- Quality Assurance
- The Auditing Process
- Scope of Audits – Across the Journey of the Child
- Numbers of Audits Completed
- Good Practice Standards and Audit Guidance
- Tips for Auditors
- Audit Grading (Ofsted)
- The Audit Cycle
- Learning and Improvement (Figure 1)
- Role of the Advanced Practitioner in Quality Assurance
Appendix 1: Tier 2 Audit Process Flowchart
Appendix 2: Tier 2 (Full) Case File Audit Toolkit (CIN and CP) Case File Grading (Ofsted Key Judgements)
Appendix 3: Tier 2 (Full) Case File Audit Toolkit (CLA and Leaving Care) Case File Grading (Ofsted Key Judgements)
1. Quality Assurance
The purpose of quality assurance processes is to improve practice and the quality of the service we provide, with the intention of improving outcomes for children and young people through a process of continuous learning.
The Audit framework serves two basic functions:
- It identifies both good practice and where practice needs to improve through a systematic approach to sampling files; and
- It provides senior management with assurance as to the quality of our work.
The auditing of practice is an integral part of quality assurance systems. As part of the overall Quality Assurance Framework, this Audit Framework sets out how Lancashire County Council can improve practice through audits. To achieve this, a range of audit activity is undertaken, which considers both quantitative and qualitative information. Quantitative audits focus on compliance and consist, for example, of basic counting of ticks in the right places, papers in the right files, signatures in the right place and timescales met. Qualitative audits provide a detailed analysis of files, and judgements on overall quality and content.
Case file audit is integrated into daily practice as a meaningful and useful method for case file review and which supports supervision, professional development and continuous improvement.
The primary use of the intelligence gathered from auditing is to find out how practice can improve. The purpose of audits is to:
- Identify and evidence the extent to which interventions are helping children, young people and their families to improve their lives by supporting them to make sustainable, positive changes;
- Evidence, promote and cascade good practice so that there is a growing understanding of what works well;
- Ensure case file compliance and improve the quality of practice and recording;
- Provide a framework for responding to areas of concern;
- Identify potential areas of decline as early as possible.
The collation of both qualitative and quantitative data and information from all audits will be analysed with recommendations for practice improvement / development, across Lancashire but also importantly broken down into the three localities.
This Audit Framework sets an ambitious target for individual audits of cases. The aim is to audit at least 600 case audits (Tier 2) a year, representing approximately 8% of the total caseload.
2. The Auditing Process
Audits largely fall into four areas:
- Tier 1 – quantitative reviews of files and/or data, to test statutory compliance. Tier 1 audits will be undertaken by the Audit Team and do not require a qualified Social Worker;
- Tier 2 – qualitative analysis of files and/or data, to test the quality of interventions. This involves a full case audit and should be completed by a manager or Advanced Practitioner, who is a qualified Social Worker;
- Tier 3 – senior management oversight of cases, includes a discussion with the Social Worker and their manager;
- Thematic Audits – led by the Audit Team. Thematic audits will be agreed by Children Service's Senior Management Team and the Locality Practice Improvement Meetings.
Tier 1 Audits
Tier 1 Audits will be completed by the Audit Team. Tier 1 Audits form part of the Quality Assurance Framework and are guided by service needs, outcomes of Tier 2 Audits and management direction. These audits will address quantitative issues, reviews of files, data and performance and test statutory compliance. The outcome of Tier 1 Audits will form part of the learning and be contained in the reports to the monthly Locality Practice Improvement Meetings.
Tier 2 Audits
Tier 2 Audits consist of an audit of the case on LCS alongside an interview with the Social Worker. (The manager may also choose to attend or may be considered necessary dependant on issues identified in the audit). The purpose of this meeting is twofold. Firstly, it is an opportunity for the worker to have an input into the audit and fill any gaps in information. Secondly, it can be used to support learning through discussing good practice linked to individual cases. It should be constructive and feedback on areas of good practice as well as areas where there is a need for improvement.
A 10% sample of audits will include contact with the family. The focus will be to improve learning and ensure that the views of the family are captured.
It is mandatory that the following people complete the allocated number of audits. Where there is non-compliance, the issue will be raised with the responsible Head of Service and will be reported to the Senior Leadership Team. Auditors will include:
- Team Managers – (There are 30 Team Managers, although it is recognised that this figure may change depending on service requirements). Team Managers will complete one Tier 2 Audit per month, including a meeting with the Social Worker and manager. Team Managers will not audit cases within their own team and will audit across the three localities;
- Advanced Practitioners – (There are 12 Advanced Practitioners). Advanced Practitioners will complete one Tier 2 Audit per month, including a meeting with the Social Worker and manager. Advanced Practitioners will audit across the three localities;
- Senior Managers – (There are 8 Senior Managers). Senior Managers will complete one Tier 2 Audit per month, including a meeting with the Social Worker and manager. Senior Managers will not audit cases within their own locality.
Tier 2 Audit Tools
Tier 2 Audits are completed using two specific audit tools: Child Protection/Children in Need (Appendix 1: Tier 2 Audit Process Flowchart) and Looked After Children/Care Leavers (Appendix 2: Tier 2 (Full) Case File Audit Toolkit (CIN and CP) Case File Grading (Ofsted Key Judgements)). The audit tools are very similar but cover separate components linked to legislation and statutory guidance. They also include details of the Ofsted gradings which should be used for consistency of grading.
Tier 3 Audits
The Director of Children's Services and the Heads of Service will lead on one Tier 3 Audit each per month using the audit tool attached in Appendix 3: Tier 2 (Full) Case File Audit Toolkit (CLA and Leaving Care) Case File Grading (Ofsted Key Judgements), which is completed by the Audit team prior to the face to face meeting with the social worker. This will contain a case summary and cover compliance and quality of practice. This will be used as the basis for a discussion on the case. The case discussion will be led by the DCS or the Head of Service. The purpose is to ensure that senior managers are part of the auditing process and have a line of sight to front-line practice. Social Workers benefit from having one to one discussions with senior management and get an opportunity to raise issues in a constructive setting. The minutes and actions from the meeting are fed back into the continuous learning loop through the Audit Team.
Thematic Audits & Case Sampling
The Audit Team, Advanced Practitioners and Senior Managers will undertake thematic audits or case sampling. Thematic audits are undertaken to assess quality of work in specific areas, which may be identified as a result of the Tier 2 auditing or through other learning, including serious case reviews, management concerns, complaints, performance monitoring and general service user feedback. This is in addition to the Lancashire Children's Safeguarding Assurance Partnership (CSAP) led multi-agency thematic audits. Case sampling may be undertaken where a concern is highlighted in Tier 2 auditing to sample audit a larger number of cases to establish if a particular practice issue is more widespread. The outcomes and actions from thematic audits and case sampling will be fed into the reports to the Locality Practice Improvement Meetings.
3. Scope of Audits – Across the Journey of the Child
Auditing of case files will include children and young people who are open to CSC services, and will involve a random selection of open cases across the continuum of need: referral, child and family assessments; children In need; child protection; looked after children and leaving care. Bespoke audits will also cover other linked services including, fostering, adoption, YOT, YPS and children centres.
4. Numbers of Audits Completed
Tier 1 Audits will be undertaken as the need arises.
Tier 2 Audits will be completed on a monthly basis. When fully implemented 60 managers/Advanced practitioners will be completing 50 audits per month (allowing for leave and sickness absence) which equates to 600 audits over the year. As of April 2016 this equates to approximately 8% of open cases (7,445).
Tier 2 Audits will be completed proportionate to the number of cases under the categories: child in need, child protection, and child looked after. The number of audits undertaken in each locality will also be proportionate to the number of cases held in each locality.
The Audit Framework will be launched on the 13 May 2016 when 30 managers will be trained in the audit process and Tier 2 Audit tools. A further training session is scheduled for the 18 May 2016, followed by a second tranche of training in June 2016. This incremental approach to implementation will ensure that the Audit Framework is properly embedded. The Audit Team will undertake follow-up sessions with managers within the three localities to ensure confidence in the use of the tools and consistency in their application. A sample of audits will also be quality assured to check that gradings are appropriate. Full implementation of Tier 2 auditing will be achieved by July 2016.
6. Good Practice Standards and Audit Guidance
To support managers undertaking audits a guide, "Quality Assurance: What does 'good' look like?" (Appendix 3: Tier 2 (Full) Case File Audit Toolkit (CLA and Leaving Care) Case File Grading (Ofsted Key Judgements)) has been developed based on the CSC Practice Standards (Appendix 4). This should be used as part of the auditing process, alongside knowledge and judgement and will help auditors measure against good practice standards.
7. Tips for Auditors
There are some basic tips for Auditors:
- Audits should not take longer than 2 to 3 hours and this includes an audit of the case on LCS and a brief meeting with the Social Worker and manager;
- Use the Good Practice Guide for Auditors to support your professional knowledge and judgements;
- Read the Ofsted Grades prior to auditing and ensure compliance so there is a consistent approach to grading;
- Don't be afraid to make judgements but support this with a short statement evidencing why the decision has been made;
- Complete all boxes (unless not applicable). Comments should be brief and factual – they need to be understood by the Social Worker and manager to improve practice at the front-line but will also be used to draw out themes to inform learning across the organisation. Comment on good practice as well as areas for improvement;
- Audit the file before meeting with the Social Worker and manager. The purpose of the meeting with the Social Worker and manager is twofold. Firstly, it is an opportunity for them to input into the audit and fill gaps. Secondly, it can be used to support learning through discussing good practice linked to individual cases. It should be constructive and include feedback on areas of good practice as well as areas where there is a need for improvement;
- Read key documents, starting with the chronology and case summary which should give an overview of the case. Other key documents should include the Contact/Referral, S47 Enquiries, Strategy Discussions, Single Assessment, Plans, Reviews and Case Records. Look at other documents, as appropriate, to gain essential information or gather evidence;
- The Auditor should be able to see the 'journey of the child' through reading key documents;
- Ensure that you know the child's details, who has parental responsibility, legal status, where the child lives and relationships;
- Audit within the last year to eighteen months. Go back further if this is required in terms of safeguarding or drift and delay, but the focus of the audit is to advise on current practice and whether children are safe;
- If you cannot find information easily, then do not continue to look. Information should be easy to find. Where information cannot be found, reflect this in the grading;
- Ensure compliance with legislation, statutory guidance and internal procedures;
- If there are immediate concerns contact the case manager;
- Use the child's individual identifier on all forms, not names;
- Ensure that there is a clear 'picture' of the child and that their views, wishes and feelings are evident throughout the whole file;
- The child must be at the centre of the audit;
- Where the Auditor is required to meet or talk to the family, ensure that they understand the purpose of the discussion, keep it brief, clear and focused on learning.
It has been agreed that Lancashire will use the same audit tool as Blackburn with Darwen. The aim is to look at peer auditing across the local authorities in the future.
8. Audit Grading (Ofsted)
Files are graded based on the Ofsted Grading's – Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement and Inadequate. The indicators for a good grading for reference, are included in the Audit Tool.
9. The Audit Cycle
The Tier 2 audit process is aligned to the monthly performance cycle, which sets out the days on each month that information is provided, validated and presented to the Practice Improvement Meetings and Improvement Board.
In summary, cases will be randomly selected for audit by the Audit Team and sent to managers on the first working day of the month (Day 1). Audits must be completed and returned to the Audit Team 5 working days before the end of each month. The Audit Team will maintain a database to track completed audits and all audit action plans which must be signed off by the supervising manager for the case.
A monthly summary report will be prepared for the Practice Improvement Meetings and Children's Social Care, Senior Management Team at the beginning of each month (by Day 5). This will include details of audit action plans to ensure they are tracked and signed off following completion. A quarterly report will be submitted to the Senior Leadership Team.
10. Learning and Improvement (Figure 1)
The primary use of the intelligence gathered from auditing is to find out how practice across the organisation can improve. Audit outlines: what is good about practice; where there is good practice and how this can be expanded into different areas; where there are concerns around quality of work and what should be done to put this right.
It is not just about the individual file, but is about making bigger changes that stand in the way of good practice. To achieve this there needs to be a circle of continuous improvement. The information from audit is shared at all levels and overall findings are reported monthly to the three locality Practice Improvement Meetings. Quarterly Quality Assurance reports will be submitted to the Senior Leadership Group, including the themes from audit and the action taken to address any identified issues.
Locality Practice Improvement Meetings
The role of the Locality Practice Improvement Meetings is to oversee performance and bring together quantitative and qualitative information by triangulating performance data with the learning from case file audits to gain a better understanding of the quality of practice and the impact of services in improving outcomes for children and young people. The meetings will identify good practice as well as key areas for improvement and will ensure remedial action is taken to address issues arising from case file audits. Monthly meetings are held in each of the three localities.
Figure 1 - Continuous Learning Cycle
11. Role of the Advanced Practitioner in Quality Assurance
The newly developed Advanced Practitioner posts have a pivotal role in ensuring that audit findings are communicated and understood at both an individual case level and more broadly in developing good practice across Children's Social Care.
The Advanced Practitioner posts will develop practice by:
- Attend Locality Practice Improvement Meetings to inform and explore audit findings;
- Meet with the Social Worker and supervising manager to consider individual case file audits and reflect on practice to consider learning and remedial actions in relation to the case;
- Provide individual support to Social Worker's through joint working complex cases and supporting individuals with identified practice development;
- Support operational understanding and practice of risk sensible model;
- Provide briefings and develop practice development workshops with operational teams including the learning from case file auditing;
- To support the identification of practice themes (strengths and risks) arising from audits and contribute to quarterly audit reports;
- To support the role of the Principal Social Worker and to develop and deliver training. workshops to improve practice;
- Facilitate and hold regular induction programmes;
- Provide Support to ASYE's including observations of practice and group supervision focusing on reflective and critical learning skills;
- Audit supervision files;
- To collate good practice examples and utilise to disseminate good practice;
- To provide support to operational teams with the implementation of policies and procedures.