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Ofsted publishes children’s social care report 2022: recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic

Date:4 AUG 2022
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Ofsted has recently published a report entitled "Children’s social care 2022: recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic".

The report says: "The COVID-19 pandemic has put specific pressures on the children’s social care sector, and exacerbated existing challenges. Throughout, those in the children’s social care sector have worked to adapt in their roles. They have continued to care for children, protect them from harm and support their families. Our insights give us the opportunity to report on how the sector continues to respond to the ongoing challenges, based on information we have gathered from our inspections and published data. In this briefing, we draw on evidence from a sample of inspections, and from focus groups and interviews with inspectors and policy colleagues, to understand what the sector has done well, the pressures that remain and the main barriers to managing these pressures.

During the COVID-19 restrictions, some children were less visible to professionals, which increased the risk that evidence of harm to them was not being identified. When the restrictions were lifted, and all children returned to school and re-engaged with other services, professionals were able to see these children again. However, some services are either not yet being offered or are running at a lower capacity than pre-pandemic levels.[footnote 1] As a result, there may be delays in identifying vulnerable children and their needs, and families may have fewer opportunities to ask for help. Access to therapeutic and respite services for disabled children continues to be limited, leaving children and families without support.

The mental health of some children and young people deteriorated during the pandemic, and we are seeing increasingly complex mental health needs among the children who require support. Health services are stretched and many local authorities and providers are organising their own mental health and well-being services as a result. This is transferring cost pressures to local authorities, providers and schools and such provision can lack the clinical governance of NHS services.

The pandemic compounded a number of existing issues that affect care leavers. Care leavers are already at risk of becoming isolated, and lockdown restrictions meant that many of their relationships and support networks were disrupted. They also experienced practical and financial difficulties, as many lost their jobs or were placed on furlough. We are continuing to hear that greater numbers of care leavers than would have been expected before the pandemic are not in stable employment or education. There is concern that the toll on their well-being will be long-lasting.

A long-standing challenge for the children’s social care sector is the lack of places in the right location, at the right time, for the children who need them. This is especially the case for residential settings, particularly secure provision, where the number of places for children with highly complex and specific needs is not meeting demand. Additionally, there are continuing difficulties in identifying suitable places for children with mental health issues, and the increasing complexity of children’s mental health needs since the pandemic began has compounded these further. Some children are having to live in places where their specific needs cannot be met. The lack of a suitable place to live results in some children living in unregistered homes.

Recruitment and retention of staff continue to be a problem across children’s social care. Having reassessed their priorities and work–life balance during the pandemic, greater numbers of residential workers are leaving the sector entirely, to pursue more flexible and better-paid work elsewhere. A large number of social workers have also left the sector or have moved to agency contracts, which offer competitive incentives."

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It continues: "Of particular concern is the loss of highly qualified and experienced staff, who had previously been relied on to support and develop newly qualified colleagues. Local authorities and providers are using various incentives to attract and retain staff, such as higher salaries and greater investment in well-being and training. But the persistent issue is that the pool of suitable staff is too small.

Some changes in ways of working have persisted since restrictions were lifted. Social workers have recognised the importance of face-to-face work with children and families. Some of this work continued throughout the pandemic, for those who were assessed as being at highest risk, but it has now returned to expected levels. However, many other tasks that do not require direct contact with children and families, and would have previously been carried out in offices, are now being done from home. This minimises the time that social workers spend together in person, reducing opportunities for peer support and learning.

There is a similar concern around training, as providing this online makes it more difficult for attendees to hold discussions with peers and form strong support networks. This is not just a concern for social workers but also for foster carers, who missed the opportunity to build support networks during the pandemic. Remote working is only appropriate if the staff’s support and development needs are met, and training cannot be considered successful unless it has upskilled staff and carers effectively to meet children’s needs."

You can read it in full here.