17 / HOW GOOD A CORPORATE PARENT CAN WE BE?
"I expect a corporate parent to be someone you can feel comfortable talking to: a person who understands you and is willing to help you with different problems that you may be having." (Sam)
As part of an overall approach to performance management, a major challenge for councils and their partners is to make sure that internal self-evaluation leads to improvement and complements external scrutiny. This can be achieved if councils and their partners adopt robust self-evaluation which enables each authority to plan for, and deliver, real improvements in services, management and leadership.
The purpose of self-evaluation is to improve quality and performance as well as to focus on the impact of services delivered by the Council and its community planning partners on users, staff and the wider community.
The Concordat announced between Scottish Government and COSLA in November 2007, based on a new national performance framework, provides the basis for enabling more effective partnership working to improve outcomes for children, young people and families. It puts in place a single set of outcomes and indicators for local authorities and their community planning partners to use in developing their Single Outcome Agreements with Scottish Government. The associated performance information will form part of the evidence base for self- evaluation, inspection and scrutiny.
A generic quality indicator framework based on high level questions has been developed for children's services ( A Guide to evaluating services for children and young people using quality indicators. HMIE October 2006). The evaluation framework on which the guide is based is increasingly being used by other inspectorates and scrutiny bodies. A specific self evaluation tool Evaluating the effectiveness of corporate parenting is under development by HMIE. This is based on the Guide to evaluating services for children and young people.
A web-based suite of CPD and training materials designed to build capacity for self-evaluation within and between services was launched by HMIE in December 2007.
Using the framework internal and external evaluators can consider the inter-relationship between different aspects of provision of services for children and young people:
- the outcomes and impact of services;
- the processes used in delivering services; and
- the leadership and direction shown in providing and continually improving services.
The Guide to evaluating services for children and young people using quality indicators provides a framework through which a Council's corporate parenting can be evaluated.
For example, self-evaluation using quality indicators can be applied at three related levels:
- strategic management across a range of services or organisations, for example in the formulation and implementation of an Integrated Children's Services Plan within which there would be a specific section on planning to improve outcomes for vulnerable children;
- operational management of services or organisations within a broader structure, for example where schools, social workers, primary health care professionals and police officers work together to deal with the operational management issues associated with providing an integrated service to meet the needs of vulnerable children;
- delivery of a specific service, for example where inputs from social work services, education and housing within a Council combine with the Children's Reporter and the health service to deal with children and young people who are Looked After at home or away from home.
The Care Commission, which regulates services specified in the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001, such as fostering services, secure accommodation services, residential schools and care homes has published Quality Statements, based on the National Care Standards, against which regulated care services are expected to self evaluate their own performance in delivering good outcomes for children and young people. The engagement of children and young people who use these services, their families and carers, in the evaluation of the service will be central to ensuring that good evaluations are verified by the Care Commission during inspection. As good corporate parents, Councils who place children and young people in regulated care services should also inform the evaluation of these services, whether these services are provided by the Council or by its partners.
The Social Work Inspection Agency ( SWIA) is responsible for inspecting local authority social work services many of which are available to Looked After children their families and if Looked After away from home, their carers and staff. SWIA routinely inspects councils' arrangements for financing and commissioning services for children and young people and the councils' approaches to corporate parenting responsibilities.
SWIA has recently (2008) completed a pilot project including former Looked After and accommodated young people as lay inspectors of services for children, in their inspection of local authority services.
SWIA is working with partner local authorities to develop a general self evaluation guides and three specific guides on comimissioning, leadership and performance management to support local authorities to develop their ability to judge their own outcomes.
Through self-evaluation, the Council and its partner organisations can identify strengths and areas for development of the services they provide, identify improvement objectives, and agree strategies for achieving them. In this way, services begin to develop a common language and a common set of expectations regarding the improvement of their corporate parenting. It helps answer the question "How good are we now?" and "How good can we be?" It helps check processes against the vision they have for their services, and against national indicators.
Inspection is recognised as a driver for continuous improvement and increasingly, joint inspection of children's services and inspection of individual regulated care services aims to put in place a proportionate, supportive regulation and quality assurance regime which helps services not only to identify shortcomings in existing practice, but to build on good practice and to strive for excellence. Inspection reports, national reviews of the quality of services published by inspectorates and regulators and inspectorate events are important vehicles for sharing good practice and developing learning across the country. Councils should use these outputs from inspection and regulation to help them reflect on the quality of their own. Additionally, web-based resources such as HMIE's The Journey to Excellence and the Looked After children website hosted by Learning and Teaching Scotland, are important sources of good practice.
The public will be able to make their own evaluation of how public services are improving through the Scotland Performs website [ www.scotland.gov.uk/About/scotPerforms ].