Ofsted has published two reports which highlight the vulnerability of teenagers in the child protection system. One describes the success that some local authorities have had in improving outcomes for these young people, by supporting them to remain living successfully at home rather than bringing them into care. The other highlights key practice issues in the protection of young people as well as babies under one, who remain one of most vulnerable groups of all.
The report Ages of concern: learning lessons from serious case reviews highlights key lessons learnt over the last four years from reviews of serious incidents involving either babies under one year old or children over 14. Previous Ofsted reports into serious case reviews (SCRs) have consistently identified that a large proportion of SCRs concerned children in one of these two age groups. Of the 482 SCRs evaluated between 2007 and 2011, which involved 602 children, 35% were babies less than one year old and 18% were children aged 14 and over.
In too many cases for babies less than one year old, there were shortcomings in timeliness and quality of pre-birth assessment. The aim of this assessment is to make sure risks are identified as early as possible, to take action to protect the baby, and to support parents in caring for the baby safely.
The role of parents, their involvement with agencies, the support parents receive and the lack of attention to the role of the fathers are all crucial factors in safeguarding babies. The cases reviewed showed repeated examples of agencies underestimating the risks for children arising from their parents' background and lifestyle, whether they related to drug or alcohol misuse, a past history of being looked after, abuse suffered during their childhood or being a victim of domestic violence as an adult. Some reviews were found to focus too much on the mother's needs at the expense of the baby. There was also inadequate support for teenage parents who should have been considered as children in need in their own right.
For children aged 14 and over cases reviewed showed the complexity and range of risks teenagers face including alienation from their families, school difficulties, accommodation problems, abuse by adults, unemployment, drug and alcohol misuse, emotional and mental health difficulties and domestic abuse.
Along with the Ages of concern report, Ofsted is also published Edging away from care - how services successfully prevent young people entering care. This report looks at the good practice of 11 local authorities who are taking measures to help ensure that only those young people who need to, do come into care. The authorities were committed to working ‘safely' to reduce their numbers of looked after children and to manage the risks associated with helping young people to remain living with their families and communities.
The report found that successful intervention required strong multi-agency working both operationally and strategically, combined with clearly understood and consistent decision-making processes, and investment in services to address young people and their family's needs.
Miriam Rosen, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, said: "These two reports make a significant contribution to our understanding of how to better protect some very vulnerable groups, particularly babies and children over 14. Our analysis of the lessons to be learned from the serious case reviews we have evaluated over the last four years reveals recurring themes which contribute to failures to protect children within these age groups. I hope the reports will help Local Safeguarding Children Boards and practitioners alike to review their own practice and be alert to the potential gaps in protecting children of all ages."