learn from the worst cases of abuse."
Most social care provided for children in children's homes, through adoption and fostering agencies and in residential schools is at least satisfactory overall and two thirds is good or outstanding. However, the report found one in 12 providers inadequate.
There are often long delays in producing the findings of serious case reviews which are commissioned when a child has died, or has been seriously hurt, and abuse or neglect is thought to have been a factor. As a result, the report says potential for learning from these reviews to improve practice is severely limited.
Of the children's homes inspected between July 2007 and August 2008, Ofsted judged two thirds to be good or outstanding. However, 8% of children's homes were considered inadequate at their most recent inspection. Safeguarding and management are the areas most frequently requiring improvement in inadequate children's homes.
New national minimum standards and regulations for private fostering arrangements came into force in 2005. Ofsted says these standards are not yet fully embedded in practice. Furthermore, inspection revealed that local authorities are inconsistent in the attention and resources they give to monitoring private fostering arrangements.
Inspections of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) have been highly critical of the unacceptable variation in the quality of front-line practice, particularly in private law work. Cafcass has developed systems to rectify them but the impact of these new systems on the quality of services is not yet evident.
Responding to the criticism, Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said: "The increase in frontline practice supervisors will mean more support and advice is on hand for practitioners to discuss complex cases or to reflect on the analysis in their reports. More frontline managers will help hard-pressed practitioners to deliver high quality assessments, case management and planning."
The Red Book is the acknowledged authority on practice and procedure