Whilst it is well recognised that the NHS and adult social care providers are facing challenges as a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19), other parts of the system are also facing practical challenges, including children’s social care.
In particular, Regulation 44 of the Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015 requires that an independent person must visit the children’s home at least once a month. The independent person must then produce a report, detailing their opinion on whether they consider children to be effectively safeguarded at the home, and whether the conduct of the home promotes children’s well-being. Regulation 45 also requires providers to establish and maintain a system for monitoring, reviewing and evaluating the quality of care being provided at the home. Providers must complete a review of the quality of care at least once every six months and must complete a written report about the review, setting out any actions that they intend to take.
However, current travel restrictions and social distancing requirements may pose particular challenges for independent Regulation 44 visits.
Ofsted has already suspended all routine inspections but may still inspect in emergency situations, for example if it receives complaints or whistle-blowing information which suggests that children may be at risk of harm. It may also visit in order to lift a restriction on how many children can live in a children’s home.
Ofsted has recognised the difficulty which providers are likely to face at the current time and is reportedly in close contact with the government as the situation develops. Ofsted’s expectation is that all providers will continuously risk assess their actions to reflect the risks associated with COVID-19 and to follow the advice of public health bodies.
Providers are to be mindful of their continuing legal obligations and to explore and utilise alternative methods of maintaining oversight and supervising services, such as telephone, Skype, Zoom or other similar audio and video conferencing facilities. However, the limitations of such approaches need to be recognised.
Ofsted has stated that it is sensitive to the challenges that providers are facing and that it will take a “balanced and proportionate approach to regulation, taking account of how people have tried to satisfy regulatory requirements in these difficult circumstances”.
It is important that providers therefore continue to be mindful if the legal requirements, to risk assess (and keep written records of those risk assessments) and to try to meet the requirements, as best they can, based on the circumstances. Where steps being taken fall short of meeting the legal requirements in full, providers should record what measures they have considered, why they are not possible and the rationale for any decisions, to assist in satisfying Ofsted when questions arise in due course.