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NW Region Update Nov 2017 - Improving Social Care Practice and...

This update is dedicated to an ongoing example of our increasingly integrated and sophisticated approach to improving social care practice and systems across the region, working with key partners.


The North West has a rising population of Children Looked After (CLA) and above average rates of children placed on care orders at home. As part of the region’s commitment to sector-led improvement and peer challenge, an in-depth multi-faceted approach has been agreed through the North West ADCS with both Ofsted and Cafcass.

Strands of Activity:


Initial high-level data analysis was undertaken to ascertain prevalence, trend and proportion of CLA who are placed with parents as an initial first step. This analysis was utilised to prepare a regional data pack which was shared with all local Family Justice Boards and/or designated Family Judges in the region. To augment headline findings, a more detailed quantitative analysis was conducted to ascertain the characteristics of CLA subject to care orders at home, including age; factors at the end of assessment; and, their journey through the system including those ceasing to be CLA and/or experiencing placement moves. Through an embryonic partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, additional research themes are currently being scoped.

Practice and principles

To capture systematically the experiences and responses of both practitioners and managers, a head of service led task and finish group was convened. The group focussed on the system and practice issues which shaped and influenced the handling of cases where children were the subject of care orders and placed with their parents. It identified key considerations for practice in the following areas:

  • Thresholds - Legal Gateway, pre-proceedings, and threshold for removal not met
  • Evidence – including the use of pre-filing meetings prior to final evidence being filed
  • Cafcass - the role, contribution and influence of children’s guardians
  • Independent Review – the contribution of IROs in care orders at home cases
  • Legal advice – role and impact of local authority legal advice
  • Judiciary – judicial decision making including use of alternative orders and discharge
  • Positive use - circumstances when a care order at home should be considered
  • Diversionary practice - approaches predicated on avoidance/discharge of a care order at home
  • Research – use of research-informed assessment, planning and decision making
  • Case studies – identifying examples considered to show good practice.

Regional case file audit

As part of the programme of activity, the region embarked on its first whole-region thematic audit. Directors engaged business intelligence/analysis functions to select randomly three recent cases where children had been placed on full care orders at home with parents. The audits were conducted by a mixture of team managers, senior managers and IROs based within each local authority. All 23 local authorities returned audits that were used to inform the regional findings, with a total of 62 audits which were fit for purpose. Auditors were asked to evaluate the 12-month period prior to the final hearing at which the care order at home with parents was made. The cases were audited across nine domains:

  • Response to risk
  • Is the work child-centred?
  • Management oversight and decision making
  • Assessments
  • Co-ordination of agencies
  • Plans
  • Effectiveness of reviews
  • Quality of placement
  • Impact on children and young people.

Using the same child-level list, local Cafcass colleagues conducted a concurrent ‘dip sample’ approach to audit in order to bring an additional perspective and triangulate findings. LA and Cafcass audit outcomes are being collated and analysed by a lead LA quality assurance manager with themes prevalent in a high number of audits considered in the context of regional and national data and research. A comprehensive report is currently being finalised and will be presented to North West ADCS for consideration in order to shape local and regional strategic and practice responses.

Responding with partners

Through our increasingly established programme of ‘Better for Children’ seminars, we will work with Ofsted’s senior HMI, heads of service from Cafcass and a lead local authority to deliver an improvement seminar. With representatives from practice leadership and management; quality assurance functions; LA legal services; and Cafcass the session will identify learning from inspection, practice and audit activity and inform local and regional action planning. The session is due to be delivered on 5 December 2017.

Further information, including the nature of data collection, audit tools or other detail, please contact Paul Bunker, Regional Development Manager, NWADCS in the first instance It is hoped that wider system learning will be able to be shared more widely once the work is concluded and any action planning is completed.

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