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1.1.5 Quality Assurance Framework Children & Family Services


This chapter was comprehensively amended in September 2018. It seeks to describe a flexible framework setting out quality and assurance practice for use by senior managers and frontline staff working with children and families. The chapter advises of the Comprehensive Audit Plan for 2018/18; highlights Priority Work and includes the Single Case Audit Reflection Sheet.


  1. Introduction and Purpose
  2. Corporate Responsibility and Governance
  3. Staff Accountability
  4. The Quality Framework – Areas of Focus and Schedule 
  5. Feedback on Audits and Observation of staff
  6. Scope of Quality Framework
  7. How it Works
  8. Post Quality Activity 

    Appendix A: CSC Service Priorities 2018/19

    Appendix B: CSCS Comprehensive Audit Plan 2018/19

    Appendix C: Single Audit Case Reflection Sheet

1. Introduction and Purpose

This document sets out the local framework for oversight of quality within Children and Family Services. It is intended to be a flexible framework setting out quality and assurance practice for use by senior managers and frontline staff working with children and families. It sets out how services can:

  • Focus time and resource on priority areas for improvement; 
  • Take a proportionate and risk based approach to practice improvement areas.

In doing so, the framework requires that quality activity always seeks to assure that:

  • Children are safe and thresholds for intervention are appropriate;
  • Children and families experiences of services is positive and leads to better outcomes;
  • Social workers deliver good quality direct practice with families;
  • Managers and leaders enable good decisions to be made for children and families.

The quality framework forms a key part of the local evidence base for the local authority self evaluation. The Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services (ILACS) framework (Nov, 2017), requires local authorities, as part of self evaluation, to answer the three questions:

  1. What do you know about the quality and impact of social work practice in your local authority?
  2. How do you know it?
  3. What are your plans for the next 12 months to maintain or improve practice?

The framework seeks to improve the quality of services by:

  • Reviewing quality of practice against standards and expectations regarding performance; data, local and national standards, regulatory requirements to support in getting things “right first time”;
  • Identifying strengths in practice that can be shared with others and built upon;
  • Spotting shortfalls in practice that require further work and improvement, including local and whole system action that leads to sustainable improvements and challenging historical custom and practice;
  • Ensuring that all staff are clear about their roles and responsibilities regarding quality assurance of practice, and that improving quality of practice is part of “business as usual” for all staff within children and families;
  • Fostering a culture of “high support, high challenge” and sits within a cycle that drives a culture of continuous improvement, tackling problems openly and honestly and leading to visible change; 
  • Identifying learning and development needs for individuals, teams, practice areas, services and partners;
  • Embedding the voice of children and young people in practice and improvement activity.

2. Corporate Responsibility and Governance

There is a strong, visible political commitment across the Council and its partners to safeguarding these groups and they are at the heart of the local Fairer Future promises, the Council Plan and other key strategies such as Health and Wellbeing.

The Scrutiny, Cabinet and the Corporate Parenting Committee (CPC) take an active role in reviewing and challenging outcomes for children, ensuring alignment of priorities across the range of partnerships, including the Southwark Safeguarding Children Partnership (SSCP). The Lead Member for Children’s Services chairs the member-led CPC, is a participant observer on the SSCP, and champions the interests of children and families through the council cabinet and delivery of the Council Plan priorities.

The Lead Member and Council Cabinet receive regular assurance through a key data summary which builds on a best practice model used by Achieving for Children (AfC). It forms part of the quarterly council challenge process with the Chief Executive, Council Leader and Lead Member. Children’s and Adults’ services management regularly reviews performance against local priorities, national and statistical neighbour benchmarks and key statutory requirements. It reports monthly through a range of local governance arrangements, including the Children and Adults’ Board (CAB), highlighting risks and themes to the Strategic Director of Children and Adult Services and promoting early dialogue of issues. At the heart of our partnership arrangements is a strong and challenging SSCP, which scrutinises safeguarding practice and shapes key local priorities to improve outcomes and services.

3. Staff Accountability

All staff must follow legislation, procedures and local standards on practice and compliance as set out in the Southwark Children’s Social Care Procedures and London Safeguarding Children Procedures, and they are responsible for ensuring that these standards are met. Staff and their line managers are responsible for continuing professional development and evaluation of their own practice, through supervision and annual appraisal process. Staff registered with the Health Care Professional Council are also required to follow standards of conduct performance and ethics.

These being:

  • Promote and protect the interests of service users and carers;
  • Communicate appropriately and effectively;
  • Work within the limits of their knowledge and skills;
  • Delegate appropriately;
  • Respect confidentiality;
  • Manage risk;
  • Report concerns about safety;
  • Be open when things go wrong;
  • Be honest and trustworthy;
  • Keep records of their work.

4. The Quality Framework – Areas of Focus and Schedule

This document sets out the proposed areas of focus and schedule for audit and observation for an 18 month cycle commencing April 2018. This cycle has been developed based on practice areas arising from:

  • SIF Ofsted and post inspection action plan March 2017;
  • Key performance indicators;
  • Improvement work in key practice areas;
  • New regulatory framework (ILACS);
  • Consultation with ADs, HoS and PGLs.

The proposed cycle of auditing is based on three approaches, and will be delivered both centrally and within local service areas:

  • Low volume, in-depth full audits of case work (traditional);
  • High volume, focused dip samples on practice areas and processes;
  • A programme of observation of staff in relation to practice areas and processes.

In all cases, tools both standard and localised have been developed and can be found in the appendix, including a case reflection tool used to support dialogue and feedback with social work staff regarding case review. The tools seek to measure both compliance against practice standards, regulatory and statutory requirements, and the quality of the service delivered and all auditing will be graded, as either “good or better” or “less than good”. The expectation is that all audits, both central and local, are documented, analysed and reported on – these reports identify areas of strength, areas for development, recommendations for individual cases and action planning for focus areas as a whole. Although proposed as an 18 month cycle, it should be regularly reviewed as part of the continuous improvement journey, maybe as a standing agenda item for Q&PC.

Our Quality and Performance Framework sets out our areas of focus and schedules for audit and observation over an 18 month cycle. This cycle has been developed based on practice areas arising from:

  • SIF Ofsted and post inspection action plan March 2017;
  • Key performance indicators;
  • Improvement work in key practice areas;
  • New ILACS regulatory framework;
  • Consultation with Assistant Directors, Heads of Service and Service Managers.

Our audit cycles incorporate three approaches which are delivered both centrally and within service areas:

  • Low volume, in-depth full audits of case work;
  • High volume, focused dip samples on practice areas and processes;
  • A programme of observation of staff in relation to practice areas and processes;
  • We gather and assess information about the quality and impact of social work practice in broadly four ways:
    • In year data and audit activity guided by our Quality and Performance Framework;
    • Intelligence garnered from our Quality Assurance Leads, all managers and quality and performance services;
    • Capitalising on opportunities where case work is scrutinised such as panels and escalations;
    • Views from: young people (Speakerbox); parents and carers (surveys and groups); and complaints and representations.
  • Through this approach, standard and localised tools have been developed to support dialogue and feedback with social workers. The tools seek to measure both compliance against practice standards, regulatory and statutory requirements, and the quality of the service delivered; 
  • The expectation is that all audits, both central and local, are documented, analysed and reported on – these reports identify areas of strength, areas for development, recommendations for individual cases and action planning for focus areas as a whole. Although initiated as an 18 month cycle, it will be regularly reviewed as part of the continuous improvement journey.

The responsibility for delivering, reporting and tracking audit outcomes will sit with the Assistant Director for relevant services and the Quality Assurance Leads, supported by Heads of Service and their staff. The governance forum for sharing audits will be the local Quality and Performance Circle (Q&PC) held quarterly by the Director of Children and Families and Assistant Director of Quality and Performance. Senior managers are encouraged to disseminate findings at management meetings, staff training sessions, and newsletters. Where good practice is identified, it should be shared as exemplary, with key characteristics of practice highlighted in local guidance and training.

All audits, central or local, full, dip or observation, will test three key markers of quality:

  • That children are safeguarded and thresholds for intervention are appropriate; local tools improve the quality of interventions and effectively reduce risk of harm;
  • Quality of direct work with families; examples of considerations within local tools include meaningful engagement with children, YP and families with the voice of the child clearly visible and influencing plans and decisions;
  • Quality and oversight of casework and decisions; examples of considerations within local tools include frequency and quality of supervision including group, individual and reflection, management action and compliance, and blocks in practice were identified and resolved. The quality of supervision of children’s cases will always be reviewed and graded as part of any audit.
In some cases, the use of independent and/or subject matter experts will be used to undertake or support audits, and where it benefits will be multi agency. All quality activity will be judged as either less than good, or good or better.

5. Feedback on Audits and Observation of Staff

There is an expectation that social workers are involved in discussions and audits about their practice, this means the adoption of the following:

  • Any central led, cross cutting audits involve a proportion of frontline staff across the levels;
  • Any audits of social workers practice include notifying the social worker that their work will be audited, and feedback to the social worker of outcomes of the audit to both social worker and team manager by the auditor;
  • A scheduled programme of direct observation of staff and key processes (such as supervision, visits etc.) giving further opportunities for practitioners to reflect on the support and intervention they provide.

When auditing, observing or feeding back on social work practice, auditors are likely to cover the following key areas:

  • Supervision and management oversight;
  • Practice approaches including strengthening families and minimising risk;
  • Workloads and workload management;
  • Training and development opportunities, including multi agency, national or local learning.

6. Scope of Quality Framework

The scope of the quality framework is set out below. Using the range of evidence sources, areas of focus for practice improvement for central and local audits have been identified for the coming cycle. Strengths and vulnerabilities within the system will need ongoing review and challenges against this scope, in order that cycle remains focused on areas for improvement and priorities:

  • The front door – the service that receives contacts and referrals (single or multi-agency) where decisions are made about:
    • Child protection enquiries – strategy discussions, section 47 enquires, etc.;
    • Emergency action – liaison with police to use powers of protection, applications for emergency protection order;
    • Child in need assessments;
    • Decisions to accommodate;
    • The interface between early help and statutory work, step-up from and step-downs;
    • Impact of early help on improving child’s situation and supporting sustainable progress;
    • No further action/sign-posting.
  • Children in need and those subject to a child protection plan:
    • Thresholds;
    • Step-up/step-down between children in need and child protection;
    • Children on the edge of care;
    • Children subject to letter before proceedings and the quality and impact of pre-proceedings interventions;
    • Children in need at risk of family breakdown;
    • The quality of decisions about entering care;
    • Protection of disabled children.
  • Protection of vulnerable adolescents (contextual safeguarding):
    • Child sexual/criminal exploitation;
    • Missing from home, care or education;
    • Risks associated with gangs;
    • Risks associated with radicalisation;
    • Trafficking and modern slavery.
  • Children in care:
    • Quality of matching, placement and decision making for children in care;
    • The experiences and progress of disabled children in care.
  • Permanency planning and achieving permanence:
    • Return to birth family;
    • Connected (family and friends) care;
    • Adoption;
    • Long-term foster or residential care;
    • Special guardianship.
  • Care leavers:
    • Care leavers aged 16 and 17;
    • Care leavers aged 18 to 25;
    • Accommodation;
    • Employment, education and training;
    • Transition to adulthood;
    • Staying close and in touch.
  • Quality Assurance Unit Services:
    • Child Protection Conferences;
    • LAC Reviews;
    • Children’s Rights Service.

7. How it Works

The framework requires that roles and responsibilities are defined in regard to quality activity. In short, it is proposed that cross cutting and whole service quality work is led by central services (Quality and Performance Improvement) and that service specific quality activity is led by HoS, support by PGLs and QALs. Oversight of activity, themes and actions from central and service specific audits is held centrally, although responsibility for delivery and quality of audits and follow up actions sits with HoS.

Quality activities will focus on one, or both of the following:

  • Whole service issues, cross cutting themes, such as quality of practice regarding CSE and missing, supervision, or direct work;
  • Service specific and key improvement areas, such as children in care, stability, or quality of child protection plans; 
  • Local level quality activity – audits, dip samples and/or observation as determined by the Head of Service and may relate to an in-depth review of a case for learning, staffing groups or issues within the service.

There are three types of quality activity within this framework:

Traditional Audits - A review of a sample of cases and to review in depth the effectiveness of children’s social care and social work practice against agreed and proven standards for high-quality care. These are likely to be conducted across cohorts of children, such as those looked after, cross cutting themes, such as Child Sexual Exploitation, or common areas of practice, such as supervision. 

Dip samples - high volume, focused review of practice areas of concern against accepted and local standards of good practice and on areas generally requiring improvement, for example, re-referrals or quality of care or child protection plans.

Observation of practice - An established approach to support development as social work practitioners and going forward to be incorporated into local practice development framework. Observation of practice needs focus on themes such as practitioners listing, communication skills and child centred approach, and quality of assessment, direct work and intervention. Observation may relate to key practice areas supervision, or processes such as children in care reviews.

8. Post Quality Activity

Presenting Findings 

Quality activity findings need to be presented to enable the audience to have a robust discussion about improvements made, underperformance against expected standards and to make recommendations around what should happened from this point onwards and engaging stakeholders in the process of making changes for improvement, rather than feeling subject to changes recommended by others. In agreeing changes and seeking to achieve continuous improvement, action planning may want to consider using benchmarking, targets and best practice examples to provide tangible and reasonable improvements, and foster improvement on a wider scale.

Measuring Progress

Key to any quality activity is that as a result of learning, change occurs and improvements are sustained. A complete audit cycle involves collecting intelligence on current practice, implementing changes to address shortfalls identified and reviewing changes over time to see whether improvements have been made. Tracking progress, it not the same as repeating the quality activity, such as a re-audit. Depending to the audit findings and the nature of the issues, determine what form the nature of reassurance should take going forward. In determining this, the following should be considered: 

  • How long will it take for changes made to impact on experiences of children, young people and families?
  • How many children, young people and families would have been affected by the changes?
  • Are there new pressures and demands in the service which should take priority or impacted on progress of change?
  • Have the circumstances that led to initial review of area changed completely, for example, as performance now significantly improved?
  • Is there enough concern regarding lack of progress that means the whole quality cycle should be repeated?

Depending on the outcome of the above, quality activity for the next cycle may include areas which were looked at in the previous cycle.

Maintaining Improvement

To ensure that hard-won improvements are maintained and reinforced successfully over time, it is important that a number of approaches to keeping the issues and improvements current are adopted. These could be:

  • Changes post quality activity are user friendly systems and fit well with current practices, and complement effective procedures and processes already in place, including MOSAIC;
  • Incorporate routine review of quality activity changes into business and usual: Change is more likely to be sustained where the issues identified are revisited at regular intervals, such as through follow up as standing meeting agenda items. Regular review provides the opportunity for staff and other stakeholders to raise issues, and to share positive feedback, motivating staff, and acknowledging efforts to improve practice;
  • Make quality activity changes visible: Change often involves updating or re-writing documentation such as policies, procedures, and protocols; or setting our revised approaches to practice areas through team plans, or other supporting documentation. Ensuring these remain visible, and routinely reviewed to help ensure change is sustained over time;
  • Key messages on the approach and findings of quality activity features in induction of new staff: Ensure that new staff, or those returning to work, are aware and trained in quality activity and documentation that supports the delivery of care is visible, accessible and in routine use;
  • Keep fine-tuning changes: Initially, changes might appear successful, but after a while, issues can become apparent. It is easy to revert back to previous ways of working when problems arise. Staff affected by changes are ideally placed to suggest adjustments, and should be encouraged to report issues and propose solutions to iron out teething problems;
  • Lead by example: Much of the responsibility for sustaining change lies with leader, Head of Services and Service Managers who can oversee that change and observe daily practice to ensure that lapses into previous ways of working do not happen. This involves reminding staff of revised practices and the reasons for these, and motivating them to adhere to changes agreed as a result of quality improvement work;
  • Showcase care audit: Throughout the year, running events at which teams showcase their quality work, both locally and nationally, promotes an improvement culture, acknowledges successes and reinforces changes made.

Workforce Development

Southwark continues to invest in its children’s social care workforce, and is committed to providing a comprehensive package of training, development and opportunities for learning and key to raising quality of practice. Going forward, learning from quality assurance work, such as undertaking joint audit and observation directly with staff will form a key plank of our learning and development approach to “what good looks like”. Furthermore, as we begin to develop a great intelligence on the strengths and areas of practice, we will be better informed to ensure we commission the training and development offer in line with local needs; as well as better assessing the impact of practice developments.

Appendix A: CSC Service Priorities 2018/19

Click here to view Appendix A: CSC Service Priorities 2018/19

Appendix B: CSCS Comprehensive Audit Plan 2018/19

Click here to view Appendix B: CSCS Comprehensive Audit Plan 2018/19

Appendix C: Single Audit Case Reflection Sheet

Click here to view Appendix C: Single Audit Case Reflection Sheet