Ofsted guidance on the use of surveillance and monitoring in residential assessment centres

Concerns were raised earlier this year in The Telegraph newspaper that children were being abused by their parents in residential family assessment centres. Families are placed in these centres when there are serious concerns regarding their parenting skills. They are monitored by 24 hour CCTV and the placement helps provide evidence to decide where children should live long-term. The Children’s Commissioner said that a review of the centres was needed. As a result, on 18 October 2019 Ofsted, the children's services watchdog, issued updated guidance on residential childcare settings, including the use of surveillance and CCTV.

The guidance covers children's homes, residential family centres and secure children's homes. The following are specified forms of surveillance and monitoring:

  • CCTV.
  • Audio monitoring devices.
  • Personal electronic device monitoring.
  • Covert surveillance.
  • Searches.

The guidance emphasises that surveillance should not be the default approach to monitoring children's behaviour. It introduces the following changes:

  1. Surveillance is not permitted in a children's home or a residential family centre unless it is court directed to safeguard an individual child's welfare. This is because constant supervision and monitoring may amount to a deprivation of liberty. This means that local authorities will not be able to use surveillance in residential family assessment centres unless court proceedings have been issued.
  2. If CCTV is used, there must be enough staff employed to continually monitor the images and take immediate action to safeguard a child's welfare.

Following the publication of the new guidance, the Children’s Commissioner said:

“This is a welcome clarification and given the specific circumstances of the cases the Telegraph raised with us, it is clear in issuing fresh guidelines on the use of CCTV in these settings the government has taken seriously some of the concerns raised this summer.”

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