4 Director-level auditors
386 cases audited
12-week thematic audit service
101 reflective/mentoring meetings with managers
A disappointing Ofsted inspection of the local authority children’s services in November 2019, revealed that a high proportion of audited cases “did not adequately explore children’s lived experiences”. Audits were not “consistently addressing weaknesses”.
With Children’s Services having been judged as ‘Inadequate’ across the board, the local authority needed a far more robust and thorough audit process. This was to understand exactly where its failings were – at a service, team and individual practitioner level – so that it could quickly move forward with improvement plans.
To address the underlying case recording issues and accurately assess the existing position, the local authority called on Innovate CYPS to take over the auditing process over a 12-week period. This was to help inform the local authority’s immediate assurance plan to Ofsted over the same period. Quick mobilisation was key, and the project went live within three weeks.
Innovate CYPS’ first action was to allocate four highly-experienced social work auditors at assistant-director level and above.
The project could not have started at a more challenging time though. Just two weeks after the work started, the country went into full lockdown. Usually, Innovate CYPS’ auditors would be sitting amongst the local authority’s team.
However, Middlesbrough County Council were incredibly accommodating, ensuring the communications channels were open and that Innovate CYPS had the direct access required.
Together, Innovate CYPS and Middlesbrough quickly adapted, working remotely to communicate findings and to identify and monitor remedial actions from audits.
Since the local authority’s own internal auditing had not been externally scrutinised or moderated, Innovate CYPS’ moderated 386 case audits previously undertaken by internal managers. This enabled Innovate CYPS’ auditors to gain a thorough understanding of the inconsistencies in case auditing and to identify any specific challenges unique to Middlesbrough County Council.
Following the initial moderation exercise, Innovate CYPS’ auditors systematically audited 386 cases. These were all RAG-rated so that the local authority knew exactly where it was in closing the loop. Remedial actions were identified, with social workers having five days to complete them. These actions were closely monitored by Innovate CYPS’ business support team. To assist with completing the remedial actions, the auditors held remote workshops, 1:1 coaching and mentored staff.
Weekly risks and issues meetings were held to identify specific team and practitioner issues. In addition, monthly high-quality detailed audit reports were presented to the Operations and Strategic Management Board.
Over 12 weeks, Innovate CYPS audited over 386 cases, including 87 assessment team audits, 63 front door audits, 105 neglect audits, 65 risk audits and 66 repeat Section 47 audits.
It was important that cases were audited as close to ‘live’ as possible to get an accurate picture of the current situation. Therefore, audits were carried out on assessments made within the previous week. This gave management far greater oversight on the quality of assessments and decision making at the front door.
During the second half of the project, Innovate CYPS’ auditors moderated 33 internal audits and provided reflective feedback on any inconsistencies in findings. This enabled learning and knowledge transfer on what ‘Good’ looks like.
Mentoring and reflecting
In total, 101 mentoring and reflection meetings were held with managers to enhance case management in their teams.
Feedback to the Director of Children’s Services and Paula Jemson, the project sponsor, also took place on a regular basis where direct feedback was provided.
Commenting on the long-term impact of the thematic auditing and how it has informing best practice, Paula said:
“My advice would be to make full use of Innovate CYPS’ auditors and practitioners and soak up their knowledge and approach. By working closely with Innovate CYPS we’ve got a clear improvement plan. Now that we know what ‘Good’ looks like, we’re closely monitoring the quality of case management and where changes need to be made.”
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- Service Auditing
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