Today, the Government has published our response to the recommendations made by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (the Panel) review into safeguarding of children with disabilities and complex health needs in residential settings (published in April 2023). I would like to thank the Panel for their vital work and their continued focus on improving learning, practice, and outcomes for children. I am grateful to everyone who contributed to the review for their commitment, professionalism, and expertise. A copy of the response has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
The abuse and neglect of disabled children in three dual-registered children’s homes and residential special schools was appalling. The settings have closed; as criminal investigations are ongoing; I am unable to comment further on the specifics of the case.
No system, however robust, can fully eliminate all risk of harm and abuse. Those committing abuse were deliberately concealing their actions. Nevertheless, the Panel’s report highlights system-wide issues which allowed abuse to be concealed for too long. The owners of the three dual registered settings and providers of care permitted inadequate leadership and management, poor quality training, poor support and supervision of the workforce and inadequate compliance with statutory requirements. Statutory and partner agencies demonstrated a lack of oversight, limited professional curiosity, poorly exercised accountability, failures in information sharing and lack of rigour in regulation and inspection practice.
The Panel’s recommendations reinforce our determination that every child and their family should get the right support at the right time. Disabled children should not be placed far from home. Local agencies need to work together so that children can be supported as close to home as possible, however complex their needs. The failures identified by the panel demonstrate the urgent need for the transformation of children’s social care and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) that we are driving forward the SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan. Our strategy for children’s social care, Stable Homes, Built on Love, and NHS England’s long-term plan aim to improve the lives of disabled children and will deliver fundamental change. These reforms will ensure that disabled children receive the best support, safeguarding and protection, and care from all those who are looking after them.
Our response recognises the three key principles for disabled children to thrive and fulfil their potential:
- All relevant agencies need to assure themselves that they are meeting their duties and promoting good practice to keep disabled children with complex health needs in residential care safe and are cared for.
- We need to reform the care system so that all disabled children in residential settings have a stable, loving home that is safe and close to their friends and family.
- We must provide the right support, in the right place and at the right time to disabled children and their families, so families are better supported to meet children’s needs at home and in the community - and we must reduce the institutionalisation of disabled children.
I have today also written to providers of residential settings, Local Authority Chief Executives, Directors of Children’s Services, lead Integrated Care Board members, Police Chief Constables, Ofsted, and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) asking them to review their current working practices. Copies of these letters have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
The response we have published today sets out the steps that we are taking to address the failings identified by the Panel. These actions include:
- Asking Ofsted and the CQC to work with us to consider further what we could do better and differently now to safeguard disabled children living in regulated children’s homes. We are asking Ofsted and CQC to review the recommendation for joint inspections including any regulatory changes required and cost implications.
- Setting a new standard on the provision of non-instructed advocacy for children with complex communication needs. We are strengthening the independence of advocacy services and improving the way these services are promoted so that advocacy support is more widely available to children and young people.
- Exploring proposals for introducing professional registration of the children’s homes workforce as well as considering the development of a new Knowledge and Skills Statement and a national leadership programme to support recruitment of new managers.
- Considering how information sharing, multi-agency leadership, safeguarding partnerships and cross-government working can be improved to support safeguarding.
- Committing to work with local authorities and Ofsted to review what changes need to be made to the responsibilities of Local Authority Designated Officers (LADO).
- Asking the Law Commission to carry out a review of the legislation for disabled children, to inform future changes to legislation and/or guidance.
- Consulting on updated statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children to set out clear roles and responsibilities for safeguarding partners (police, health, and local authorities) to ensure they work more effectively together.
Many people work hard to care for our most vulnerable children and young people. However, I share the Panel’s concern that – too often – agencies act in isolation when the children with the most complex needs require a holistic response. I am committed to working with my colleagues across Government to improve multi-agency and multi-disciplinary working to help, support and protect children.
Ensuring the safety and well-being of disabled children with complex health needs is one of the Government’s most fundamental priorities. We are committed to working with our partners and across Government to ensure all children are kept safe, have their needs met and receive the best support to fulfil their potential.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords