Child protection services face unannounced inspections
Inspections of child protection services in England are to be unannounced, more intensive and child-focused, the inspecting body, Ofsted has announced.
Under the plans, inspectors will speak directly to children and their families for the first time.
Inspectors will also look at how social work departments communicate with other bodies such as the police and schools.
The new system follows last year's independent review of child protection.
The government commissioned Prof Eileen Munro to report on the child protection system in England after some notorious failures of social workers to safeguard children.
A key recommendation in Prof Munro's final report was to cut red tape and to put children and their families at the centre of the system.
Ofsted's new inspection framework for child protection services will allow inspectors to spend the majority of the inspection period talking to children and their families about their experiences.'A critical difference'
Inspectors will also shadow social workers, inspect case files, look at examples of good practice and observe how effectively they work with outside bodies such as the police, charities, schools and hospitals.
Ofsted's deputy chief inspector John Goldup said: "We want to ensure that inspectors are able to judge the impact that professionals working in child protection are making to help children and protect them from harm."
He added that the new inspections would track children from the time problems first emerge rather than waiting for formal child protection processes to kick in.
"It's just as important to evaluate the help that children and their families do or don't get early on, when problems first emerge, because that can make a critical difference to whether the problems get worse and the risks to the child escalate," he said.
Ofsted plans to double the number of cases examined to ensure there is an in-depth understanding of how well children are protected.
Children's Minister Tim Loughton welcomed the planned changes.
"Ofsted's changes will help put the focus back on the child and assess whether they and their families are really getting the help they need - rather than being a tick box exercise," he said
An Ofsted spokeswoman said the new system would come into force in May but further reforms to inspections of child protection services were planned within two years.