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1.1.13 Quality Assurance Framework

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in June 2016 and should be read.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Practice Development and Quality Assurance
  3. Review and Challenge
  4. Management Action
  5. Roles and Responsibilities
  6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This Quality Assurance Framework starts from a number of key principles and assumptions:

  1. Kent Specialist Children’s Services is committed to delivering the very best outcomes for the children it works with;
  2. Ultimately, the delivery of good outcomes will always take precedence over a focus on process or outputs but all are important in the delivery of children’s social care services;
  3. Outcomes for vulnerable children can always be improved upon and no service ever performs perfectly - social care services require a constantly questioning and interrogative approach to ensure their continuing safety and effectiveness;
  4. Ensuring an ever-improving quality of all we do is the responsibility of all staff but the prime responsibility will always rest with those who deliver front line services to children and their families;
  5. Safe and effective services depend on the existence of a healthy tension in the system between those charged with the delivery of services and those who have a scrutinising and oversight role. Managing the tension is part of the role of senior managers who need to ensure a balance is maintained between support and challenge and is always driven by the best outcomes for children.

The needs of children we work with are such that they need the right response from the very beginning and throughout our involvement with them and the reality of what are always limited and often reducing resources means we literally cannot afford to waste resources with ill-directed or poorly delivered services. The achievement of quality service provision is a central part of our approach to efficiencies - confident that we use what we have well and effectively.

An effective approach to performance and quality assurance must be characterised by four separate but related strands - practice development, quality assurance, review and challenge and management action and the relationship between these four factors is captured in the diagram at the end of this introduction:

  • Practice Development - setting in place those elements which if properly embedded are designed to improve performance;
  • Quality Assurance - those are the elements of the service designed to measure the extent to which the practice development work is being successful, that work is meeting agreed standards and that children are being kept safe within the system; and
  • Review and Challenge - these are the internal and external processes and arenas which challenge the service to evidence the quality of their work and which form a key part of continual performance improvement;
  • Management Action - these are actions taken both to respond to deficits identified through the quality assurance and review and challenge processes and to ensure that performance improvement activities are constantly refocused to deliver the required changes.

The document sets out the quality assurance, review and challenge and management actions arrangements for the service. It describes the broad strategic approach to quality assurance, identifying the various processes that contribute and how they fit together. It then goes on to describe the various review and challenge functions that impact upon the service that provide the necessary level of scrutiny and inspection that is key to ensuring the service retains a consistent and robust self-awareness. It then describes the sorts of management actions that are required to ensure a timely and robust response to any vulnerability that become evident in the service.

Finally, the document sets out the respective roles of different staff groups in the delivery of this strategy.

Click here to view the Quality Assurance Framework Flowchart


2. Practice Development and Quality Assurance

These are areas of focus designed to check the quality and impact of the practice development drivers and whether performance and outcomes are improving. They are also designed to highlight areas where progress is not being made or not being made in a timely manner and to ensure operational managers are properly sighted on them and can take preventative and/or remedial action as necessary.

In Kent Specialist Children’s Services, the QA function is carried out through seven key strands:

  1. Data Analysis - the provision of data is key to understanding current performance; highlighting areas of weakness and in helping to measure the extent to which remedial activities are effective in improving performance. There are three types of information that are regularly and readily available to operational staff:
    • Performance Information - this is data that tells the viewer something about how well the service is doing and will ordinarily measure either service outputs or outcomes for children. Many of these are nationally set and reported upon. Statistical neighbour and best performing authorities benchmarking data is available and will be used to drive performance in Kent;
    • Activity Data - essentially contextual data, this will set out the demands on the service and how they are changing over time. This will allow for an analysis to be made of performance changes in the light of changing demands. Importantly, looking at activity data allows us to understand the journey of the child through our system through the analysis of conversion rates - e.g. how many referrals become assessments, how many Section 47 investigations lead to child protection plans, what’s the route of children into the care system etc. There are not necessarily targets attached to this data but managers need to be very aware whether there are any variations (either over time or between areas or in comparison to other local authorities) that require further exploration;
    • Management Information - this is information primarily aimed at and essential to front line managers charged with the daily running of the service. This is information that enables them to track children through their part of the service and to ensure that the work of their teams is of a good standard. Ordinarily, this is data is only helpful to front-line managers - senior managers do not need to see it but do need to be assured it is available and being well-used.
  2. Case File Audits - this work is crucial to add some qualitative information to data analysis. Case file audits normally fall into one of four categories:
    • Monthly Online Audits - the service completes a comprehensive system of monthly online audits, carried out by operational managers on their own work and then randomly peer reviewed across the service. This is a crucial process in ensuring the safety and effectiveness of services to individual children and to pick up any practice themes that need attention. The process is now entirely consistent with the location of responsibility for service improvement with operational teams. The results of these audits are collated, analysed and disseminated back across the service. Separate detailed guidance is available on this process:
    • Themed Audits - these audits are commissioned centrally in response to either some emerging concerns about an area of work; to test hypotheses generated through data analysis or to explore the particular circumstances for a group of children;
    • Area-based Audits - both of the above are part of a county-wide audit programme. In addition, area based managers will run audits into certain teams, certain staff members or into certain areas of activity to ensure they are fully sighted on the quality of work in their areas;
    • Kent Safeguarding Children Board audit programme - KSCB commissions multi-agency audits and their findings will inevitably impact upon the work of SCS. In addition, SCS will of course be one of the lead contributors to these audits.
  3. Child Protection Case Conferences and Children in Care Reviews - these are two crucial arenas to ensure that the planning and reviewing work with some of our most vulnerable children is of good and sufficient quality. Conference Chairs and IROs have a number of key functions in the quality assurance process:
    • As with every member of staff, they have to ensure that their own work is of good standard, that their planning is SMART and outcome focussed and that risk assessment is informed and proportionate;
    • Both services have to ensure that they operate smoothly and in a timely manner so meetings are held on time and minutes and plans distributed in declared timescales;
    • They have to ensure that children benefit from a plan which is current and proportionate to their assessed needs;
    • Reviews and conferences are multi-agency meetings so they provide a good insight into the working of the system beyond that of SCS and Chairs and IROs are required to report more widely up through their management structure into corporate parenting arenas and the KSCB. See Kent and Medway Safeguarding Children Procedures Manual;
    • Both services collect views of children and families who participate in the meetings and these views are collated and fed into Deep Dives (see Section 3, Review and Challenge) and form a central part of their quarterly and annual reporting cycle;
    • Both services have established and detailed escalation procedures designed to raise concerns about individual cases with line managers. The starting point is always to seek to resolve those concerns at the lowest possible point in the hierarchy - but equally the need to ensure the best outcome for children will always override any hesitation about escalation;
    • The services produce regular collated reports of these escalations to enable operational managers to understand trends and areas of vulnerabilities in their services;
    • As individuals, Chairs and IROs engage with district and operational managers on a regular basis to problem solve, offer guidance and expertise as required and to ensure that working relationships with front line staff are actively constructed to meet the best needs of children.

      (The work of the IRO and CP Chairing Service is captured in more detail in other related documentation - above is a summary of key functions).
  4. Service User and Partner Feedback - clearly this is a key element in any quality assurance framework. We need to hear and respond to all feedback from service users, whether children, young people or parents/carers. Whatever investments we make, however we configure our services and regardless of different practice development activities, if the experience of service users is negative or critical then it requires a willingness to change direction. SCS gathers the views of service users through a variety of processes:
    • Parents and, sometimes, young people attend Child Protection Case Conferences and they are asked to complete a form detailing their experience of both the conference itself but more widely how the child protection plan is constructed and delivered. This is then collated and feedback to the service through quarterly reports and fed into the Deep Dive process (see Section 3, Review and Challenge);
    • Children and young people routinely contribute to, or even chair their own Child in Care Reviews and we report on and analyse their participation rates. Where appropriate, care plans need to be amended to reflect their wishes and feelings and the IRO services pulls together their feedback to form a broader overview of their views of the child care system;
    • Advocacy services and Independent Visitor feedback - these services are externally commissioned in Kent and quarterly and annual reports, managed through the contract monitoring process, are collated and fed into operational managers;
    • Virtual School Kent (VSK) are responsible for the construction and delivery of a Participation Strategy for Children in Care. Through both formal and informal meetings with groups of children in the Council’s care, this is a crucial strategy to ensure that the service, Members and the Council in its corporate parenting capacity actively engages with Children in Care and ensures their needs are being met;
    • Feedback from complaints (and compliments) gives another crucial insight into the experiences of service users especially, of course, those who have not had a positive experience. Learning from complaints, whether within specific areas of the service responding to individual complaints or through the quarterly and annual reports adds a level of richness to our understanding of service provision;
    • Feedback from partners is another source of understanding that is valued. This feedback may come informally through joint working and networking activities; as a consequence of multi agency case audits; via the Courts or CAFCASS and other involved bodies provide feedback on the quality of care planning and the progress of Children in Care proceedings. Feedback is also sought via commissioned services - we have a duty to hold them to account for the provision of services but equally they will be sighted on areas of our practice that are important to hear.
  5. Staff Feedback - as an organisation we are committed to hearing about and responding to the experiences of staff on the front line. Their daily experiences of practice necessarily brings them knowledge about how the system is or is not working and what improvements are needed to ensure children are as safe as possible and work is of a good standard. This feedback may come formally up through management lines, attendance at staff briefings (which are diarised at regular intervals across the county and throughout the year), informal and ad hoc contact with senior managers or in response to newsletters.

    All communication from staff will be welcomed and if it cannot always be acted upon, it will always be responded to. It is a key role of the Principal Social Worker to represent the views and experiences of front line staff back to senior and corporate managers and members.
  6. Learning from the Best and Learning from Research - SCS is committed to constantly learning from the best. One of the key functions of the Deep Dive process (see Section 3, Review and Challenge) is to expose and disseminate best practice within Kent. Equally, we are committed to learning from the best regionally and nationally so Business Strategy and Support constantly ‘horizon scan’, reviewing other authorities KPI returns or inspection reports to identify areas of learning for the county. We will also, primarily through our membership of ‘Research in Practice’, ensure current and relevant research is disseminated and we are building up partnership arrangements with HEIs in the county. There is a comprehensive public health and social care library along with access to regular bulletins from tri.x, keeping colleagues informed about government policy and changes in legislation;
  7. Practice Development Activity – will be informed by the current information from the range of sources described.


3. Review and Challenge

It is important that our performance is subject to regular and robust scrutiny and challenge. The preceding section has set out the range of internal processes within the service that offer that challenge.

Deep Dives have been a key part of our performance improvement activity since the 2010 Ofsted inspection and are the arenas that bring together all the information and analysis from (i) to (vi) set out above. They are chaired by the Corporate Director and attended by the Director of SCS and the AD of Safeguarding & QA. This level of senior management scrutiny on the day to day practice of districts and areas has ensured that those managers have a very detailed knowledge about the strengths and vulnerabilities across the service; it has meant that operational managers have needed to relate their performance data with the services to individual children and it has provided a useful channel of communication between the centre and the districts/areas. They have helped generate a sense of ownership about and pride in the performance of each district and area for the managers concerned which has contributed to improved and improving performance.

Deep Dives are held quarterly and capture/consider the full range of services including each geographical area, Fostering, Adoption, Leaving Care, Safeguarding & QA, Disabled Children’s Service and the Central Duty Team (CDT). District variation within areas are highlighted and the Safeguarding & QA Unit lead on the preparation for each session ensuring there is available a statistical analysis, a collation of information from IROs, CP chairs, relevant service user feedback and area-based file analysis to ensure a rounded picture is accessible with an appropriate balance between qualitative and quantitative information.

Themes are sometimes identified to form the focus of the meetings and a proportion of the area Deep Dives are extended to include a visit to a district team by senior managers. These visits are informed by the theme of the Deep Dive and offer the opportunity for social workers and front line managers to talk about and evidence the work they are doing.

Deep Dives are attended by the management teams for the area/service concerned, the IROs and Conference chairs working in those areas, the relevant Practice Development Officers and the Management Information Unit.

In addition our work is properly subject to the following external scrutiny and challenge:

  • Kent Safeguarding Children Board (KSCB) (see Kent and Medway Safeguarding Children Procedures Manual).

    The role of KSCB is statutorily defined in both the Children Act 2004 and the LSCB regulations 2006. Working Together to Safeguard Children (WT) 2015 restates their centrality in providing the coordination and ensuring the effectiveness of safeguarding in their areas and across the children’s partnership. Moreover, LSCBs are now required to develop their own learning and improvement methodology, building on the work that single agencies have completed through respective QA frameworks. WT states that, as a minimum, LSCBs should through their learning and improvement agenda:
    • Assess the effectiveness of help being provided to children and families, including Early Help;
    • Assess whether LSCB partners are fulfilling their statutory obligations as set out in WT (Section2);
    • Quality assure practice, including through joint audits of case files undertaken by the Quality and Effectiveness Sub Group;
    • Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of training, including multi-agency training to safeguard and promote the welfare of children;
    • Involvement of multi-agency practitioners to disseminate learning from serious case reviews and other statutory reviews, considered appropriate.
  • Children’s Service Improvement Panel (CSIP) is a Member group, chaired by the Lead Member and attended by key SCS managers, which ensures there is regular and detailed scrutiny of service improvement;
  • Corporate Performance Monitoring - this is undertaken by the Children’s Social Care and Health Cabinet Committee which review quarterly performance dashboards.  Additionally a subset of this information is reviewed quarterly by Cabinet as part of the council-wide public review of performance;
  • External National Inspection Regimes - the service is subject to regular inspections from Ofsted and in addition inspections carried out on other services, such as those by CQC or HMIP will inevitably comment on the quality of partnership working in the area and will therefore be of relevance and value to SCS.


4. Management Action

Performance monitoring must lead to management action. Even in excellently performing service areas, there will always be scope for further improvements and there will always be individual children who could have experienced a higher quality service. Performance monitoring must never lead to complacency - the best services are characterised by a management culture which is constantly self-critical and self-aware and that has a continued focus on the experiences of service users.

Generally, management action that follows monitoring activity will fall into one of the following areas:

  • A need to review and amend one or more of the performance improvement drivers if they are not delivering the improvements expected;
  • A need to review and/or stretch a performance target;
  • A need to separately address the needs of a particular group of children and their families where it becomes clear there are some thematic failings in service delivery;
  • A need to address the circumstances of individual children - for example, file audits might reveal service provision to a particular child is inadequate or even dangerous and management intervention is required;
  • A need to address the performance of an individual manager or staff member, whether through supervision, personal appraisal processes or formal HR procedures.


5. Roles and Responsibilities

This Quality Assurance Framework starts from a number of very clear presumptions - that all staff are responsible for the quality of their own work; that everyone has a duty to both assure their own work and be ready to challenge the work of others if children are or might be at risk and that ultimately those who deliver front-line services are responsible for the quality of those services.

The Framework is designed to be inclusive, working ‘with’ staff, rather than doing ‘to’ them. Front line social work staff are best placed to assess the quality of what they do, the constraints they experience in delivering quality, and to learn from an inclusive process which enables them to reflect and improve their practice. Equally, operational managers have the direct responsibility for ensuring the work of their teams, services and area. The Deep Dive process described sets out how operational managers will be expected to account for their work and the range of information they will need to be familiar with if they are to do that comprehensively.

The Safeguarding & QA Unit has been restructured to ensure its services are better able to meet the needs of this Framework:

  • The Service Manager of Safeguarding & QA has oversight and ownership of this Framework. This post is responsible for its implementation across the Council, to update and modernise it as needed and to ensure all Unit capacity is well-focussed in its delivery;
  • Operational staff need both support and challenge if they are to take the lead responsibility for quality assurance and performance improvement. In order to add capacity, each area/specialism now has a designated Practice Development Officer. These are Unit staff (and they remain managed and supervised within the Unit) who work out in the areas or to a specialism have a role to support and challenge operational staff to ensure standards are as high as they can be. This work includes some localised file auditing; practice observation; the provision of staff development workshops; individual coaching to staff; the identification of good practice examples to disseminate; localised data analysis to aid management understanding of current practice trends and any other work as needed and in agreement with the Area and the Unit;
  • As far as logistically possible, both CP Conference Chairs and IROs are aligned to specific districts and Areas. This is to enable a growing familiarity with the quality of work locally and to enable chairs and IROs to actively contribute to service improvement in localities and to build up the necessary relationship with operational managers;
  • The Management Information Unit sits within the Safeguarding & QA Unit so their information can be readily pulled together with that of other service areas.

Elected members have a particular role in overseeing and scrutinising front line service delivery.

“The Lead Member for Children’s Services (LMCS), as a member of the council executive, has political responsibility for the leadership, strategy and effectiveness of local authority Children’s Services. The LMCS is also democratically accountable to local communities and has a key role in defining the local vision and setting political priorities for Children’s Services within the broader political context of the council.

The LMCS is responsible for ensuring that the needs of all children and young people, including the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, and their families and carers, are addressed. In doing so, the LMCS will work closely with other local partners to improve the outcomes and wellbeing of children and young people. The LMCS should have regard to the UNCRC and ensure that children and young people are involved in the development and delivery of local services. As politicians, LMCSs should not get drawn into the detailed day-to-day operational management of education and Children’s Services. They should, however, provide strong, strategic leadership and support and challenge to the DCS and relevant members of their senior team as appropriate.” (DfE Guidance issued April 2012)

In addition, Member scrutiny is carried out through their Overview and Scrutiny functions (in Kent delivered through the CSIP) and there is an expectation that all members take an interest in and responsibility for the outcomes for the most vulnerable children especially those for whom they are the corporate parent


6. Conclusion

Work to protect children is by definition complex and multi-faceted, requiring a whole system approach. The needs of the children involved are such that the system needs to ensure that ‘stones are constantly overturned’ and that areas of relative weakness and apparent strengths are constantly explored and unpicked to ensure the strengths are real and embedded and that weaknesses are being effectively addressed.

This Quality Assurance Framework sets out how that exploration will take place in Kent - like the system it assures; it can never stand still and will be subject to agency scrutiny via its own Deep Dives and the Internal Audit team.

End