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9.4 Surveillance and Monitoring


This chapter provides guidance on the use of surveillance and monitoring equipment in Children's Homes. It is based on information published by Ofsted. Please note: The guidance for Secure Children's Homes, schools and family centres may be different.


Surveillance and monitoring in residential childcare settings (Ofsted, October 2019)

Inspection of children's social care providers

This chapter was added to the manual in November 2020.


  1. Introduction
  2. Principles
  3. Protection of Freedoms
  4. Types of Surveillance
  5. The Care Plan
  6. Role of Staff
  7. Storage of Surveillance Information
  8. Further References

1. Introduction

Children's Homes should provide a positive home environment in which children can live and learn. Relationship-based practice should be promoted.

All staff should:

  • Strive to build relationships of trust and understanding with children;
  • Be able to identify triggers and find solutions; and
  • Where incidents occur, seek to defuse the situation as quickly as possible

In particular, Ofsted guidance is clear that Children's Homes providers and managers should ensure Homes provide positive environments where children can flourish, with staff who work positively and confidently with children, and who find the least intrusive way to support and empower children and keep them safe.

See: A guide for inspectors about physical intervention and restrictions of liberty (Ofsted, March 2018).

It is important therefore that managers and providers carefully consider the specific purpose and role of any surveillance and monitoring used in Children's Homes, including whether there are other, less intrusive, ways and means to keep children safe.

Children and young people should be at the centre of practice within Homes, and they should be informed (as early as possible after admission) about any monitoring and surveillance systems in use and the reasons for having it in the home, as well as the safeguards in place regarding confidentiality and the retention of images.

The Children's Homes (England) Regulations (2015) regulation 24 states:

  • The registered person may only use devices for the monitoring or surveillance of children if:
    • The monitoring and surveillance is for the purpose of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child concerned, or other children;
    • The placing authority consents in writing to the monitoring or surveillance;
    • So far as is reasonably practicable, and in the light of the child's age and understanding, the child is informed in advance of the intention to do the monitoring or surveillance;
    • The monitoring or surveillance is no more intrusive than is necessary, having regard to the child's need for privacy.
  • This regulation is subject to any monitoring or surveillance requirements by a court.

2. Principles

  • The use of monitoring and surveillance in children's homes is only permissible when necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child or other children or at the direction of a court;
  • Details of any monitoring and surveillance systems should be outlined in the Home's Statement of Purpose and Children's Guide;
  • Parents, children (if possible) and social workers should give consent to the use of surveillance and be informed how to make a complaint about its use;
  • Monitoring and surveillance must be justified at the time of its use and be assessed as a fair and proportionate measure;
  • Any kind of surveillance and monitoring must meet the needs of the individual child;
  • The use of surveillance and monitoring devices should be for the protection and safety of children only and not staff (although this will be different for Secure Children's Homes);
  • The use of surveillance as a 'default approach' to monitoring children's behaviour is not acceptable, nor is it acceptable as a solution to staffing issues;
  • Groups of children should not be subject to 'indiscriminate monitoring';
  • CCTV monitoring screens should only be accessible to those staff who need to see the images at the time, for example, in a staff office where there is appropriate privacy;
  • The impact of the surveillance or monitoring devices on individuals and their privacy should be considered. Regular reviews should take place to ensure that its use remains justified;
  • Security arrangements for sharing footage, for example, when used as evidence in court hearings, should be included in the setting's written policy.

See also: Code of practice - A guide to the 12 principles, Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

3. Protection of Freedoms

When considering any use of surveillance and monitoring in Children's Homes, it is important to balance the rights and freedoms of children, visitors and staff with the need for and purpose of the surveillance.

The Human Rights Act 1998; Data Protection Act 2018; Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (POFA) (which regulates surveillance systems) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) provide a framework to enable this balance to be achieved, and it is important that all guidance and regulations are adhered to.

'Using surveillance systems can be privacy intrusive. You should therefore carefully consider whether or not to use a surveillance system. The fact that it is possible, affordable...should not be the justification for processing personal data. You should also take into account the nature of the problem you are seeking to address; whether a surveillance system would be a justified and an effective solution, whether better solutions exist, what effect its use may have on individuals, and whether in the light of this, its use is a proportionate response to the problem. If you are already using a surveillance system, you should regularly evaluate whether it is necessary and proportionate to continue using it.

(In the picture: A data protection code of practice for surveillance cameras and personal information, ICO (2017))

A Data Protection Impact Assessment is a way of identifying the data protection risks inherent in the use of any monitoring or surveillance systems, it must consider whether there is a less intrusive way of achieving the purpose of the monitoring or surveillance.

The details of Data Protection Impact Assessment must be recorded, and outline the purpose(s) of the monitoring and surveillance, the outcome of the initial assessment and what alternatives have been considered (identifying the reasons they are not appropriate).

See also: Data protection impact assessments (which includes Data Protection Act Principles and Consulting the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

4. Types of Surveillance

Surveillance and monitoring devices include CCTV (both with and without voice-recording); listening devices; location trackers on personal electronic equipment; door sensors; noise sensors and movement alarms.

Some equipment, such as listening devices, can be used to monitor individuals, (for example where there are health or emotional well-being concerns). Note that audio-recording is considered as being particularly intrusive and so should be avoided unless there is a clear reason for it. [1]

Other equipment may capture activity in the environment, for example body-worn cameras, exit alarms, noise sensors and movement-activated mats.

Note: baby monitors are included within the Ofsted guidance as a listening device unless they are being used to monitor the welfare of a baby when adults are not present, e.g. when a baby is sleeping during the day. A parent may choose to use their personal mobile phone as a baby monitor when the baby is sleeping, and this is acceptable. Nevertheless, it should not be used to monitor another person's activity.

CCTV: is closed-circuit television system on a private network. Footage is monitored mainly for surveillance and security purposes. Systems use cameras that send the images to monitors placed elsewhere.

If a setting uses CCTV to monitor places of public access, such as the exterior of a building, or public space (such as the hallway, dining or living room), the Data Protection Act 2018 may apply (which upholds the rights of people whose images are captured). There should be clear notices alerting the public to its presence and the reason for its use. The notice should include contact details in order to enable a person to access and review any images of them (this is called a subject access request (SAR)).

Where external CCTV is installed and the Children's Home has immediate neighbours, guidance recommends that neighbours should be involved and listened to where there are concerns.

CCTV must not be used to replace or supplement staffing.

Owners of Children's Homes and their managers should be compliant with the 'Home office Surveillance camera code of practice' and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, A guide to the 12 principles (see GOV.UK, Surveillance camera code of practice).

Monitoring of personal electronic devices: this includes monitoring the use of a child's own laptop, mobile phone or any other personal electronic device. This must be carried out with their permission.

It is permissible to monitor online activity if it relates to the use of filters and monitoring the effectiveness of those filters to protect children from exposure to inappropriate online material and contact. This activity must be included in the Home's written policy and procedure.

(Please note: online filters should not be used as substitute for on-going discussions with children in the home about their online activity and how they can keep safe. See also: Correspondence, Communication and Social Networking Procedure).

Covert Surveillance: Important note - only a court can sanction covert surveillance. This is where the monitoring of an individual is carried out in a way they are not aware of. This might include equipment such as hidden cameras and /or listening devices or secretly following the person. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 governs the use of covert surveillance by public bodies.

[1] Domestic CCTV systems - guidance for people using CCTV, ICO

5. The Care Plan

All Looked After Children will have Care Plans and Placement Plans. Children living in Children's Homes will also have a risk assessment. These plans:

  • Must reflect the child's individual needs, levels of understanding and risks,(both for the child and in relation to other children);
  • Must reflect the child's age, understanding and personal development and, as far as possible, their wishes and feelings;
  • Clearly establish the ways in which the child is to be safeguarded both inside and outside the Home;
  • Be multi-agency in nature;
  • Specifically identify any monitoring or surveillance systems that are used or to be deployed – particularly CCTV and alarm systems;
  • Confirm that the child has been made fully aware of the monitoring systems the Home uses and how this applies to them (depending on their age and understanding);
  • Ensure the child, the parent/person with parental responsibility and placing authority have agreed to the use of the monitoring or surveillance;
  • Ensure the child has access to an advocate to support them in their understanding of the Home's monitoring processes and enable the child to fully express their views about them;
  • Should have the agreement of the parent or person with parental responsibility;
  • Have agreement of the placing authority;
  • The monitoring and surveillance aspect of the Care and Placement Plan and Risk Assessment must be regularly reviewed and adjusted to reflect the changing needs and requirements of the child.

6. Role of Staff

When CCTV or audio monitoring is used for the protection of children, staffing levels must be sufficient so that the images or alarms can be continually monitored and immediate action taken to safeguard children without reducing the quality of care provided in the home.

All staff must be trained in the use and purpose of monitoring and surveillance systems e.g. setting door alarm systems.

All staff must be aware of the purpose and function of such systems and how they positively relate to each individual child.

Staff should have regular updated training on handling information gathered by monitoring or surveillance. This should include:

  • What to do when people ask for access to recordings;
  • How and when to share information;
  • What to do if there are complaints about surveillance;
  • What to do if children or parents withdraw their consent to surveillance.

7. Storage of Surveillance Information

  • Images, and information should be stored securely, for their stated purpose, and only for as long as necessary;
  • Security arrangements for sharing footage, for example, when used as evidence in court hearings, should be included in the setting's written policy.

See also:

8. Further References

Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, Home Office

In the picture: A data protection code of practice for surveillance cameras and personal information, ICO (2017)

Electronic surveillance in health and social care settings: a brief review, SCIE (2014)