Keeping Parliament Informed: The Children’s Workforce-Inspectors

Monday 19 January 2009: The Children’s Workforce – Inspectors, with speakers Dame Anne Owers (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons), Juliet Winstanley (Divisional Manager, Local Services Inspection, OFSTED) and Jean Humphries (Deputy Director, Children, OFSTED).

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children has held one meeting in January and chose the children’s workforce as their theme for 2007-08, and this meeting was the last in the series. It looked at the issues and challenges affecting the inspectors of various children’s services. The meeting looked at issues such as inter-agency working, Children’s Trusts, engagement with the Every Child Matters programme, and training and development.

Anne Owers (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons) said that within the prison system, they are looking at services that deal with some of the most damaged and difficult children and young people in society. They conduct confidential surveys of the children and young people in prisons, and the most recent unsurprisingly shows that one in three have been in care, 88% of the young men had been excluded from school, with over a third out of school since they were 14. There was also a high level of abuse in their backgrounds – 80% of the young women had experienced abuse, which also led to high levels of self-harm.

All this equates to a huge level of need among these children and young people which prisons are not equipped to cope with. While it would be good to deal with these problems while they are in prison, she also believes that they need to be addressed both before and after they are in prison.

  • Prisons are inspected twice within a three-year period – one the initial full inspection (the majority of which are announced), and the second a follow-up inspection, which is unannounced. The inspection team is multi-disciplinary, looking at the whole of the establishment, and includes representatives from Ofsted and the health care sector (including mental health), substance abuse specialists and probation and prison experts.
  • She is concerned about the size of the prison institutions, especially those containing young men, which are usually holding three hundred or more at the moment, and they know that levels of safety for the young people has a strong correlation to the size of the institution – larger prisons are less safe.
  • They are also concerned about the quality and amount of staff training as the training of staff has an impact on other issues of concern, such as behaviour management and the use of force. Establishing multi-disciplinary working within prisons is also proving difficult because while there are now more social workers in prisons, they are hard to recruit and their funding is often not secure – but their presence is vital, especially for children and young people who came from state care.
  • There are issues around health and mental health, and there are also a lot of inmates with learning disabilities that are not recognised. They are publishing a report soon on this issue that shows that children and young people with disabilities report a higher level of use of force upon them.

Juliet Winstanley and Jean Humphries (Ofsted) emphasised the importance of interagency working for their inspections of other children’s services, particularly Youth Offending Teams, the secure training centres and secure children’s homes, boarding schools, specialist colleges, palliative care and children’s centres.

  • Jean said that they have started to look at areas where inspection could be brought together – so, in bringing together education and social care inspections of, for example, residential homes, they not only have brought together the two methodologies and best practice, but also can now pay that institution one visit instead of two, which is far less disruptive. Where their inspections overlap with others – such as boarding schools or palliative care – they work to bring in relevant experts and hold inspections at the same time to share information and reduce disruption.
  • Juliet said that the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda is key to their work and at the heart of the process, and it is important for them to know what the services are like for the children and young people. They are focusing on vulnerable children by targeting their investigations at the provision for those with specific needs. Jean said that their regulatory remit – to ensure compliance with and the meeting of certain regulations – can be difficult to bring in line with the ECM aims without missing important details around compliance.
  • Juliet said that support, training and recruitment is an issue both for senior positions and also for social workers. Performance management also needs to be improved. Ofsted needs to recruit more senior managers to become inspectors so that they can bring with them their up to date expertise and contribute their knowledge so that Ofsted itself stays up to date.

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