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Ofsted challenges claim of unnecessary child protection investigations

Ofsted has rejected claims that councils carry out unnecessary child protection investigations, in response to an Independent Review of Children's Social Care report.

In a letter sent by Yvette Stanley, Ofsted's National Director for Social Care, to Josh MacAlister, Chair of the independent review, Ofsted challenged the suggestion that local authorities are spending too much time pursuing Section 47 enquiries.

Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 allows a local authority to carry out enquiries to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote a child's welfare if it has reasonable cause to suspect the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.

The independent review's report, The Case for Change, made a number of suggestions concerning the children's social care system, many of which Ofsted agreed with.

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However, Ms Stanley said the report's criticism of the increase in Section 47 enquiries – which have risen 129% since 2010 – did not align with Ofsted's findings.

According to Ms Stanley, Ofsted's inspection findings "generally, do not suggest that local authorities are carrying out unnecessary child protection investigations".

She wrote that Ofsted is more likely to report that a local authority is too slow to take decisive action when children may be at serious risk of harm.

Ofsted said it has agreed to analyse its evidence more deeply and discuss the available data with the independent review further. It also suggested that cross-agency responsibilities for child protection, especially in relation to section 47 investigations, need to be explored further as part of the review.

The Case for Change was published by the independent review in June 2021. The review said that children need should be protected from "unnecessary and intrusive levels of state intervention".

The independent review suggested that energy is spent disproportionately on assessing and investigating families instead of supporting them. It highlighted data from the year ending March 2020, which showed 135,000 investigations where a child suspected of suffering significant harm did not result in a child protection plan – three times as many as ten years ago.

According to the review, it "consistently" heard from parents and families who said their experiences of being investigated "added stress to an already difficult situation without meaningful support being offered".

Adam Carey

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