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Ofsted Social Care Report 2012-2013

The past decade has seen a series of high profile inquiries and reviews following the deaths or serious injuries of children. This has triggered a major programme of reform, some of which is only now beginning to take shape. There is greater public awareness of abuse and neglect in families and, being at the forefront of this concern, local authorities are managing increasing workloads. This comes at a time when expenditure in the public sector is decreasing. These factors create a pressurised environment that magnifies the impact of weaknesses in some local authority areas.

Although local authorities are the focus of most scrutiny, tackling the root causes of abuse and neglect depends on a much wider group of services to support change for families. Thousands of children live in families where abuse of alcohol and drugs, domestic violence and mental illness are a daily part of life. It is those children who live in families with multiple stresses who are at the greatest risk of harm. Both identifying risks and preventing harm depend on the cooperation of health services, police, schools and the wider community. Areas where local authority child protection services are weak often have weak support from their statutory partners. Every agency with a statutory duty to safeguard and protect children must prioritise that responsibility and ask themselves hard questions about how effectively they are meeting their obligations. Social care must continue to increase the extent to which the lived experience of each individual child is understood and shapes those services that affect them. The overall trend over many years suggests that abuse and neglect overall may be declining and outcomes for looked after children are improving. However, the proportion of children affected by abuse and neglect remains too high and new information, such as the exposure of the extent of child sexual exploitation, continues to emerge about the harm being done to children and young people in our communities.

We also see from our inspection evidence that overall trends of improvement mask failings for individual children. Being ambitious for individual children will require a much more widespread practice of identifying what progress looks like for each child. We are particularly concerned that fragmentation in the social care system can make it difficult for local authorities to understand whether services are meeting the needs of individual children, and this will be a focus for our inspection in future.