VULNERBALE children in state care overlooked due to the coronavirus pandemic will not see the services that support them scrutinised until next year.

Ofsted said full inspections of local councils and “routine” checks on children’s homes will not get underway until 2021 “at the earliest”.

The announcement comes amid concerns vulnerable children under protection of the state “have fallen out of sight” during the pandemic.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for regulation and social care, said “normal lines of sight to our most vulnerable children haven’t been in place in recent months”.

The news follows recent reports Buckinghamshire Council could see an increase in referrals of children mistreated due to “domestic tension” exacerbated by lockdown when schools reopen in September.

Councillor Mark Shaw, cabinet member for children’s services noted during a July 28 Cabinet meeting his concern about the “severity” of cases the council is already witnessing.

Council leader Martin Tett added: “I get, you know, probably every day, sometimes one, two, maybe even three of these so-called ‘need to know’ cases and they are quite horrific.

“I mean, some of these are stomach churning in terms of their severity and a single child in 24/7 care can cost between £300,000 and potentially up to £1 million pounds depending on the severity of the situation.”

READ MORE: Council could see ‘spike’ in abuse cases during lockdown when schools reopen

Though Ofsted announced “visits” to local authorities and children’s social care providers from September, it goes on to say:

“Full inspections of local authorities will not resume until January 2021 at the earliest, while routine inspections of social care providers, such as children’s homes, are on hold until April 2021.”

The watchdog will scrutinise decisions taken by the council during the pandemic, by looking at the experiences of children it provides care for.

Specifically, how Buckinghamshire Council “joined up” its social care services with schools in the county closed during the pandemic, to prevent “vulnerable pupils from slipping through the net”.

Ofsted findings will not result in “graded judgement”, but instead publicly highlight “what is going well and what needs to improve”.

The watchdog still has the power to enforce sanctions “where it has serious concerns”.

Ofsted will prioritise councils it has “concerns about”, using recently judged “good or outstanding” authorities as the benchmark.

READ MORE: Children in care homed ‘further away’ by council during COVID

“The normal lines of sight to our most vulnerable children haven’t been in place in recent months,” said Stanley.

“It’s vital that we get back into local authorities and other social care providers to look at how children are being cared for and protected.

Stanley said she is “acutely aware” of pressures on children’s social care in the wake of the pandemic. Adding: “This is not about judging, but offering reassurance to children, families, and those commissioning services.”

She said Ofsted also wants to “highlight the excellent work local authorities and providers are doing to make sure children get the help, protection and care they deserve in very difficult circumstances”.

A spokesperson for Buckinghamshire Council said previously about potential pressures on children’s services: “Should we see a spike in cases within the county, we would ensure all necessary action was taken to redeploy our resources to meet the additional demand.”

Cllr Shaw said: “We welcome the resumption of visits by Ofsted to local authorities and children’s social care providers, as the visits play a crucial part in the collective role we all have in society to protect and safeguard our vulnerable children and young people. This is more important than ever as we work to support those who are most in need of our help after the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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