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

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 will always meet with the manager/person in charge at the beginning of the inspection to:

  • outline the plan for the inspection
  • make arrangements to interview the manager and/or responsible individual during the course of the inspection, or a nominated senior member of staff if they are unavailable
  • 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 in the inspection database, including email addresses and contact telephone numbers for the manager, registered provider and/or responsible individual, any other partners, or directors or trustees
  • 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 manager (or senior member of staff present) and the responsible individual. Additional senior 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 and adults 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, care and protection that individual children and other service users 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, 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 they can take these into consideration when reaching the ‘overall experiences and progress’ judgement.

Inspectors track experiences and progress of at least 4 children, young people and/or adults across the range of the voluntary adoption agency’s work. This may not be possible where providers have worked with fewer than 4 service users.

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 determines how many cases are sampled.

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

When tracking and sampling cases, the inspector usually reviews:

  • the preparation, training and support of adopters
  • prospective adopters’ reports, including those who withdrew from the process
  • the approval processes for adopters and the records kept
  • the effectiveness of matching children’s needs with the capacity and skills of the adoptive family, taking into account the views of the adopters and the needs of the children
  • information provided to adopters prior to placement
  • panel minutes
  • the impact of children’s views and feedback on planning for their futures
  • support assessments and plans
  • adoption support records
  • life story work and support for children who are being adopted
  • disruption meeting minutes
  • referrals to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM)
  • complaints
  • ongoing case recording

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 involved, including children and adopters when appropriate.

When inspectors speak with children and young people during the inspection, it is usually with their adoptive family present and only with consent from the person with parental responsibility.

Inspectors examine, discuss and evaluate cases in line with the evaluation criteria. Inspectors look for 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, young people and adult service users

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

Adult service users who inspectors may wish to speak will usually include:

  • adult adoptees
  • birth relatives
  • adoptive families, at any stage of the process including those not yet approved

Inspectors assess how well the agency consults with children and other service users. The views of children that have been 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 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 child’s preferred means of communication, particularly if this is unique to the child. It may also be appropriate for inspectors to spend time observing children and other service users and how they interact with carers and professionals and respond to their environment.

Inspectors can request the services of an interpreter to join the inspection. This is helpful when the children or adults are fluent in British Sign Language. Inspectors request this service via the inspection support team and give 2 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 them at this time. Inspectors should involve service users in inspection activity wherever they can. Opportunities to gather the views and experiences of children and adults may include:

  • meeting them during pre-arranged meetings, such as review meetings or placement agreement meetings
  • speaking to them on the telephone or where they live
  • attending service user groups that may run during the inspection

Children 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 who can 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:

  • adoption panel meetings
  • placement planning meetings
  • support groups

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

Inspectors will always try to strike a balance between the time taken 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. These professionals may include:

  • the chair of the adoption panel or the panel adviser and, if not available, independent members of the central list
  • placing social workers
  • the agency decision-maker
  • independent reviewing officers
  • foster carers who specialise in pre-adoption work

Inspectors ask agencies 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 agency’s manager and, where relevant, 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.

Where the manager is not available, the inspector usually asks to interview the responsible individual.

The inspector always asks to interview the responsible individual where:

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

The interview with the manager usually addresses:

  • issues that have arisen from pre-inspection information and/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 voluntary adoption agency
  • the arrangements for supervision received by the manager
  • any further evidence the manager may wish to highlight with the inspector

During the inspection, the inspector must share emerging findings about the provision’s important strengths and weaknesses with the provider so that they fully understand the 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.

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

Inspectors should be ready to alter interview arrangements if staff have to attend to the needs of children or other service users.

12.7 Assessing financial viability

The adoption 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 20(1) of The voluntary adoption agencies and the adoption agencies (miscellaneous amendments) regulations 2003).

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 due to, for example,not enough staff to provide contracted support or not enough accommodation for storing secure records, they should follow the guidance set out in Ofsted’s Social care registration handbook (2015).

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 voluntary adoption agencies and the adoption agencies (miscellaneous amendments) regulations 2003).

12.8 Examining of records, policies and procedures

The voluntary adoption agency’s statement of purpose and, where relevant, children’s guide, should be available on its 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 care and support safely and appropriately.

Inspectors are likely to look at a sample of 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.

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 is 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 (the Act) 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 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, for example, be necessary 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 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 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.