Big changes are afoot for child protection inspections in England. From 1 May Ofsted will conduct unannounced inspections of local authority child protection arrangements and focus more on examining the work of frontline social workers (see box for more detail about the changes). So how should social workers prepare for the new inspection regime?
Coping during an inspection
Helga Pile, UNISON’s national officer for social care, says it is important to remember that the inspections are ultimately about their employer and not them as individuals. “It is also important for social workers to remember the Social Work Reform Board’s employer standards,” she says.
“Ofsted has said that it is going to take account of them when looking at services, so social workers should be thinking about whether their employer is meeting all the standards because they are what’s needed to ensure effective and safe practice.”
Social workers should also think about the terminology they use to express their concerns and phrase these in a way that refers to the employer standards. It is useful to think about how you would explain the work you are doing and to talk about it in a way that refers to your obligations under the General Social Care Council’s codes of practice.
Pile advises that social workers who do not feel confident about speaking up because of fears about anonymity should talk to their colleagues, union and elected representatives so that issues can be raised with Ofsted collectively rather than individually. “If workloads are out of control or supervision is not happening get together as a group and raise these concerns with employers and make sure inspectors are made aware,” she suggests.
One of the features of the new inspections is that inspectors may shadow social workers. If this happens to you then it’s important to meet the inspector beforehand and establish ground rules in advance.
Advice from Ofsted
Social workers shouldn’t feel that they are being inspected personally. “These inspections are not about catching out social workers and making sweeping judgments,” says John Goldup, the deputy chief inspector at Ofsted. “The best way for social workers to prepare for an inspection is to sustain the professional commitment to what they do day in, day out.”
While he admits that Ofsted is moving into “new territory” by shadowing social workers it is not standalone elements of the inspection. “This will be a new and additional source of evidence for us but we will be using it together with everything else, no one piece of inspection tells us the answer on its own,” he says.
“It will always be done with the consent of the family – inspectors will not turn up out of the blue – and it is important that the presence of an inspector does not become a factor in the dynamic of the relationship.”
Inspection elsewhere in the UK
The Care Inspectorate is the agency that inspects Scotland’s 30 multi-agency child protection committees. This summer it will introduce a new approach that will look at the whole system rather than child protection in isolation and place a greater emphasis on how well services are doing at improving children’s lives.
The Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales handles local authority social services inspections. It does not routinely do unannounced inspections of councils but does do this for care services, which it also inspects and regulates. On 1 April this year it began reporting on people’s experience of using services in inspections.
Instead of standard inspections, Northern Ireland’s Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority reviews child protection arrangements and services throughout the province. Its last completed review began in 2008 and the findings were released in 2011.
Ofsted will also release further guidance on its new approach to inspections before the end of April