Number of Norfolk children in care cut by just two in past five months

Sheila Lock, interim director of children's services at Norfolk County Council. Sheila Lock, interim director of children's services at Norfolk County Council.

Monday, April 28, 2014
12:28 PM

Efforts to cut the high number of children in care in Norfolk, which has caused a projected £2.6m overspend, have achieved a reduction of only two youngsters over the last five months.

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Norfolk County Council has identified the high number of looked after children as a key corporate risk, because it shows a failure to stop a child’s situation becoming very serious, and the pressure it puts on finances.

The latest figures show there were 1,147 looked after children at April 11, just two fewer than the 1,149 recorded in November 2013.

The target for March 2017 is 770.

The council predicts it will have spent £27.1m on looked after children in 2013-14, compared to a budget of £24.5 million.

Sheila Lock, interim director of children’s services, said the council was dealing with a legacy of 16 years where it had more looked after children than other councils with a similar profile.

She said: “Starting to turn the picture around, even if it’s only by a couple of children, is good news.”

She said the council was trying to make sure there were alternatives to care for families that were 
struggling, reviewing children currently in care to see if some could go home, and trying to shift the culture so children were seen as better-off within their families whenever possible.

Starting today, a new panel including senior staff such as Ms Lock or assistant directors, will examine every decision to take a child into care.

Such decisions were previously made at a lower service manager level.

The report to Thursday’s children’s services overview panel also highlights the number of initial assessments of child protection cases taking longer than they should.

It says: “Initial assessments out of time continue to be a challenge and have stubbornly remained at about 130. However, we are aware some of this is due to managers taking a very robust stance over the quality of these.”

Ms Lock said: “You have a choice to take as a manager. You can either sign something off to tick the box, or you can say ‘I’m not going to sign it off because the quality is not good enough’. We are saying we want you to get it right, rather than tick the box.”

She said the number of out-of-time initial assessments would fall as their quality improved.

What do you think about children’s services in Norfolk? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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