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Ofsted to regulate independent provision for care leavers from 2023

Settings where children in care and care leavers are supported to live independently will be registered and regulated by Ofsted next year, the inspectorate has announced.

In January, the government announced that there would be national minimum standards and Ofsted-led registration and inspection for providers of unregulated accommodation for looked after children and care leavers in a bid to drive up standards.

At the same time, the Department for Education also announced that it would no longer use the term “unregulated”, deeming it unhelpful and carrying “negative connotations even for provision that is often very good and is supporting young people to live semi-independently”. Instead, the government would call the provision “supported accommodation for young people”.

At the time, Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman said the regulator would be “very happy” to develop and implement a new system of regulation and inspection. This week, publishing its 5-year strategy, Ofsted confirmed that it would clearly identify how local authorities support care leavers.

The inspectorate also outlined how COVID has impacted on care leavers. The strategy said that “children only get one childhood, and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted lives significantly”. Furthermore, some of the most vulnerable children were removed from sight and being exposed to greater risk of harm.

“Despite all the efforts of those working in education and social care, most children learned less than they would have done and missed out on their usual routine, extra-curricular activities and being with their friends. Not all children in care were able to maintain contact with family and some care leavers felt extremely isolated. Physical and mental health were affected across age groups. Learners in further education and skills, especially apprentices and those with practical elements to their courses, suffered great losses to their education, as did prisoners,” said the strategy.

As a result, Ofsted’s role after the pandemic remains “to raise standards and improve lives”.

“This role has become more important as a result of the disruption and distress that COVID-19 caused,” said the strategy.

The inspectorate has four guiding principles:

  • Children and learners first – improving outcomes for children
  • Independent – judging standards without fear or favour
  • Accountable and transparent – being transparent and open to scrutiny
  • Evidence-led – ensuring policies, frameworks, judgements and insights are rooted in evidence.

The strategy continued that It is vital that Ofsted highlights systemic safeguarding issues wherever they find them, so that providers or other appropriate agencies can take preventative action.

“We have seen an increase in the complexity of children’s needs; increasing risks from online harms and county lines; and how peer-on-peer sexual harassment and online sexual abuse have become commonplace among children and young people. It’s our responsibility to report on these issues and set out how children can be protected, as well as holding providers to account for their actions,” said the plan.

“We will work with the Department for Education (DfE) on toughening the law to increase our oversight of unregistered settings,” it added.

However, the strategy highlights that Ofsted would review its social care inspections following the publication of the independent review into children’s social care, depending on its recommendations.

Ofsted strategy 2022–27

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