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Number of Norfolk children entering care rises by 25pc in one year - 12 times the national average

PUBLISHED: 08:09 03 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:31 03 November 2017

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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The number of Norfolk children going into care rose by a quarter in just one year - more than 12 times the national average.

In the 12 months leading up to the end of March 2017, 470 children in Norfolk entered care, compared to 375 the previous year - an increase of 25pc.

Nationally, the equivalent rise was 2pc, while for the east of England it was 3pc and in Suffolk the figure fell by 4pc down to 345.

It came after two years of decline in the number of Norfolk children entering care - from 530 in 2014 to 420 in 2015 and 375 in 2016.

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, said the numbers begged questions - and added that he planned to write to Ofsted to raise his concerns.

According to the government figures, as of March this year the rate of looked-after children (LAC) per 10,000 children in Norfolk was 65 - compared to 62 nationally and 49 in the east of England.

Mr Lamb said: “Of course, when a child is at real risk then sometimes there are no other alternatives,” he said. “But why is it that in Norfolk the figures are so much higher? Are parents here significantly more dangerous than elsewhere?

MORE: Private funders could get payment by results if they keep Norfolk children out of care

“That’s very unlikely and so it begs a serious questions of whether we are taking too many children into care.”

He said it was key for early years, mental health and children’s services bodies to work closely together.

In Norfolk, there were 1,105 children in care as of March 31 this year, the highest figure in the region.

Stuart Dark, vice-chairman of Norfolk County Council’s children’s services team, said: “We did see an increase during the period reported, which has now started to flatten out.

“We know that most children do better if they are cared for in their own families and we are in the process of developing our ambitious £12m transformation programme, which will include intensive support to families where children are at risk of coming into care.”

He said it was coupled with a partnership with Barnardo’s and a bid for a social impact bond (SIB) for vulnerable children, which offers families support earlier on.

The SIB would see a subsidiary company formed, which private investors put money into. They would then be paid if it succeeds in keeping children out of care.

Analysis

Of course, this is an issue which is both sensitive and complex.

A high number of LACs is not necessarily bad - if the best situation for those children is in care, then that’s absolutely where they should be.

Equally, a low number may be concerning - maybe, in that case, vulnerable youngsters who need help are not receiving it.

But it’s hard to deny that this increase is steep, particularly when compared to other areas in our region.

Are there simply more children in Norfolk who need to be in care? Or are we failing to treat it as a final option?

Putting a child into care should be the last resort.

Firstly, it is costly - it’s an expensive decision and there are not the funds available to make it sustainable.

But secondly - and most importantly - it is a life-changing decision for that young person. It should not be taken lightly.

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