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24 NOV 2009

Ofsted is 'feeding people's fears' about child protection

Ofsted should be the calm, measured voice that helps to make child protection services work better rather than feeding people's fears, council leaders said today. The Local Government Association warns that the inspectorate needs to stop working against councils in order to win back the confidence of the public, social workers and central government.

The LGA believes Ofsted has become too concerned about protecting its own reputation and places a disproportionate emphasis on publicly highlighting weaknesses in child protection without adequately reflecting the huge amount of good work being done by councils across the country.

Council leaders claim that this encourages professionals in the police and health services to be excessively risk-averse over the handling of vulnerable children, driving up the number of referrals to social workers.

The number of care applications for the three months to September 2009 rose more than 47 per cent compared to the same period last year and the number of children taken into state care in the last year has leapt by 9 per cent.

The accusations come as Ofsted publish their annual report today. The report highlights a number of problems that continue to dog local authorities and shows that much is still to be done to improve the quality of services provided to children, young people and adult learners.

Cllr Shireen Ritchie, Chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "Ofsted, like any inspection body, needs to have the trust and respect of the people it works with. A good watchdog has to be seen to be independent, and to offer conclusions based on facts and research rather than being influenced by external events.

"The time when an inspector could sit on the sidelines and offer tick-box judgements is long past. Ofsted, or any future social work inspection body, must provide advice and answers to problems which will help councils and other public bodies keep all children as safe as possible.

"Merely highlighting failures fuels public concern over child protection and makes it harder for children's social workers to get the respect they deserve, adding to problems of recruitment and retention."

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