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A consultation on proposals to review the frequency and methodology of inspections, as part of a wider review of th...
A consultation on proposals to review the frequency and methodology of inspections, as part of a wider review of the National Minimum Standards (NMS) for children's social services was launched today.

The review will consider what changes are needed to enable inspections to become more targeted to where they are most needed. And it will help to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on providers with a good service record.

Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said:

'Inspections of children's social services must be challenging and provide robust findings and recommendations which should then lead to improvement. Inspection needs to be smart and targeted so that inspections have maximum impact - this makes sense and fits in with the government's agenda to ensure inspection is proportionate to risk. By focussing inspections on those providers that need to improve most, and working better with those providers who are performing well, this review will help to better protect and nurture children and young people using children's social services'.

Since 2002, the performance of children's social services has been assessed against the NMS laid out in the Care Standards Act. The Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) uses the following nine sets of NMS when carrying out inspections of the following services:

* Voluntary adoption agencies and local authority adoption services

* Adoption support agencies

* Boarding schools

* Residential special schools

* Children's homes

* Local authority fostering services and independent fostering agencies

* Private fostering services

* Further education colleges providing accommodation for young people aged under 18

* Residential family centres

The consultation, 'Modernising the Regulatory Framework for Children's Social Services' proposes that:

* All providers should be inspected at least once every three years, but that children's homes and residential special schools should be inspected once a year because of the vulnerable nature of the children and young people they serve

* Providers should produce an annual quality assurance self-assessment to ensure that CSCI is in receipt of regular updates of services

* Those providers that are need to perform better will be required to produce an improvement plan if requested to do so by CSCI

The consultation today forms the first part of a two-part review into the National Minimum Standards. The second part will look at the detail of the standards themselves and will take place later in the year.


1. The consultation document 'Modernising the Regulatory Framework for Children's Social Services' is available here.

2. The intention to review the National Minimum Standards after the first three years of operation was made clear at their inception.

3. At present, inspections are carried out by the Commission for Social Care Inspection. In future, subject to the Education and Inspections Bill completing its passage through Parliament, all children's social services functions currently carried out by CSCI will be undertaken by the enlarged Ofsted from 1 April 2007. Details of Ofsted's new role can be found here.

4. In 2003 the government published Inspecting for Improvement (Office of Public Services Reform, 2003) which set out 10 principles of inspection. The principles make clear inspections should focus on outcomes, and be delivered with a clear user perspective. They also require inspection to be proportionate to risk, with resources concentrated on areas of greatest risk and concern - an approach endorsed by the Better Regulation Task Force in their report Better Regulation for Civil Society [Better Regulation Task Force, 2005].

5. The proposals in the consultation were drawn up following discussion with the Department of Health, HMT, Cabinet Office, CSCI, Ofsted and other key stakeholders.

6. Results of the consultation will be made public by December 2006, following analysis of the responses. Changes to the inspection frequencies and the introduction of annual quality assurance assessments should be implemented with effect from July 2007. The introduction of new powers to enforce the implementation of improvement plans would be brought forward as soon as possible but after the establishment of the enlarged Ofsted in April 2007, if Parliament approves the relevant legislation.

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