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When care is inadequate

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Mark Easton | 16:48 UK time, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Much has been said and written about how social workers should have taken Baby P into care much earlier.

It would have saved his life.

But whenever that decision is made, the agencies must calculate what is in the best interests of the child. Being taken away from your family and moved into the care system is to enter a world full of dangers of its own.

Today's Ofsted annual report on children's services reveals some of the short-comings of England's services for what are called "looked-after" children.

They found that around 7% of care homes were inadequate' in keeping the children safe. As the report notes: "Given the centrality of these services to children's lives and prospects, this is a high level of inadequacy."

BoyJust imagine what that dry phrase means for a child who was suffering such a high level of risk at home that he/she was taken away from their family and moved into a community of strangers.

The promised sanctuary proves to be nothing of the sort.

When inspectors looked at private fostering arrangements they deemed that 16 of the 59 local authorities they visited were providing an 'inadequate' service. And those are only the one's that local council's know about with Ofsted reporting "serious concern" at how many authorities don't seem to know what private fostering is going on.

Inspectors highlight the lack of experienced and competent staff in the care sector. What is more, despite an ethos that puts the child at the centre of everything that happens, Ofsted found that children "feel it is hard to influence decisions that involve them."

Looked after children are falling further behind at school. Educational attainment and attendance, in the words of Ofsted "remain unacceptably low".

The inspectors found that children and young people "in most areas continue to experience frequent changes of social worker".The trusted adult assigned to be there for them throughout the trauma of this process is removed on a regular basis.

Much of the care system works hard to do the best for a group of very troubled and often very difficult children and young people.

Two-thirds of care is labelled good or better.

But a very significant proportion is only satisfactory or inadequate - and it is into this environment that at risk children are placed. Poor quality care options will impact on decisions to leave children at risk in families.

No wonder Ofsted argues that "there remains much to do, and to do with a sense of urgency".

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