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

9. Scheduling and the inspection team

How an inspection is scheduled and who makes up the team.

9.1 Frequency of inspection

We have a duty to inspect independent fostering agencies at least once in a 3-year inspection cycle (Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills (fees and frequency of inspections) (children’s homes, etc.) (amendment) regulations SI 2015/551, as amended).

We are now introducing a rolling 3-year programme of inspection. This means that rather than a static 3-year cycle where all agencies are inspected within each 3-year window, each agency will usually be inspected in the 3-year period following its individual inspection. The 3-year period begins on the 1 April in the year following its individual inspection. For example, for agencies inspected between April 2016 and March 2017, a new 3-year cycle begins on 1 April 2017. There are likely to be some variances as we move from one system to another.

We usually re-inspect agencies that are inadequate within 6 to 12 months of their previous inspection. We usually return to inspect agencies that require improvement within 12 to 18 months.

9.2 Scheduling

The scheduling of inspections takes account of:

  • legal requirements
  • previous inspection findings
  • complaints and concerns about the service
  • returned questionnaires from children, young people, foster carers, social workers and other stakeholders
  • notifications
  • monitoring reports given to Ofsted by independent fostering agencies under regulation 35 of the Fostering services (England) regulations 2011

Where possible, the same inspectors will not inspect an agency for more than 3 consecutive inspection cycles. However, in certain instances, for example, if Ofsted is taking enforcement action, it may be important for continuity purposes to retain the same inspectors until the enforcement action has been concluded.

9.3 Length of inspection

For a full inspection of a fostering agency, 1 inspector usually spends a maximum of 5 days on site within 1 working week.

The inspector and the regulatory inspection manager (RIM) should determine how best to allocate resources for inspections. If it is necessary, the RIM should agree to either the inspector spending additional days on site or additional inspectors being deployed on the inspection.

Inspectors should consider:

  • whether the amount of time on site should be reduced for inspections of small agencies
  • whether additional resources, such as more inspectors or more time on site or both, should be deployed for:
    • inspections of larger agencies
    • agencies with a wide geographical spread
    • where there are specific issues, such as a serious incident, to consider

9.4 Deferrals

Inspections will not normally be deferred. Absence or unavailability of main staff members (unless the provider is a single person) or accommodation issues such as refurbishment will not usually be reasons for deferral. If no staff are available, the inspector should contact the responsible individual or person in charge to arrange access.

An inspection will only be deferred when it might place children or others at risk if it goes ahead or if the ability to gather secure evidence is severely restricted. These conditions might include:

  • serious weather conditions that make access to sites difficult or dangerous or both
  • a serious incident where the presence of an inspector would have an adverse impact on the safety and well-being of children, young people or adults

Decisions about deferrals are agreed by the RIM.