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Social care common inspection framework (SCCIF): residential family centres

12. The on-site inspection

What happens during an inspection.

12.1 The start of the inspection

At the start of all 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 manager or person in charge at the beginning of the inspection to:

  • outline the plan for the inspection and confirm whether it is a full inspection or a monitoring visit
  • make arrangements to interview the registered manager during the course of the inspection - if the registered manager and registered provider are unavailable and unable to attend the inspection, the registered provider should identify someone to be their representative
  • outline any lines of enquiry for the inspection, including those generated through the reading of the statement of purpose
  • provide the person in charge with the opportunity to share current information or personal issues relating to any children or parents living at the centre, that the inspector needs to be aware of during the inspection
  • ensure that Ofsted holds the correct contact details on the inspection database (as required by regulations), including email addresses and phone numbers for the manager, registered provider and/or responsible individual, any other partners, directors or trustees (see Annex A)
  • ensure that Ofsted holds records of the latest qualification of the registered manager or progress made on any qualifications being undertaken
  • arrange the approximate time that verbal feedback will be given and who is to receive this - feedback is normally given to the registered manager or senior member of staff present and the representative of the registered provider; additional senior staff linked to the centre 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 and parents 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 parents have experienced. For sampled cases, inspectors look at elements of practice within individual cases, usually to follow lines of enquiry.

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 and parents.

Children and parents’ 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 2 cases in small centres. In larger centres, they look at a greater sample of cases.

Inspectors also sample elements of other cases to follow specific lines of enquiry. The size of the centre 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 and usually include (where relevant):

  • any family that has recently arrived at the centre
  • any family whose home is a long way from the centre
  • any family that is nearing completion of their assessment
  • the last court report for a family who has been assessed by the centre

Inspections also assess, where relevant, the management of a recent incident. They will need to understand how the staff team respond to complex and difficult circumstances and whether the actions and responses are focused on promoting and safeguarding the welfare of children and parents.

Case files are only one aspect of children and parents’ journeys. Inspectors increase their understanding of children and parents’ experiences through evidence from other sources, such as observation of practice and discussions with individuals involved in the case. When tracking the case of a looked-after child, the independent reviewing officer and the placing social worker should be consulted.

Inspectors examine, discuss and evaluate cases in line with the evaluation criteria. Inspectors look for evidence that the centre has had a positive impact on the experiences and progress of children and parents and that managers and staff know they are making a difference to children and parents’ lives.

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 of children and parents are central to the inspection and provide important evidence of their experiences and progress.

Inspectors assess how well the centre consults with children and parents. The views of children and parents that have been gathered by the service are taken into account as part of the inspection evidence.

Inspectors always try to meet with children and parents during the inspection. In exceptional circumstances, inspectors may make alternative arrangements to speak to children and parents, such as telephone calls at a pre-arranged time.

Inspectors must take into account the specific communication needs of individual children and parents. The inspectors may request the help of staff who know and understand a preferred means of communication, particularly if this is unique to the child or parent.

In other instances, it may also be appropriate for inspectors to spend time observing children and parents and how they interact with staff and respond to their environment.

Inspectors can request the services of an interpreter to join the inspection. This is helpful when the children or parents are fluent in British Sign Language. Inspectors request this service via the inspection support team and give 2 weeks’ notice where possible.

Inspectors should involve children and parents in inspection activity wherever they can. Opportunities to hear their views may include:

  • asking families to show inspectors around the premises
  • holding structured meetings (as a general guideline, a meeting should not include more than 5 people)
  • having individual conversations
  • joining in leisure activities
  • spending mealtimes with families

Parents, including those who have 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 where conversations with children and parents are taking place and who is involved
  • being sensitive to the fact that some families may not want to be involved in the inspection
  • explaining to families that they will not include comments that will identify them in the inspection report or in feedback to staff working in the home without their permission
  • ensuring that staff are aware of any arranged meetings with family members and that children and parents may leave the meeting at any time
  • where appropriate, explaining to families that information suggesting they or another child or parent are at risk of harm will be passed to an appropriate person able to take necessary action about that concern

12.4 Observation of activities

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

  • play and daily care routines for parents and children
  • staff handover between shifts
  • meetings with families
  • staff meetings or briefings
  • family group sessions

The privacy and confidentiality of personal information are respected at all times by inspectors. The inspector always involves the centre in any decisions about families’ involvement in the inspection.

Inspectors always seek to strike a balance between the time taken to observe an activity with the significance of the likely evidence to be gained.

12.5 Gathering views of other professionals

Inspectors consult with professionals, usually in a phone call during the inspection. Professionals may include:

  • placing representatives of the placing family court(s)
  • social workers
  • representatives from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass)
  • the police
  • commissioners from the local authority
  • the local authority designated officer
  • relevant health and education professionals
  • the person who visits the centre on behalf of the provider under regulation 25 of the Residential family centres regulations 2002

Inspectors ask for the relevant contact details via Annex A.

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

An individual interview is always held with the registered manager (or, if they are not available, the person in charge) and a number of other staff. The number depends on the size of the centre, but includes a sample of permanent and any agency staff working in the centre at the time of inspection.

The inspector always asks to interview the responsible individual where:

  • there is no registered manager in post
  • evidence indicates that the centre is failing to protect children and parents
  • there are concerns about:
    • the quality of assessment, care and support
    • the effectiveness of monitoring arrangements
    • the quality of leadership and management of the centre
    • staffing, the premises or resources to manage the provision

The interview with the manager usually covers:

  • issues that have arisen from pre-inspection information or early lines of enquiry
  • a discussion about the ethos of the residential family centre as described in the statement of purpose and any specific lines of enquiry arising
  • the centre’s evidence of its impact on the experiences of families living there and who have recently left, including how it works with children and parents to meet their needs and assess parenting capacity
  • questions about the theoretical and professional understanding and approach to working with vulnerable children and parents and assessing parents’ capacity to parent and change
  • discussions about how the manager ensures that assessments are carried out appropriately for each family
  • the manager’s knowledge and understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the centre and plans for future development and how they effectively lead the team and promote a culture of continuous improvement
  • follow-up progress in response to previous requirements and recommendations
  • the quality and effectiveness of practice-related supervision the manager receives and gives to staff
  • challenge and enquiry about the relationship of the centre with other professionals and services
  • any other evidence they may wish to highlight to the inspector

During the inspection, the inspector must share emerging findings about the centre’s strengths and weaknesses with a registered person (usually the registered manager) so that they fully understand the issues being identified.

The inspector usually meets with the registered provider and manager at the end of day 1 to share emerging findings. The inspector will normally set out what they intend to consider later in the inspection so the manager can prepare or direct inspectors to specific information or evidence.

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

Inspectors want to establish that the centre’s monitoring systems are robust enough to identify strengths and weaknesses in practice. Inspectors do not spend time routinely counting medication or petty cash, undertaking vehicle checks or checking water temperatures or contents of fridges, freezers and food storage areas unless there is a specific line of enquiry.

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

12.7 Assessing financial viability

The Residential family centres regulations 2002 state that ‘the registered provider shall carry on the residential family centre 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 the statement of purpose’

Inspectors are only expected to undertake a lay person’s assessment of the financial information. If during a routine inspection, the inspector has concerns about the financial viability of a provider, for example due to the poor repair of premises or the standard of day-to-day care or services, they should follow the guidance set out in Ofsted’s Social care registration handbook (2015).

Inspectors should explain to providers why they are requesting financial information during an inspection or at any other time.

The financial information Ofsted can request ranges from professionally produced business plans to a collection of accounts (including profit and loss accounts), records and financial forecasts.

12.8 Examining records, policies and procedures

Inspectors don’t routinely examine all policies and procedures. Documents are examined where it is a line of enquiry for that specific inspection.

However, inspectors do usually look at:

  • referral information
  • pre-admission assessments
  • court directions
  • core assessment and placement plan reports

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 staff so they can assess, care and support children and parents. The inspector may ask to see personnel records if they are included in the lines of enquiry. Centres can maintain electronic records if:

  • the records meet the requirements of regulation
  • the records are appropriately accessible to children and parents if they want to access theirs
  • staff have access to the information they require to assess, care and support families

If recruitment records are not maintained at the centre, inspectors look at the centre’s list of electronic records that summarises the vetting and recruitment checks for staff. These records could be maintained as checklists or spreadsheets. The manager and provider must be able to supply evidence they are satisfied that all staff working at the centre are fit to do so and that recruitment and selection arrangements comply with regulations 16 and 17 of the Residential family centres regulations 2002.

Where the provider uses the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) update service to check the status of an individual’s DBS certificate, the centre 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, the inspector may ask to see a small sample of full personnel records.

Where members of staff are subject to TUPE arrangements, we recognise that the new employer relies on the previous employer for recruitment records and may not have all the information, including documents required by the regulations. In this 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 The use of surveillance

The inspector should observe how any surveillance or electronic monitoring is used in the residential family centre and discuss this with parents and staff, with specific reference to regulation 21A of the Residential family centres (amendment) regulations (2013) and the ‘Residential family centres: national minimum standards’, standard 10.

12.10 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.

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.

12.11 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 is 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.

After the summarised evidence has been placed in 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 during the inspection 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 inspection database within five 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.

12.12 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 responsible individual (as appropriate). Additional senior staff from the provider 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.