Jim CareKnowledge editor Jim Kennedy looks at the NICE Quality Standards, the Action Plan on Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief, and Ofsted Inspections:

This week's publications show that the information machine doesn't stop over the summer period - and, at least in relation to issues where Ofsted and the Department for Education (DFE) have a hand - often seems to accelerate, just when the maximum number of people are away from their desks. This blog provides initial commentary on the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence's (NICE) consultation on new care standards for looked after children, DFE's Action Plan on abuse linked to belief, and the group of Ofsted inspection reports on child protection that have just been published.  

NICE has for some time been an important part of the government's apparatus for guiding - and underpinning quality in - health care. The new standards come as a result of powers in the Health and Social Care Act (2012) that enable NICE to develop quality standards and other guidance for social care in England. The first thing to emphasise about the standards is that, although the title and source might lead to an assumption about some sort of health bias in the standards described, this is not the case. They are subtitled social care. And, on initial reading they seem to me to cover at least the larger part of the whole care spectrum for looked after children. 

I think this makes this an important consultation, for at least two reasons. Firstly, if the guidance is intended to describe a fairly complete set of standards to which practitioners right across the services involved with looked after children can contribute, then it's important that they set the right expectations. Secondly, at least for those working in social care, the standards raise issues about other guidance that I think could be better dealt with than they are in the current version. It seems to me that, at the moment, practitioners in that sector have significant volume of such material to relate to that describes service expectations for looked after children.  

The new standards document certainly refers to this range of what is described as policy guidance, but I think much of what is covered in DFE's existing material could be said to be standards-based; and/or standards-focused, if not explicitly labelled as such. Ensuring that the relationship between current guidance and the expectations set out in the new standards is properly understood and described will be important for social care staff, going forward. For example, will the standards become the overarching aims to which all of the relevant services will need to attune their guidance?

The new standards seem like a useful starting-point if they are to assume that kind of overarching importance, but it further seems to me that they are largely derived from, and to a certain extent, address issues familiar from social care practice guidance. The list of supporting references is relatively short on specific guidance to the other services and groups of staff who will have to be involved if a number of standards are to be met.

So, the standards have strength, if they can bind more people into a positive service for looked after children - but may be weakened, if there is insufficiently robust supporting guidance for the other services which need to contribute to effective social care. Government has also launched, to considerable fanfare, their National Action Plan to Tackle Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief. I say 'their' because that was the expectation - based on the DFE press release - with which I read through the new document. I had expected it to be a national plan of action with aims, objectives, resources, maybe even targets, owned and led by Government.

But I found that an unhelpful expectation. The action plan is actually owned by the National Working Group on Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief (chaired by DFE).  I think it's best seen as awareness raising and advisory in nature, and as a call to action from others, alongside a listing of activity already undertaken, rather than a coordinated or full-scale plan. Carrying forward most of its ideas for change will rest with localities, and to some extent, with members of the national working group. All that said, the plan's listing of some of the problematic issues that need to be tackled, alongside possible solutions captures a good deal of the necessary debate.

One thing, though, that I think needs a bit more explanation and discussion is the fact that the plan does not deal with "child abuse within culture or faith contexts in general. So it does not seek to address female genital mutilation, forced marriage, excessive physical punishment or abuse relating to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, disability or other differences recognised within social or cultural beliefs."

I'm genuinely confused as to the exact meaning of these words; and even more concerned to understand their implications correctly. I can begin to speculate on what they mean, of course, and why the decision to exclude such issues was taken, but I don't think it's a theme on which such a document should encourage speculation. These distinctions seem to me to be hugely important, and need to be well-understood, if an action plan, designed to tackle only certain aspects of 'abuse linked to faith or belief', is to be successful. 

And finally for this week's blog, I've had a quick look through the latest batch of Ofsted inspection reports on child protection and looked after children services. It will be interesting to see what pattern emerges with these inspection reports over coming months and years, but if assessments made in the current batch, turn out to be representative of the national picture, services will mostly be seen as merely adequate (that is, "only meet[ing] minimum requirements").

I'm in no position to say whether this is a national pattern, and I may not be in a position in the future to know how any established pattern of findings relates to the past. But someone should be - in case we're seeing the beginning of the same kind of 'grade deflation' we've seen in this year's A-level results…

For more from Jim go towww.careknowledge.com