Social care common inspection framework (SCCIF): adoption support agencies

12. The on-site inspection

What happens during an inspection.

12.1 The start of the inspection

At the start of all SCIFF inspections, the inspector confirms their identity by producing their Ofsted inspector authorisation and identification card and identity badge. They don’t need to carry paper copies of Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.

The inspector always meets with the registered manager or person in charge at the beginning of the inspection to:

  • outline the plan for the inspection
  • make arrangements to interview the registered manager or individual registered provider during the course of the inspection; if the registered manager is not available and the registered provider is not able to attend the inspection, the provider should identify someone who is to be their representative during the inspection
  • outline any lines of enquiry for the inspection
  • provide the opportunity for the agency to share any current information or personal issues relating to any children, adult service users or staff members that the inspector needs to be aware of during the inspection
  • ensure that Ofsted holds the correct details on the inspection database, including email address and contact telephone numbers for the agency
  • arrange the approximate time that verbal feedback at the end of the inspection will be given and who is to receive this; feedback is normally given to the registered manager or individual registered provider. A senior member of staff linked to the agency may also attend at the discretion of the inspector if agreed in advance

12.2 Case tracking and sampling

Evaluating the experiences and progress of children is a core inspection activity. This is largely based on evidence from case tracking and sampling.

For tracked cases, inspectors take an in-depth look at the quality of the help and protection that individual children and adults have experienced. For sampled cases, inspectors look at elements of practice within individual cases, usually to follow lines of enquiry.

Ofsted considers it very important that children, young people and adult service users experience high-quality help and care and make progress.

We take into account individuals’ starting points and circumstances during inspections. We recognise that even slight progress in a particular aspect of their lives may represent a significant improvement for some children, young people and adults. We also recognise that for some service users, because of their experiences of trauma, abuse or neglect, progress is not always straightforward. Progress in one area may result in deterioration in another as they work through the impact of their past experiences.

Children and adults’ overall experiences and progress are, in part, a result of how well they are helped and protected and the effectiveness of leaders and managers. Inspectors consider the ‘help and protection’ and ‘leadership and management’ judgements first so that they can take these into consideration when reaching the ‘overall experiences and progress’ judgement.

Inspectors track the experiences and progress of at least 4 children and/or adults across the range of the adoption support agency’s work. Where providers have worked with fewer than 4 service users, inspectors track the experiences and progress of all service users who have received support from the agency within the timeframe of the inspection.

Inspectors also sample elements of other cases to follow specific lines of enquiry. The size of the agency and the nature of any line of enquiries determine how many cases are sampled.

Tracked and sampled cases should be selected by the inspector from the case list provided.

Case files (either electronic or paper-based) are usually discussed with the allocated social worker (unless on leave), using their knowledge of the case, file structure and recording systems. In the absence of the allocated worker, a suitable colleague will be asked to assist.

Case records are only one aspect of tracking children and adults’ journeys. Inspectors increase their understanding of service users’ experiences through evidence from other sources, such as observation of practice, and discussions with individuals.

Inspectors examine, discuss and evaluate cases in line with the evaluation criteria. Inspectors will seek evidence that the agency has had a positive impact on the experiences and progress of service users and that managers and staff know they are making a difference to the lives to children, young people and adults.

The detail of activities undertaken and discussions held varies depending on the lines of enquiry for each individual inspection.

12.3 Listening and talking to children and young people

The views and experiences of children and adult service users provide important evidence of their experiences and progress.

Inspectors assess how well the agency consults with children and other service users. Children’s views gathered by the agency are taken into account as part of the inspection evidence.

Inspectors always try to meet with children and other service users during the inspection. Inspectors may make alternative arrangements, such as telephone calls at a pre-arranged time.

Inspectors must take into account the specific communication needs of individual children and young people. For some children, the inspectors may request the assistance of staff or carers who know and understand the individual’s preferred means of communication, particularly if this is unique to the service user. It may also be appropriate for inspectors to spend time observing children and other service users, and how they interact with carers, professionals and their environment.

Inspectors can request the services of an interpreter to join the inspection. This is helpful when the children, young people or adults are fluent in British Sign Language. Inspectors request this service via the inspection support team and give two weeks’ notice where possible.

Many of the experiences of children and other service users take place after the normal school, college or work day and it is essential that inspectors are able to speak to children at this time. Inspectors should involve children and young people in inspection activity wherever they can. Opportunities to gather the views and experiences of children and adults include:

  • meeting service users at pre-arranged times
  • phone calls to service users
  • attending service user groups that may run during the inspection

Children, young people or adults, including those with limited or no verbal communication, may wish to share their views in a letter to the inspector.

Inspectors demonstrate safe and sensitive practice by:

  • telling staff and carers where conversations with children and adult service users are taking place and who is involved
  • being sensitive to the fact that some service users, including children, may not want to be involved in the inspection
  • explaining to children and adults that they will not include comments that will identify them in the inspection report or in feedback to staff, without their permission
  • ensuring that staff are aware of any arranged meetings between inspectors and service users and that children or adult service users may leave the meeting at any time
  • where appropriate, explaining to service users that information suggesting that they or another child, young person or adult is at risk of harm will be passed by the inspector to an appropriate person able to take necessary action about that concern.

12.4 Observation of activities

Inspectors can use the agency’s previously scheduled activities as opportunities for observing and following lines of enquiry. These activities could include:

  • staff meetings
  • home visits by social worker to service user
  • support groups

The privacy and confidentiality of personal information are respected at all times by inspectors. The inspector always involve the agency in any decisions about service user involvement in the inspection.

Inspectors always try to strike a balance between the time it takes to observe an activity and the significance of the likely evidence to be gained.

12.5 Gathering views of other professionals

Inspectors consult with professionals to inform the inspection findings. This is usually through a telephone call during the inspection and may not take place on site. Professionals may, for example, include:

  • social workers (where relevant)
  • parents/carers
  • local authority commissioners

Inspectors ask the agency for the relevant contact details. Inspectors should always take account of privacy and confidentiality when talking to stakeholders on the telephone during the inspection.

12.6 Discussions with managers and staff

Individual interviews are held with the registered manager or individual registered provider and, where relevant, a number of other staff. The number of staff depends on the size of the adoption agency, but includes a sample of staff working at the agency at the time of inspection.

The inspector always asks to interview the responsible individual where any of the following apply:

  • there is no manager in post
  • there are concerns about the quality of care and support, or the effectiveness of monitoring arrangements, or the quality of leadership and management of the scheme
  • evidence indicates that the agency is failing to protect children and young people
  • there are concerns about staffing, the premises or resources to manage and run the provision

The interview with the registered manager or individual registered provider usually addresses:

  • issues that have arisen from pre-inspection information or emerging lines of inquiry
  • how the manager involves service users
  • follow-up on progress in response to previous requirements and recommendations
  • the plans for future development of the adoption support agency
  • the arrangements for supervision received by the manager, including for an individual provider
  • any further evidence the manager may wish to highlight with the inspector

During the inspection, the inspector shares emerging findings about the agency’s key strengths and weaknesses with the manager so that they fully understand emerging issues. The inspector usually meets with the manager at the end of day one to share emerging findings. The inspector normally sets out for the manager what they intend to consider later in the inspection so that the manager can prepare or direct inspectors to any specific information or evidence required. The manager then has the opportunity to direct the inspector to specific evidence where relevant.

Shortfalls that could have an immediate impact on the safety of staff or children are brought to the attention of the manager as soon as the inspector has identified the problem.

In making plans to interview staff, inspectors should be ready to alter arrangements if staff have to attend to the needs of service users.

12.7 Assessing financial viability

The adoption support agency regulations state that the ‘registered provider must carry on the agency in such manner as is likely to ensure that it will be financially viable for the purpose of achieving the aims and objectives set out in its statement of purpose’ (Regulation 25(1) of The Adoption Support Agencies (England) and Adoption Agencies (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2005).

Inspectors are only expected to undertake a lay person’s assessment of the financial information. Where, during the course of a routine inspection, the inspector has concerns about the financial viability of a provider if, for example, there is insufficient staff providing contracted support, they should follow the guidance set out in Ofsted’s Social care registration handbook.

The financial information Ofsted can request ranges from professionally produced business plans to a collection of accounts and balance sheets (Regulation 20(2) of The Adoption Support Agencies (England) and Adoption Agencies (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2005).

12.8 Examining records, policies and procedures

The adoption support agency’s statement of purpose and, where relevant, children’s guide should be available on their website and form part of the pre-inspection data. We should also hold copies in our database because agencies are required to submit these documents to Ofsted whenever they are changed.

Inspectors do not routinely examine all policies and procedures. Documents are examined where it is a line of enquiry for that individual inspection.

Inspectors focus on the impact of documents such as risk assessments and how they work in practice, rather than the format. What matters is that they are fit for purpose, and provide enough information to all relevant people so that they can provide support safely and appropriately.

The inspector may ask to look at the personnel records of anyone working for the purposes of the agency, which can be maintained in checklist or spreadsheet format. The information available for inspection should reflect schedule 2 of The Adoption Support Agencies (England) and Adoption Agencies (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2005 (S.I. 2005/2750) and must include the reference number of the subject’s DBS check. The inspector may sample more detailed personnel records if information contained within any spreadsheet is not enough or if particular evidence is needed to pursue a line of enquiry. Where recruitment records are not maintained at the premises where the inspector is based for the inspection, the provider should arrange for any files required to be made available on site.

Where the agency uses the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) update service to check the status of an individual’s DBS certificate, the agency should be able to demonstrate how it manages and records details of any check it carries out. If any lines of enquiry require additional information, then the inspector may request that a small sample of full personnel records are made available at the inspection visit.

Where members of staff are subject to TUPE arrangements, we recognise that the new employer is reliant on the previous employer for all recruitment records relating to those staff and in some instances may not be able to access all the information including documents required by the regulations. Where this is the case, we still expect the new employer to hold enough relevant information to make sure staff are suitable, including criminal record checks or vetting records. Where there are any gaps in requirements, the new employer should have taken steps to assure themselves that the person is suitable to work in their role. This should include reference to employment records such as appraisals.

12.9 Implications of the Equality Act

The Equality Act 2010 came into effect on 1 October 2010. The Act makes it unlawful for an employer to ask a potential employee questions about their health or disability before they are offered employment, whether on a conditional or unconditional basis.

Social care providers must comply with both the Equality Act and the remit-specific regulations that require them to employ people who are fit, both physically and mentally, for the work. In order to comply with both laws, this means that providers may give conditional offers of employment to potential employees after the recruitment process, subject to appropriate medical and health checks. However, there are a number of exemptions to the provisions in the Act. If a provider believes that an exemption applies to their recruitment of staff, they should take their own legal advice on the matter.

Inspectors will assess whether providers have a rigorous recruitment and vetting process in place, including ensuring that their employees are mentally and physically fit before they commence work as part of their inspection.

12.10 How inspectors record the evidence

Inspectors must analyse the information they gather on inspection and use their professional judgement to assess the impact on the experiences and progress of children and other service users.

Inspectors’ evidence should be clear, evaluative and sufficient to support the judgements.

The evidence should tell the story of the experiences and progress of children and other service users, as appropriate. Evidence should not include information that could identify individuals unless it is necessary to protect a child or to support further action. In these instances, inspectors can use individuals’ initials.

Inspectors can record direct quotes from children, adult service users and other interested parties in evidence to support judgements.

The record should clearly indicate the source of the evidence (for instance, whether the evidence is from observation, a written record or a face-to-face interview). If evidence comes from an interview, the record must indicate the time of the interview and the interviewee’s job title or relationship to the child.

Throughout the inspection, inspectors maintain a record of their evidence. Electronic evidence is recorded within the inspection database. Summarised evidence must be sufficient to support the judgements and any recommendations or requirements. Inspectors must ensure that the provider understands the evidence that the judgements are based on and any requirements that stem from the judgements.

When the summarised evidence has been added to the inspection database any duplicate handwritten evidence should not be destroyed by the inspector until at least 10 days after the inspection. In some circumstances, inspectors will be required to keep any handwritten notes they have made for longer. This may be necessary, for example, when legal action or a complaint about the judgement is being considered.

All handwritten evidence should be legible and dated. Handwritten evidence that has not been summarised forms part of the inspection evidence base, and should therefore be scanned and added into the database within 5 working days of the end of the on-site visit.

Evidence may be scrutinised for quality assurance and will be considered in the event of any complaint.

12.11 Feedback at the end of the inspection

At the end of the inspection, the inspector will give verbal feedback of the main findings and provisional judgements. This feedback will usually be given to the registered manager or individual registered provider (as appropriate). Additional senior staff may also attend, if agreed in advance with the inspector. In some circumstances, an inspector may need extra time after the inspection fieldwork to take advice before giving feedback. The day of feedback is counted as the last day of the inspection.

The inspector should:

  • cover the main findings of the inspection, including both strengths and weaknesses
  • clearly communicate the likely judgements
  • indicate likely recommendations, with clear reference to the relevant national minimum standard or quality standard (where relevant), providing a clear direction for improvement
  • use the grade descriptors and the evidence to clearly indicate how the judgements have been reached
  • confirm when the report will be sent to the manager for comments on factual accuracy (see timeframe)

Inspectors will not provide a written summary of the inspection or written feedback in advance of the inspection report being sent. Providers may choose to take their own notes at feedback.