Ofsted inspections of children’s services are outdated and do not always protect vulnerable children, claims a report from a group campaigning for reforms to public services.
A poor rating for a local authority can leave children less safe than before the inspection, say the authors.
They say a new model of help for vulnerable families is needed.
Ofsted argues that while they recognise the challenges facing social workers, “independent scrutiny” is crucial.
The paper written by the local government consultancy group Impower highlights concerns over the inspections carried out by Ofsted on failing local authority services.
Ofsted inspect and regulate services for children and young people in schools, local authorities and childcare settings.
The report authors say there is a “lack of clarity” within the inspection framework and little has been done to work out which approach is best for protecting children.
They argue that a lack of consistency within the inspection process means that a single judgement of inadequate by Ofsted can trigger a “catastrophic spiralling effect” on a local authority.
Their analysis suggests that after a negative inspection in a local authority, work volumes often increase, intervention is reduced leaving children potentially less safe than before and there is a higher turnover of staff.
Report author Amanda Kelly describes the challenges faced by councils and rising demands on services as a “volatile mix”.
“Many councils want to go down a preventative route, intervening earlier and working more closely with the police, schools and NHS.
“The challenge at present is the dysfunction in Ofsted.”
The best way to help families and vulnerable children at risk is to intervene much earlier and include health visitors, school nurses, teachers and GPs, says the report.
It highlights that the rise in family breakdown is a “leading cause” of children needing support from social services.
But a national shortage of social workers means that councils are reliant on agency staff who are more expensive and may lack consistency when dealing with vulnerable children, it adds.
Alan Wood, London Borough of Hackney’s director of children’s services told the BBC a new model of inspection was needed.
This should be “able to assess the contribution made by each of the public agencies and not just the local authority, and one that allows the local authority to improve areas that need improving and maintain their ability to recruit skilled social workers.”
He added that although more than 70% of local authorities inspected were found to be worse than good, “this is not consistent with the reality on the ground”.
In response to the criticism of their inspections Ofsted replied: “We make no apology for carrying out robust inspections of local authority services on behalf of the children and young people who use them.
“The independent scrutiny which Ofsted provides is essential. However, it is right that the inspectorate is itself scrutinised and we welcome this debate.”