Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Putting the needs of children first: Ofsted consultation on inspection of adoption and fostering agencies

Today Ofsted launches a consultation on its proposals for inspection of adoption and fostering agencies. The proposals focus on the experiences of and outcomes for children. The consultation gives an opportunity for contributors to help refine and develop an inspection system that will assure quality and support improvement.

The proposed changes reflect the new national minimum standards and statutory guidance introduced by the government in April 2011. Inspection will continue to make sure that adoption and fostering agencies comply with regulatory requirements but it will have an increased focus on the quality of services and the difference these make to children’s lives in supporting them to grow up in secure and loving families.

For adoption, Ofsted is proposing to involve children routinely and directly in the inspection of adoption services and continue where possible to meet with birth parents. Ofsted will report on how well agencies do in ensuring the timely and effective identification of children for whom adoption is the right option and the approval and placement of children with adoptive families, helping make sure the process is as smooth and quick as possible for all involved.

Welcoming the consultation launch Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said:

'Ensuring children are placed with families and carers that meet their needs and minimises delays is vitally important to help them feel settled, secure and loved. Ofsted is determined that our inspection of fostering and adoption services will put the needs of children and young people first, looking at what makes the difference for them.

'The proposed changes will ensure inspection continues to support improvement, focusing on the needs of people using the services. I hope everyone who has direct involvement or experience of adoption or fostering will give us their views to help shape our work and ensure the best service is provided so that children and young people are able to thrive.”

Ofsted proposes to significantly reduce the amount of notice given to inspections to 10 working days - previously adoption agencies were given eight weeks’ notice and fostering six weeks’ notice. This will help inspectors gain as true a picture as possible of the provision.

The consultation seeks views on whether inspection should focus more on agencies that need the most help and inspect outstanding services less frequently. However, in order to ensure that any deterioration in performance is identified between inspections, the consultation asks for views on factors Ofsted should consider when assessing whether an inspection should be brought forward.

Ofsted proposes to make judgements under five key headings:

  • overall effectiveness
  • outcomes for children
  • quality of service provision
  • safety of children
  • leadership and management.

Consideration of how well a service promotes equality and values diversity will be key in every judgement area.

Ofsted is also seeking views on whether in future local authorities’ adoption and fostering inspections should take place at the same time. This will help to reduce the demands of inspections on local authorities.

The consultation for inspection of adoption and fostering agencies runs until 31 August and key findings will be published at the end of the year. The results from the consultation and a series of pilot inspections will inform and shape the new inspection frameworks which will come into force on April 2012.

Access to the online consultation can be found at http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Consultations or requested from the Ofsted enquiry service by calling 0300 123 4234.

Notes for Editors

1. The Inspection of local authority and voluntary adoption agencies and the Inspection of local authorities fostering services and independent fostering agencies can be found on the Ofsted website at www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/110011 and www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/110056 respectively.

The new national minimum standards and new statutory guidance on adoption and fostering services came into force on 1 April 2011.

The inspection of adoption agencies is underpinned by the relevant primary and secondary legislation and takes into account the relevant NMS. Local authorities must also comply with the Adoption statutory guidance: the Adoption and Children Act 2002 first revision and the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations volume 2: care planning, placement and case review. These documents are available on the Department for Education’s website.

The inspection of fostering services is underpinned by the relevant primary and secondary legislation, in particular the Fostering Services Regulations (England) 2011, and takes into account the relevant NMS. Local authorities must also comply with the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations volume 4: fostering services, and the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations volume 2: care planning, placement and case review. These documents are available on the Department for Education’s website.

In relation to local authorities, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector has a wider power under section 147 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 to inspect the social care functions of a children’s services authority. This includes the effectiveness of care planning for looked after children.

With agreement from the Department for Education, Ofsted is seeking views on a more proportionate approach to the inspection of adoption and fostering agencies where outstanding agencies would be inspected less frequently. However, this will require a change in the regulations.

2. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

3. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6574 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.

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