Cheshire East Council

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Independent review defends claim there are unnecessary child protection investigations

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care team has stood by its initial view that councils carry out unnecessary child protection investigations, although it has admitted that comments from Ofsted questioning that stance had given it “pause for thought”.

A letter sent two months ago by Yvette Stanley, Ofsted's National Director for Social Care, to Josh MacAlister, Chair of the independent review, challenged the suggestion that local authorities were 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.

Ms Stanley said criticism contained in the independent review’s Case for Change report of the increase in Section 47 enquiries – which have risen 129% since 2010 – did not align with Ofsted's inspection findings, which “generally, do not suggest that local authorities are carrying out unnecessary child protection investigations".

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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.

Giving its feedback last week generally on the response to the Case for Change, the independent review team said: “Ofsted are a major actor in children’s social care and so when they, along with some others, queried our view that too many families are being unnecessarily investigated we of course had pause for thought. The growing number of section 47s which do not result in a child protection plan is a worrying trend, reflecting an increasingly adversarial approach that makes it harder for services to help families and build trust with parents in order to keep children safe. 

“We are working with Ofsted to interrogate the area of child protection investigations further – including whether inspections look equally for evidence of under and over investigation. The review accepts Ofsted’s position that 84,000 children had a child in need plan 45 days after the start of a section 47 enquiry. However, we have not seen evidence to suggest that a section 47 enquiry is the most appropriate mechanism for families to receive support under a child in need plan, or evidence to justify this volume of investigations or the rise over the last decade.”

The review team added: “This is an emotive area and any querying of the steady rise in investigations can be countered by pointing to one of the dreadful situations of a child being significantly harmed. But this is not a simple either/or situation. We can be both too driven by investigation with some families while failing to protect some children. We highlighted both of these positions in the Case for Change (page 44).”

The review team has published a summary of the more than 300 submissions it received in response to the Case for Change.

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