Social care common inspection framework (SCCIF): independent fostering agencies

11. Preparing for an inspection

What happens before an inspection.

11.1 Analysis and planning

Pre-inspection analysis and planning are an important part of all SCCIF inspections.

Inspectors are allocated 1 full day to prepare for an inspection. This time should be used to review the information held by Ofsted and to ensure that the fieldwork is properly focused and used to best effect in collecting first-hand evidence.

The information Ofsted holds includes:

  • previous inspection reports
  • completed questionnaires from children, young people, foster carers, parents, placing social workers and other stakeholders and associated summary reports
  • the agency’s statement of purpose and children’s guide
  • any concerns and complaints received
  • notifications of serious events
  • annual quality and data forms submitted to Ofsted
  • data analysis by Ofsted
  • updated data and details from the foster carers’ register provided by the agency following notice of the inspection to enable the selection of files for case sampling
  • 3 sets of panel minutes provided by the agency following notice of inspection
  • any changes to registration, including change of manager or the responsible individual
  • any enforcement activity that has happened within the last inspection year

Some of this information is drawn together in the provider information portal (PIP) and in the pre-inspection briefing.

In addition, the inspector takes account of relevant background and context information such as the most recent inspection of the local authority and review of the local safeguarding children board where the agency is situated. The published reports are available on the Ofsted website and the link is included in the pre-inspection briefing.

If information has been received that indicates potential non-compliance with regulatory requirements, Ofsted may decide to investigate during the inspection. In these cases, the concern is a line of enquiry for the inspection. The inspector usually outlines the concern to the agency at the beginning of the inspection.

The inspector carries out an analysis of the available evidence and information and must record their planning notes on the inspection database.

The plan for the inspection sets out lines of enquiry, any areas of apparent weakness or significant strength, or areas where further evidence needs to be gathered. The focus of the inspection may change during its course as further evidence emerges.

11.2 Questionnaires

Each year, Ofsted uses online questionnaires to gather a range of views about different types of setting. Where relevant, this includes the views of:

  • children and young people
  • parents and carers
  • staff
  • foster carers
  • adopters
  • adult service users
  • other interested parties such as placing social workers and independent reviewing officers

Ofsted sends links to the questionnaires annually to each provider by email and asks them to distribute those links on its behalf. The responses are submitted directly to Ofsted.

Responses are shared with the inspector for the service or setting and are used to inform the planning and scheduling of inspections. Where there are no responses for a service or setting, this also forms a line of enquiry for the inspection.

11.3 Notifications and reports made under regulation 35 and NMS 25

Inspectors must regularly review notifications and reports under regulation 35 and NMS 25. This is important regulatory activity. Inspectors must focus on both the content and quality of the reports to ensure that there is effective monitoring of the agency and that these activities support improvement in the experiences and progress of children.

Information from any of these sources may lead to:

  • further activity, such as speaking to the registered manager and/ or responsible individual or other stakeholders
  • the rescheduling of inspections based on either identified concerns within reports and/or notifications or based on a failure to submit reports or notifications
  • lines of enquiry for the next inspection - emerging lines of enquiry must be noted in the inspection database and inform pre-inspection planning

Registered persons (providers and managers) must notify Ofsted without delay about specific events and incidents as set out in regulation 36 of the Fostering services (England) regulations 2011. Schedule 7 lists the specific events.

Online forms and further guidance about notifications are available. Providers should always seek advice from their link inspector about individual cases if they are uncertain how to proceed.

If the inspector identifies issues that give them cause for concern about the welfare of children, they should ask for evidence that shows what has been done to help and protect the child. If notifications are incomplete, the inspector should always contact the agency for ask for more information.

Whenever there are concerns about the safety or welfare of a child, the inspector must contact the registered manager so that Ofsted is fully aware of the actions being taken by the agency, the placing authority and other relevant parties (such as the host authority and police) to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child/young person. Managers and staff should take into account the appropriate parts of the statutory guidance outlined in ‘Working together to safeguard children’ (2015).

If the inspector has any concern about the practice of either the placing or the host local authority, this is managed in line with the published policy ‘Management of cross-remit concerns about children’s welfare’. The director of children’s services must be notified immediately of the concerns so that they can review the situation. This information will also inform planning for any forthcoming local authority inspection.

Inspectors always monitor closely whether Ofsted is informed of the outcome of any child protection enquiry in line with regulations and statutory guidance. If this has not been received promptly, the inspector should contact the agency. Inspectors must always follow up any failure to notify Ofsted of the outcome.

Regulation 35 of the Fostering services (England) regulations 2011 requires the registered person to carry out a review of, and report on, the performance of the agency and how they improve the quality of foster care, as set out in schedule 6 of those regulations. The report forms part of the provider’s quality assurance procedures. Registered fostering agencies are required by regulations to send them to Ofsted.

The completion and submission of these reports does not necessarily meet the requirement, set out in part (1) (b) of regulation 35, to maintain a system for improving the quality of foster care. Agencies should be able to demonstrate during the inspection the impact of their planned improvements to the service.

NMS 25.7 states that the executive side of the independent fostering agency provider/trustees, board members or management committee members should:

  • receive written reports on the management, outcomes and financial state of the fostering agency every 3 months
  • monitor the management and outcomes of the services provided in order to satisfy themselves that the agency is effective and is achieving good outcomes for children
  • satisfy themselves that they, as the provider, are complying with any conditions of registration’

Reports made under NMS 25 are examined prior to, or during, inspections.

Reports under regulation 35 and NMS 25 can be submitted using an online form. This is the most secure, and our preferred, method of receiving notifications.

Reports under NMS 25 can also be emailed to enquiries@ofsted.gov.uk. However, information sent by email is not secure. Providers should be aware of the associated risks while operating within the information guidelines of their own organisation. If providers need to use email, they must include Ofsted’s unique reference number (URN) and the date on which the visit occurred on the report.

If providers are unable to submit these reports online, they can post them to:

Document Handling Centre Manager
Ofsted
Applications, Regulatory and Contact Team
Piccadilly Gate
Store Street
Manchester
M1 2WD