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Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers: a quality assurance framework 2009

Published: 8 Oct 2010
Part of:
Law and order
ISBN:
978 0 7559 8143 4

Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers: a quality assurance framework 2009

199 page PDF

1.4MB

199 page PDF

1.4MB

Contents
Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers: a quality assurance framework 2009
5. Standards Around Competence

199 page PDF

1.4MB

5. Standards Around Competence

Services using these Standards must ensure that all staff gain, maintain and develop the skills and knowledge necessary to meet the needs of their service users. The general competency requirements in this section are supplemented by those in ' Section 2: Competences for Advisers'.

Standard 5.1

All service providers must have a clear commitment to equal opportunities in employment practice.

The service provider must have policies and procedures that ensure that all of those individuals involved in the planning, management and delivery of the services are not discriminated against on the grounds of age, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

To comply with this Standard, all service providers must have an equal opportunities policy, in effective operation, that precludes discrimination in the selection, recruitment, and treatment of staff and volunteers. This should include:

  • Open recruitment process (whether internal or external) that evaluates the skill, knowledge and experience of those applying for posts against the job description and person specification and
  • A means of ensuring that all those involved in the planning, management and delivery of the service are aware of this policy and its procedures.

Developing an implementation strategy is also important; a policy on its own is not enough. A starting point is to review current records and achievements. Services should look at the current profile of staff, volunteers and committee members - how this profile relates to the geographical areas in which the service is based and to its specific user groups.

Tip Questions services should ask themselves

  • Does the absence of disabled people or people from minority ethnic communities from the service's staff group or management committee mean that the way in which recruitment occurs needs some thought?
  • If offices are not accessible to people with impaired mobility, are there any ways in which this could be changed, or are there adjustments to working practices that could enable the service to offer opportunities to disabled people, for instance through job sharing, tele-working and home working?
  • How can premises be adapted to increase access not only for service users but also for paid staff and volunteers?
  • How are the needs of people from minority ethnic communities or disabled people being considered and met in service planning?
  • How far does the service understand the needs of people who may be experiencing discrimination or oppression? Is there awareness training to ensure that equal opportunities issues are fully understood by all those involved in the service?

Reviewing all policies and procedures as part of the commitment to implementing the equal opportunities policy is essential. These need to be examined for both direct and indirect discrimination and to ensure that they are revised to take account of the policy. Increasingly, services are developing a statement of specific anti-discriminatory practice. This reflects the review of all relevant policies and clearly shows how anti-discrimination issues are being taken seriously by the service. Specific disability strategies should also be prepared, which can be reflected in the service and forward plans of the service.

Legal Requirements

There are now stringent legal requirements that employers must meet in the six defined equality areas of age; sexuality; gender; disability; race; and religion. Services need to be aware of the way in which legislation defines direct and indirect discrimination.

Standard 5.2

All service providers must ensure that they have systems to identify the skills and knowledge required to meet users' needs and the procedures to match these requirements with staff and volunteers delivering the service.

Service users and funders should be confident that the service has mechanisms to ensure that the skills and knowledge required are available and being properly applied.

To comply with this Standard, Type I service providers must have:

  • Systems that document the skills, knowledge and experience required by those delivering the service and the tasks they are required to perform (usually in the form of job descriptions and person specifications)
  • Procedures which can ensure that the work undertaken by the post holder is within their capacity and competence and
  • Processes for ensuring that those delivering the service are briefed in any relevant changes to legislation, regulation, and so on, relevant to their area of service

In addition to these requirements, Type II and Type III service providers must also have:

  • Procedures in place for advisers to inform their supervisor if the case is beyond their competence

Whilst services may be able to provide a high quality of service at present, this may be due to the particular skills of individual staff. All services need to have clearly prepared policies and procedures which relate to the recruitment of staff, given that all services experience turnover in both paid and unpaid staff.

Most services have some kind of personnel policy, even if it is undefined and informally applied. Documenting the skills, knowledge and experience required and introducing methods of evaluating applicants for paid and unpaid posts will help make better and more equitable decisions about people.

Knowing the skills and experience that are needed in a service is a function of good planning. The sections above on strategic and service planning have indicated ways in which services should identify what it is expected a service will undertake and achieve. Identifying the human resource needs is part of this process.

Job descriptions and person specifications should be prepared for each post. The job description sets out what tasks a person will be expected to perform in their role; the person specification sets out the necessary and desirable skills, qualifications and experience that the service is seeking from applicants. Services should ensure that in drawing up job descriptions the tasks to be carried out are identified and the applicant (and subsequently the post holder) will be clear about what they are expected to do, who will manage or supervise their work, and who they are responsible for managing or supervising. Job descriptions do not need to include line by line dissections of the job. Provided it is made clear what the boundaries of a particular job are, a broader description of the key areas of work will be sufficient. However, it is not enough to just say that an adviser's work is 'To advise clients on their rights.'

TIP Person specifications identify the range of skills and experience the service expects the person to bring to a particular post. If there are key elements that are essential for a particular post, such as previous experience in the information and advice field, or specific knowledge of welfare rights, money advice work or housing law, this should be stated in the person specification. Good person specifications are normally divided into a number of sections:

  • Qualifications required - where relevant, but do not set qualification levels if they are not required
  • Experience required
  • Knowledge of particular areas of work - it is good practice to divide this into Essential and Desirable categories
  • Attributes - the ability to work in a team, skills and awareness in working with specific groups

If a service will only consider employing someone with previous experience, it should say so. It should, however, count unpaid work experience as well as paid work experience.

Standard 5.3

All service providers must ensure that those delivering the service are provided with adequate training and development.

Attention needs to be given to staff and volunteers delivering the service to ensure that they gain, maintain and develop the appropriate mix of skills and knowledge to satisfy the needs of service users within the aims of the service. Those using volunteers need to demonstrate that their training programmes recognise special factors in their training plans including higher turnover and different support and supervision needs.

To comply with this Standard, Type I service providers should have:

  • Induction procedures, covering technical competence, customer care and service policies and procedures in place for all people joining the service
  • Systems for review/appraisal on personal performance should be undertaken at least once a year
  • Training and development plans to support the needs of the service to be produced and reviewed at least annually - these should detail any special provision made by those services using volunteers
  • A budget for training to be maintained and
  • All training to be recorded on training records

TIP Section 2 of this manual lists the competences required to advise on specific topics. Your service remit should make it clear which of these topics you cover. You should list these then match your advisers' skills against the relevant competence requirements. This will give you the start of a training needs analysis. This should then be supplemented using updates from appraisal and supervision sessions.

In addition to the above, to comply with this Standard Type II and Type III service providers must ensure that:

  • All advisers with less than 5 years of experience undertake no less than 35 hours of training per year
  • All advisers with more than 5 years of experience undertake no less than 20 hours of training per year and
  • Adequate contingency plans are made in the event of new legislation being instituted that affects the areas of advice undertaken by the service

Induction

Induction of new staff, paid and unpaid, is important. Induction is a welcoming process, which enables new recruits to fit into the service and its practices as quickly as possible, to become an 'insider' rather than remain an 'outsider'. The Office Manual should form the core of the induction programme. Learning about a service's policies and practices, as well as the specific tasks required in the particular post, is a critical part of the induction process.

Staff Appraisal

Because staff are the key point where the service meets with its service users, the quality of an individual's work and aptitude should be regularly assessed. Many services are reluctant to consider the introduction of performance appraisal, seeing it as a technique that is linked to issues such as performance related pay awards. Appraisal, linked to regular supervision, can be a positive tool that gives not only a regular overview of how someone is performing, but also helps to assess future training needs and areas of personal development.

Appraisal systems should be applied to all staff, paid and unpaid. Supervision and appraisal can assist in identifying burnout in both staff and volunteers and provide an opportunity for counselling out volunteers who are ready to move on or are failing to meet performance standards.

In relation to volunteers in particular, it is recognised that in areas where volunteers are limited, there may be a reluctance to counsel out volunteers. However, if high standards are to be maintained by the service, this will need to be considered. In introducing formal systems, with volunteers, a balance should be struck between an over formalised approach and the need to apply consistent procedures and criteria to volunteer supervision and appraisal.

Supervision

Staff supervision is clearly an important component of appraisal. Supervision is considered in more detail in Standard 5.6.

Training

Throughout this good practice guide, it has been stressed that staff and volunteers are the most important resource that services have. They provide the key to delivering a high quality service. To enable this to happen, the updating of the skills and knowledge of new and existing staff is a key responsibility of all services, to ensure an effective, quality service.

Services need to consider their training policies and training needs as part of their planning processes. Annual staff appraisal enables the training needs of each individual to be reviewed and provides an opportunity to examine how training already undertaken has been applied in the work of the member of staff or volunteer. The outcomes from the appraisals can be built into an overall plan for staff training, which should include areas that the service thinks are important, over and above the training wishes of any individuals. Overall training areas should be identified for planning purposes under a number of headings:

  • Induction training
  • Core skills training
  • On-the-job training
  • Specialist skills training and
  • Personal development training

In developing training plans for each individual, different areas of training may be included in different categories. For instance, basic counselling skills training could be considered as a specialist skill for an advice worker, but as personal development training for a member of the administrative team, which may have been identified at appraisal as enabling the individual to cope better with some areas of their work or to extend their skills and enable them to move on to a more demanding role.

Finding the resources to undertake the training required may be critical for many services; working within networks should be examined in this respect.

Training should be monitored within the service, and individuals should be encouraged to report back on training courses. Where resources are limited for training, consideration should be given to the ways in which one member of staff or volunteer can undertake training in a specific area, and then cascade their knowledge within the service through internal training sessions. This can be a very cost-effective means of using more expensive external training courses.

Staff should never be sent on training courses or to conferences just because it is 'their turn' to have some training.

Services should consider planning their training needs to take account of staff turnover and the impact of new legislation or changes in procedures.

Technical competence areas which need to be enhanced in the service can be identified using the competences identified in Section 2 of this publication. Clearly, the development of levels of technical competence will impact on the service's service plan in terms of the range of work that the service is able to carry out.

Training records should be kept as part of an employee's personnel record. In addition, where staff and volunteers are given their own office manual or personal manual, a training record form should be included and updated after each internal or external training course.

TIP Training some staff in training techniques and using them as a service resource for training volunteers and other staff can be very cost-effective. Cascade training works most effectively if the cascader has received some training in presentation and training techniques.

Services should consider how networking and partnership work with other services can increase their access to training resources. Partnership with other local services could enable training to be brought to the group of services, rather than individual members of staff being sent on external training courses. Services could explore with their local authorities whether places could be made available on appropriate courses for members of their staff.

Services should also consider special training for paid and volunteer staff and managers with supervisory, planning or financial responsibilities. Skills that could be developed in these areas include:

  • Financial management for non-finance specialist staff
  • Marketing training
  • Quality management
  • Recruitment, interview, staff support and appraisal training
  • Strategic planning
  • Communications and presentation skills
  • Working with committees and
  • Disciplinary procedures

Standard 5.4

All service providers must ensure that all staff involved in delivering the service have core competences before they advise the public.

Service users should be confident that all of those delivering the service have the basic skills and knowledge to provide assistance or to identify where further assistance may be available.

Core competence as defined in the Standards relates to generic skills. These skills may be applicable to other areas of work undertaken by an organisation, as well as directly related to the advice and information element of activity.

Detailed below is a guide as to the sorts of activities and evidence that will lead to achievement of these core competences.

Core competence for Type I

Evidenced by:

Understanding of the aims and values of the service in which they are operating and the boundaries of that service

  • An agency commissioned basic training programme
  • A planned induction programme covering aims, values and boundaries
  • A dialogue between staff member and the agency to ensure appropriate learning

Recognition that users of service facing discrimination on grounds of their race, sex, sexual orientation or other circumstances may have special needs

If the service targets particular sections of the community there should be particular recognition of the issues faced by that group of people

  • General awareness training of diversity
  • Cultural awareness training
  • Equal opportunities training

Awareness of and ability to use the service's information resources effectively

  • A planned appraisal induction programme
  • Agency directory of information resources and guidance/training on how to use this

Recognition of their own limitations in any particular case and awareness of the internal and external sources of assistance that may be available (referral)

  • Training in making a referral
  • An agency referral directory

Ability to operate effectively within the service's recording system

  • Training to ensure compliance with any recording system operated by the agency

Core competence for Type II

Evidenced by:

Understanding of the aims and values of the service in which they are operating and the boundaries of that service

  • An internally commissioned basic training programme that involves the most senior members of that organisation
  • A planned induction programme covering aims, values and boundaries
  • A dialogue between staff member and the agency to ensure appropriate learning

Recognition that users of service facing discrimination on grounds of their race, sex, sexual orientation or other circumstances may have special needs

If the service targets particular sections of the community there should be particular recognition of the issues faced by that group of people

  • General awareness training of diversity
  • Cultural awareness training
  • Equal opportunities training

These need to address legislative, cultural and attitudinal issues.

Awareness of and ability to use the service's information resources effectively

  • A planned appraisal programme
  • Agency directory of information resources

Recognition of their own limitations in any particular case and awareness of the internal and external sources of assistance that may be available (referral)

  • An agency referral directory
  • Training in making a referral

Ability to operate effectively within the service's case recording system

  • Training to ensure compliance with any case recording system operated by the agency

Ability to acknowledge the users' own feelings about their problems and respond appropriately within the boundaries of the agency

  • Basic training programme covering this area
  • Or at least 1 year's full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Ability to explore and identify problems and key areas of enquiries

  • Diagnostic skills covered in basic training
  • Or at least 1 year's full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Ability to apply this information to the specific problems encountered by the user of service

  • Basic training programme covering this area
  • An appraisal programme that ensures that this remains up to date
  • Or at least 1 year's full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Ability to explain options to users of service and explain the consequences of such choices

  • Basic training programme covering this area
  • Or at least 1 year's full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Awareness of the distinction between what constitutes an individual's rights and what constitutes good advice

  • Basic training programme covering this area
  • Or at least 1 year's full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Ability to take action: e.g. drafting correspondence, preparing notes, etc

  • Basic training programme covering this area
  • Or at least 1 year's full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Core competence for Type III

Evidenced by:

Understanding of the aims and values of the service in which they are operating and the boundaries of that service

  • An internally commissioned basic training programme that involves the most senior people in that agency
  • A planned induction programme covering aims, values and boundaries

Recognition that users of service facing discrimination on grounds of their race, sex, sexual orientation or other circumstances may have special needs

If the service targets particular sections of the community there should be particular recognition of the issues faced by that group of people

  • General awareness training of diversity
  • Cultural awareness training
  • Equal opportunities training

These need to address legislative, cultural and attitudinal issues.

Awareness of and ability to use the service's information resources effectively

  • A planned induction programme
  • Agency directory of information resources

Recognition of their own limitations in any particular case and awareness of the internal and external sources of assistance that may be available (referral)

  • Training in making a referral
  • An agency referral directory

Ability to operate effectively within the service's case recording system

  • Training to ensure compliance with any case recording system operated by the agency

Ability to acknowledge the users' own feelings about their problems and respond appropriately within the boundaries of the agency

  • Basic training programme covering this area
  • Or at least 2 years' full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Ability to explore and identify problems and key areas of enquiries

  • Diagnostic skills covered in basic training
  • Or at least 2 years' full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Ability to apply this information to the specific problems encountered by the user of service

  • Basic training programme covering this area
  • An appraisal programme that ensures that this remains up to date
  • Or at least 2 years' full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Ability to explain options to users of service and explain the consequences of such choices

  • Basic training programme covering this area
  • Or at least 2 years' full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Awareness of the distinction between what constitutes an individual's rights and what constitutes good advice

  • Training programme covering this area
  • Or at least 2 years' full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Ability to decide upon the strategy for a case and draw up a case plan

  • Training programme covering this area
  • Or at least 2 years' full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Ability to take action: e.g. drafting concise and appropriate ( e.g. legal) correspondence, preparing notes and reports, letter writing, etc

  • Basic training programme covering this area
  • or at least 2 years' full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Have the necessary skills to undertake tribunal, court or other relevant representation, mediation or negotiation activities, and the confidence to deal with adversarial situations

  • Representation/mediation training that includes coaching, mentoring and shadowing linked to an appraisal and supervision system
  • Or at least 2 years' full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Have the necessary skills and confidence to prepare, and present an argument, including public speaking

  • Appropriate training that includes coaching, mentoring and shadowing linked to an appraisal and supervision system
  • Or at least 2 years' full-time (or equivalent) number of years of practice

Paid staff and volunteers are the key resource in providing information and advice to service users. It is therefore essential that they can demonstrate certain key qualities, attributes and skills.

The list of attributes contained in the Standard is prescriptive. However, in drafting person specifications for the information and advice workers of a particular service attention should be paid to any specific additional skills or attributes that the service may require.

TIP Basic training courses that are undertaken by all paid and unpaid staff are an effective means of addressing this requirement. In selecting courses and trainers, services should assure themselves that the course or the trainer will be appropriate within the values of the service.

Information and advice workers need diversity training to be able to provide sensitively for people from groups with special needs and to be able to act as mediators and advisers on specific areas affecting disadvantaged and oppressed groups.

Standard 5.5

All service providers must ensure that all cases are dealt with by an adviser competent in that area of law.

Where the service undertake Type II or Type III work it is essential that it is undertaken by someone with the relevant skills and knowledge. Those applying this Standard should make reference to ' Section 2: Competences for Advisers'.

To comply with this Standard, Type I service providers must:

  • Demonstrate that the adviser meets the requirements in Section 2 of these Standards for the relevant topics
  • Demonstrate that the adviser, whether paid or unpaid, undertakes information and advice related work no less than three hours per week and
  • Ensure that supervision arrangements are in place to oversee the work of the adviser in this area in line with Standard 5.6

Type II service providers must also meet these requirements with the exception that:

  • The service must demonstrate that the adviser, whether paid or unpaid, undertakes information and advice related work no less than six hours per week

Type III service providers must also meet these requirements with the exception that:

  • The service must demonstrate that the adviser, whether paid or unpaid, undertakes information and advice related work advice work no less than twelve hours per week

TIP It should be noted that in the case of supervisors the information and advice related work referred to has a broad definition and would, for example, include time spent on relevant social policy work. It is also important to stress that these minimum hours are provided as indicators of detailed experience. It would be expected that, for example, in a Type III service the supervisor should have at least one year's minimum recent experience of advice work.

The ability of an information and advice worker to provide effective interventions depends upon them constantly updating their knowledge and experience. This can only be achieved if the adviser sees a minimum number of service users each week. The number of hours will vary from service to service, depending on the area of advice provided and the level to which the adviser is working.

Some services deploying volunteers, who are, for example, practising solicitors, may consider more flexible arrangements around minimum hours.

Standard 5.6

All service providers must ensure that all information and advice work is supervised by a suitably qualified individual, either from within or outwith the service.

This Standard links to the standard for 'File Review' (4.6) and aims to ensure that the service maintains overall control of its work. This requires services to ensure that advisers have access to another, suitably qualified adviser, not directly involved in the delivery of the service to a particular service user, who can provide guidance and manage the conduct of the case. Small organisations may seek supervisors outwith their service.

Service providers should consider the agency and adviser competences required in Section 2 of these Standards. They should be able to demonstrate that those with responsibility for overseeing this work have the knowledge to support other staff.

To comply with this Standard, Type I , Type II and Type III service must:

  • Demonstrate that the supervising adviser meets the requirements in Section 2 of these Standards for the relevant topics and
  • Demonstrate that the supervising adviser, whether paid or unpaid, for Type I undertakes advice related work no less than six hours and Type II and Type III no less than twelve hours, per week

TIP Supervision is a management tool and one which should be used to assure a worker and all those who need to know that the work is competent and effective. It should not be oppressive, or purely technical.

Using External Resources

Some advice providing organisations may feel that they do not have the technical know-how or resources to provide casework supervision internally. This may be particularly so for smaller services, those which provide advice as a part of their service, or those which are new to the field.

In such cases, services may want to consider using external expertise. For example, technical expertise could be found from existing advice providers where the contract is between the two services and not between the relevant workers.

Where this happens, the specialist advice provider would undertake an audit to identify areas of strengths, weaknesses and gaps in all aspects of the advice providing process, using the standards set out in Section 1. The audit will enable the focus of supervision of casework to be agreed between the two services, and will help the receiving service to identify what management systems it needs to develop.

In those areas which have used this model, agreement is made about the frequency of contact between the workers, and whether or not the specialist service/worker can be available on a 'needs' basis, perhaps by telephone. Arrangements have also been made for the technical supervisor to feed back to the organisation, through the manager or co-ordinator, management and organisational issues.

An area of concern about using this model could be that the receiving service never develops its own capacity to undertake casework supervision. Those areas which have used this approach have found that a way to address this problem is through live supervision; a process in which the specialist supervisor supervises the service supervisor during their own supervision of the advice worker.

This approach has many benefits. However, it is time consuming and needs to be managed carefully, perhaps by undertaking live supervision every three or four visits rather than each time.

TIP Some local authorities in England have broadened this approach, to engage a specialist advice service to provide casework supervision to a range of services operating in a locality. Such instances bring improvement in referrals between services, and a developing consistency in quality assurance for those services which participate in the scheme. The approach has also provided the local authority with strategic information as well as a coherent approach to monitoring those projects providing advice which the local authority funds.

Standard 5.7

All service providers must ensure that they understand the work of other services in their localities.

TIP The provision of quality information and advice is not the sole responsibility of a single service. The quality of service can be greatly enhanced by working with other providers.

To comply with this Standard, all service providers should ensure that they have adequate mechanisms to share experiences and knowledge with other services operating in similar fields. This will be evidenced by attendance at conferences, seminars, and so on, which should be recorded as part of the service's training record.

Practices and procedures within individual services and the knowledge base of individual staff can be greatly enhanced by meeting with advisers from other parts of the country. Networking with other services can be a way of extending resources, through the development of joint working arrangements, for instance on training or publications.

Networking will enable a service to share its experiences and learn practically from others. Services should look at the ways in which extending their networks can assist with:

  • The development of opportunities for joint working, including project development, training, information sharing, and so on
  • Building relationships that can lead to better referral practice and opportunities and
  • The development of local or special interest forums - these can play a role in clarifying issues in the advice and information field or identifying new issues that need to be considered by services. This may include lobbying for change

This Standard recognises that increased networking is resource-demanding for services; for instance, the demands upon a service and its limited human and financial resources may restrict attendance at conferences and forums. However, where a staff member is able to attend, services should ensure that good reporting mechanisms exist for participants to feed back information from conferences, local, regional and national networks to the service.


Contact

Email: ceu@gov.scot Phone: 0300 244 4000 Post: Central Enquiry Unit
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG