Notice periods for adoption and fostering inspections could be cut from two months to two weeks under changes being considered by Ofsted.
Speaking exclusively to Community Care, John Goldup, Ofsted’s director of social care, said shorter notice periods would reduce demand on agencies and enable inspectors to see services “as they really are”. He described the current notice period of eight weeks as “very old style”.
“If you’re given an eight-week notice period, inevitably there is a tendency to divert a lot of resources into preparing for inspections and this isn’t necessarily helpful,” he said. “It takes up time and people feel under pressure, but children and families still need the same level of service.”
Goldup admitted the proposal was likely to be controversial: “Although we cannot pre-empt the consultation, we understand some agencies will welcome these changes but others will feel anxious. Some may feel that inspectors won’t be able to get a full and accurate picture if they have less time to prepare or that the intensity of those two weeks will be tough.”
But he pointed out shorter notice periods echoed Professor Eileen Munro’s recommendation that all inspections of child protection services should be unannounced.
“If it is possible to do child protection inspections with no notice at all, it should be possible to do rigorous inspections of adoption and fostering services with a two week notice period,” he said.
The change is being considered as part of wider revisions to the watchdog’s framework for inspecting fostering and adoption services. A consultation, to be launched soon, will run until August. Pending consultation, the changes will be implemented in April 2012.
Other changes to be consulted on include whether adoption and fostering services should be inspected at the same time and whether a more proportionate approach to inspections should be taken. This could involve inspecting less frequently services rated as outstanding.
This more proportionate approach would, Goldup said, ensure that limited resources were directed to the areas most in need. But he acknowledged there were risks involved.
“We recognise that services do change over time and that changes, such as staff turnover, can have a significant impact on outcomes and performance. We would welcome views on this,” he said.
In line with the new national minimum standards for adoption and fostering, inspections will also be more focused on assessing outcomes for children and identifying good practice.
Goldup said: “Frontline workers will notice inspectors wanting to spend more time with them exploring not just whether procedures are being followed, but also what difference they think their work makes to the lives of children; what are the best things they do; what is the good practice they want to share. Inspectors will also spend more time listening to children.”
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