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Through the keyhole: Ealing’s spot check

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Are you worried by the thought of an impending spot check? Not sure what to expect or how to prepare?

Wonder no longer! We’ve asked a selection of local areas to share their experiences of spot checks to demystify the process. We’ve asked them to be candid about how they prepared what they found tricky, and what they took away from the day.

If you’ve not been spot checked yet, hopefully this series of blog posts will give you a flavour of how the day can go (and how friendly our spot check officers are). And if you’ve had your spot check already, we’re keen to hear if this chimes with your experience.

First up is Ealing. A massive thank you to Dorothy Duffy, the Troubled Families Co-Ordinator in Ealing, for agreeing to share her thoughts on the process and what the team learned.

Name: Dorothy Duffy

Job title: Think Family Plus Strategic Co-ordinator & Programme Lead -Brighter Futures

Local authority: Ealing

Region: London

When did you have your spot check?

19th June 2017.

How many claims were checked on the day?


Who carried out your spot check from DCLG?

Alima Qureshi and Rachel Lundy.

Which colleagues did you enlist for support on the day?

TFP (Think Family Plus) Team (TFP Co-ordinator , Data Manager, Data Analyst, JCP, Think Family  Employment Advisor)

Executive Director of Children, Adults and Public Health

Director of Children and Families

Head of Children in Need

Head of Performance and Projects

Head of Youth Justice Service (YJS)

Head of Early Years and SAFE (early help)

Strategic Manager, SAFE (early help)

Children’s Principal Social Worker

Keyworkers (Social Care, Children with Disabilities Social Care ,  and YJS)

How did you prepare for the spot check?

We visited a neighbouring London borough that had recently had a successful spot check to better understand the process and learn from their experience. After the visit, we discussed the main highlights amongst the Think Family Plus team and drafted an action plan.

We had team meetings and held wider briefings for senior management and heads of service to explain the spot check process, expectations and involvement of their services and a request to respond speedily if we required specific information on a particular child or family known to their service. For the day, a presentation was prepared to introduce Think Family Plus in Ealing to DCLG.

Once we received the case IDs for the cases being spot checked a week before the visit, we notified managers/keyworkers that their cases had been selected. The Think Family Plus team created a family folder for each case. The folder contained a cover sheet with key information such as:


Family initials


Family composition

Date identified

Criteria met

Date PBR claimed

A brief description of what was claimed for

Dates of assessments and plan

Keyworker details and

A list of evidence provided in the folder

The evidence included snapshots from all of our systems showing how the family met the Troubled Families criteria, any key pieces of work carried out with the family, assessment dates, plan dates, case closure episodes and Payments by Results evidence which showed how the family improved or achieved significant and sustained progress. We also drafted a case narrative for each family which highlighted the presenting needs, the interventions provided and the outcomes.

How did the day go?

Very well. Although the visit was from 10am to 2pm on a very hot day so I’d definitely recommend scheduling short comfort breaks as a result.

Which areas of your programme received positive feedback?

Our positive feedback included:

Hearing directly from key workers was much appreciated and went really well

That the heads of relevant services took time out to be present and take questions directly

It was evident that the services worked well together and understood whole family working and the principles of the Troubled Families Programme

The performance and data management  of the Troubled Families Programme

The thorough evidence presented

The breadth and scope of our service  transformation

Were there any invalid claims/ areas for improvement?


Was any follow-up required?

We needed to provide clarification on two attendance figures for significant and sustained progress claims where education was not a presenting criteria.

Each spot check reviews 10% of the number of PbR claims a local area has submitted. Our 10% totalled 28 and, as only 15 cases were required to be checked  on the day. We were sent a spreadsheet shortly after the check with the  remaining 13 cases, and we filled out a pre-populated template with the required information.

What did you learn from the process? Did you find it useful?


Preparation is critical – never underestimate the time it takes

Gather all evidence and key information beforehand

We had individual folders for all cases, which were very useful

Have snapshots or screenshots of evidence to hand, and case summaries

A cover sheet for each family containing key details helps things to run smoothly on the day

It’s important to brief workers, managers and service leads, and ensure everyone understands purpose, process and expectations

Overall, it was really good to be able to talk through and reflect on the journey from phase 1 of the programme to the work we are now doing to create a service-wide transformation.

What would you change about spot checks?

It would be helpful to have more than one week to prepare the 10% sample of cases selected – we found it quite a time-consuming task gathering all our evidence in one place ready to present while briefing key workers and managers at the same time.

Having clear guidance of the types of evidence to present would be useful – for example, we were unsure until a short time before the check that we would be required to evidence education and attendance figures, even when it was not an identifying criteria.

It would be good not to have it on a Monday! Having a work day immediately before the check allows everyone to be present and have a final check rather than having to work at a weekend.

What would your top tip be for other areas being spot checked?

Preparation, preparation, preparation!

Having a cover sheet or a checklist for each case, and being able to collate as much evidence for all areas of sustained and significant progress and employment as possible. It’s better to over-evidence if possible than to have gaps which require follow-ups or take time on the day.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about spot checks, please get in touch with the spot checks team or contact Dorothy directly to hear more detail about how Ealing prepared for their visit.

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