The standard of help provided to children receiving social care in Lancashire will still be subject to scrutiny - in spite of an end to external audits of the service.
That was the message from the head of Lancashire County Council’s safeguarding department, who said that the authority had demonstrated that it was now capable of assessing its own performance.
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Sally Allen was speaking after budget proposals were published which would end the practice of outside experts auditing the case files of individual children. She told the children’s services scrutiny committee that the in-house team which would take over the work will be independent of the social workers whose judgements they would be reviewing.
“Our OFSTED inspection in 2015 identified real concerns about the quality of [our] audits - clearly, we didn’t know ourselves properly at that time,” Ms. Allen said.
“But [at our reinspection] in 2018, the audit process came out as a strength.”
However, the planned changes, which will save an estimated £7,000 per year, were criticised by Labour committee member, Sobia Malik.
“It’s really hard to keep [a] level of objectivity [about your performance] when you are working so hard - and the external audit helps you keep that frame of reference,” County Cllr Malik said.
But Sally Allen insisted that the authority’s own assessment process had proved that an added layer of scrutiny was no longer necessary.
“When OFSTED visited in June, we had to do an audit of 20 cases - and they agreed with our own findings. That’s a very different conversation to the one we were having in 2015,” she said.
The most recent OFSTED report - which upgraded Lancashire County Council’s children’s services from “inadequate” to “requires improvement” - concluded that lessons were being learned from internal audits, but added that “greater consistency is not yet in place across the service”.
The Local Government Association has also been giving feedback on the quality of the county council’s own audits over the past two years and now “agrees with what [is being] found”, committee members were told.
The proposal to end the external audit process will be put before full council at its budget meeting next February.