Quality Assurance and Learning Framework
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter describes the principles and purpose of quality assurance activity. It will be reviewed in March 2021.
The framework sets out the principles that underpin quality assurance and learning which are informed by the "Signs of Safety" strengths based approach to practice that has been adopted across children's safeguarding services. The overall aim of the framework is to support colleagues across Children's Social Care to achieve better outcomes for children and to understand what constitutes 'Good' social work practice.
This chapter was updated in December 2020 to add a new Section 16, Process to be followed for Inadequate Audits.
1. Principles and Purpose
The framework reflects the key principles that inform children's social work practice. The Quality Assurance framework is:
- Child centred: the focus of quality assurance will be on the experience, progress and outcomes of children who come into contact with our services and what difference it has made to a child's life;
- Strengths based: quality assurance will focus upon strengths whilst identifying where practice can be improved. It will seek to offer high support and high challenge;
- Evidence based decision making: quality assurance will provide a clear rationale for decisions made when considering practice. Quality assurance must be transparent and fair to those whose practice is being assured;
- Outcome Focused: whilst attention will be given to evidence of processes and procedures being adhered to, the proper focus of quality assurance will be upon outcomes achieved for the child;
- Positive: our approach to quality assurance will be positive – looking at informing and encouraging improvement and supporting the development of staff and services;
- Reflective: our Quality Assurance framework is designed to promote reflective practice and shared learning;
- Part of a Learning organisation: the learning taken from our quality assurance activity will inform how we develop future practice and procedures across the wider service.
To ensure that these key principles promote organisational learning, the revised framework reflects what has been learnt by other local authorities that have adopted the 'Signs of Safety' approach. In particular consideration has been given to the evaluation report 'You Can't Grow Roses in Concrete'  that identifies key factors that support learning.
1 Munro E, Turnell A & Murphy T. (2016). You Can't Grow Roses in Concrete: Organisational reform to support high quality Signs of Safety practice, Action Research Final Report, Signs of Safety English Innovations Project
The report makes reference to the 70:20:10 learning model. The model states that the smallest amount of learning comes from formal training (10%). This does not diminish the reality that training remains critical, since it sets the learning content and offers a clear vision of successful practice. However, humans learn in action, so in human services most learning occurs, and practices are habituated, through daily work (70%) as practitioners, supervisors and other leaders put the skills and methods into everyday practice.
While the action of daily work is 70% of learning and habituates how a skill is used, the pace of doing the work means that most learning from action is intuitive and largely unconscious. Improvement and change requires feedback and analysis through structured reflection methods. This is the critical 20% of learning where the individual and group can improve by reflecting on what they are doing. To be effective the reflection must be based on quality timely feedback. The key point of the 70:20:10 learning theory is that feedback and reflection are central to learning and improvement and it is this which changes to the framework are intended to support.
Quality Assurance will therefore encompass:
Case file audits provide an invaluable perspective on front line practice. Effective audits can provide insight not only into the quality of recording but also into the quality of the work with the child, the quality of management and support for the social worker and, importantly, the views, experiences and outcomes for the child. Whilst emphasis will always be placed on reviewing the quality of the social work practice, this should also include the role that others play who form part of Children Social Care services, including the Team Manager, Independent Reviewing Officer/ Child Protection Chair, the supervising social worker or the quality of support if a child is placed in one of our local children's homes.
Our approach to auditing in Knowsley will continue to adopt a collaborative approach. It is essential that audits are completed alongside practitioners. This provides the opportunity to engage practitioners enabling them to understand the importance of the process and how it can help improve practice and children's outcomes. It's an opportunity to reflect and receive feedback between the auditor and practitioner. The audit methodology is designed to be a participative learning process. This should consistently deliver a more robust and detailed picture of the practice, constructed by and with those who have the best intelligence about the case. A collaborative audit methodology that directly involves the responsible practitioners is also far more likely to drive learning and practice improvement. Therefore all quality assurance activity through audits and reviews will involve discussion with practitioners.
Service User feedback was introduced into audit in early 2018 and has gradually been embedded within audit practice. In addition there are a number of both formal and informal processes for obtaining feedback used by practitioners across the service and this is also used to aid our organisational learning. Gathering the views of those who receive services is critical in understanding the impact of interventions and in achieving positive outcomes for children. Therefore opportunities to obtain feedback will continue to be built upon.
The Service already has in place a robust system of data collection and performance measures. This system has informed the progress made particularly in relation to compliance. However, a number of recent studies  have noted that not all performance measures link to outcomes for the child. Nevertheless, if the right data is collected this should complement the learning that other forms of quality assurance activity bring.
2 Rees Centre (2019) Outcomes from Children's Social Care Services – Draft Findings
The final outcomes of any intervention of children's social care should evidence that:
- Children are safe where they live – that risks are being managed and in the majority of cases being reduced;
- Children are happy, enjoy life and experience healthy development.
The Quality Assurance system needs to focus upon methods that can evidence that these outcomes are being achieved.
2. Applying the Framework to Support Learning
The key elements of the Quality Assurance framework include:
- Collaborative monthly case file audits and thematic audits that assess the quality of recording, practice and the outcomes and experiences of children;
- Supervision audits;
- Peer audits;
- Direct observation of practice;
- Feedback from children and families – including from complements and complaints;
- Feedback from staff through the Annual Health Check & staff surveys and engagement;
- Data Analysis;
- External review;
- The role of the Director of Children's Services in quality assurance.
3. Collaborative Case File and Thematic Audits
In broad terms we intend to:
- Complete collaborative file audits throughout the year to assess progress in improving practice and identify priorities for learning and development;
- Complete a programme of thematic audits on issues where there are key or emerging issues such as child exploitation, children experiencing neglect, children living with parental addictions. Alternatively, this could also include particular cohorts of children, including those subject to child protection, children looked after or care leavers. It is also important for quality assurance to review aspects of practice – examples would include children subject re-referrals, Section 47 enquiries or the quality of pre-proceedings work and permanence planning;
- Complete two Benchmarking Audits a year to ensure consistency of audit approach.
4. Roles and Responsibilities
Monthly audits are completed by a team of auditors that include the Assistant Executive Director, the Principal Social Worker, Heads of Service, Group Manager, Team Managers, Independent Reviewing Officers/Child Protection Chairs and the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead.
It is an expectation that all auditors complete monthly audits and in addition contribute to thematic audits as and when required.
A programme of audits is decided by the Assistant Executive Director in consultation with the Principal Social Worker, Heads of Service and the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead.
Following the completion of all audits the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead compiles a report summarising the learning with recommendations to support practice development.
5. Supervision Audits
Good quality and regular staff supervision is vital for effective social work practice. This not only includes the supervision between social worker and Team Manager, but also the quality and effectiveness of support to IRO's CP Chairs and senior management oversight/ direction (evidenced as part of line management arrangements), complex case discussions and key decision making in forums such as Legal Planning or Permanence Panel. These audits will be completed by the Principal Social Worker, Heads of Service and the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead on a quarterly basis.
6. Peer Audits
Peer Audits provide all colleagues with the opportunity to learn through audit as they extend audit beyond the pool of auditors noted above to include all practitioners. Peer audit creates further opportunities for practitioners to be able to reflect on their practice and that of their colleagues which can enhance learning.
7. Dip Sampling
There is a regular programme of dip sampling undertaken by Team Managers. This includes dip sampling of Child Protection cases at nine months by the Head of Service, Safeguarding and QAU Manager to ensure that plans are appropriate and making progress for the child.
8. Direct Observation
Observation of staff in their everyday work is an important element of quality assuring front line social work. Audits on their own are useful but cannot fully assess the way practitioners work, support and build relationships with children, young people and families. Observation of practice provides a complementary alternative, offering an opportunity to gain a picture of the way that workers work with children and families, their behaviours, outlook and approach.
- All Team Managers (or ATMs) will observe the practice of newly qualified workers in line with local and national Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (AYSE) policy;
- All Team Managers (or ATMs) will observe the practice of experienced workers at least once every year;
- All Team Managers will identify any workers within the team in need of support with improving performance. These workers will be observed at least once a year, and more frequently where required;
- All Team Managers/ATMs to share Observations with worker and undertake shared reflective review at next supervision. Shared action plan agreed as necessary;
- Any learning from Observation to be reported within Performance Clinics.
- Where appropriate, in the completion of individual case audits, auditors should seek opportunities to observe practice.
9. Feedback from Children and Families
Feedback helps us to understand the experiences of children and families providing an additional plank to the quality assurance system. Feedback is built in as part of individual case management audits. In addition, feedback will be sought through an annual survey to gain a snapshot in time of people's experiences. Feedback will seek an understanding of both the individual's views of the service they have received but also on their perception of the difference that interventions have made to their lives.
Feedback is also obtained through compliments and complaints. These are analysed for both trends and specific elements of learning which then inform organisational development.
10. Feedback from Staff
Practitioners have the greatest direct knowledge of the impact of interventions and so their feedback is crucial in understanding how support is leading to improved outcomes for children. The collaborative approach to audit will ensure that practitioner's perspectives are captured through audit. The Annual Health Check provides a means through which practitioner's views are shared, providing organisational learning that can lead to change. Task and Finish Groups also provide a forum through which practitioners can share their learning to ensure that frontline practice is supported.
11. Data Analysis
The right measures can support an understanding of whether interventions should be effective in delivering improving outcomes for the child. Measures that focus upon the quality of service and which relate to changes for children and families and their perceptions and experiences of services could be said to be meaningful.
12. External Review
The Service welcomes external scrutiny. This includes reviews coordinated by the LGA and the North West ADCS forum. At various points in time, the Service will continue to commission external audits as part of testing our audit processes and the robustness of our judgements.
The role of the Director of Children's Services in Quality Assurance
The DCS will continue to coordinate regular "Assurance meetings" with senior managers, including Heads of Service, in order to have an overview of service delivery. These were introduced in 2018 and have proven successful. The DCS will also continue to undertake frontline visits to teams in order to ensure there is a clear understanding of practice.
The MASH seeks to quality assure practice through Daily Morning Meetings that consider information shared, decision making and actions. There is also a rolling programme that sets out how elements of the service will undertake both case file and thematic audits to ensure that learning informs service development.
14. Family First
The Family First Service take an approach to quality assurance and learning that mirrors the principles laid out within this framework. Team Managers and Senior Practice Leads complete monthly file audits and findings inform practice developments within the service.
15. Knowsley Safeguarding Children Partnership
The Safeguarding Partnership conduct a number of multi-agency audits and reviews. Managers and practitioners from Children's Social Care and Family First contribute to, and participate in, these audits and reviews. Findings are shared by the Safeguarding Partnership and contribute to learning in the service. The service also seeks to learn from both local and national Serious Case/Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews.
16. Process to be Followed for Inadequate Audits
- Cases judged to be ‘Inadequate’ should be moderated by Quality Assurance and Audit Lead within 3 working days of the audit being completed;
- If the QA Officer deems the case to be ‘inadequate’ this should be brought to the attention of the responsible Head of Service;
- The Head of Service is responsible for assuring themselves that the child isn’t at risk as a result of the inadequate practice;
- The Head of Service is responsible for coordinating a review of the social worker’s other cases to ensure there aren’t any further examples of inadequate practice. This can be done by the Head of Service or Team Manager. Timescale is within 10 working days of the case being audited;
- The review of cases should form part of an ‘exception report’ (1 page summary) for the attention of the Assistant Executive Director;
- The ‘inadequate’ case should be reviewed monthly in supervision for 3 months before a ‘desk-top’ audit is completed by the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead.