Victoria Leggett, Education correspondent
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Norfolk has been highlighted as an “adoption hotspot” with one of the country’s highest number of vulnerable young people waiting for a new family to come forward and welcome them into their home.
The department for education yesterday published a map for the first time to show would-be adopters where youngsters were most in need.
Norfolk, which has more than 1,000 looked-after children in total, came out as the local authority with the joint ninth highest number of young people on its waiting list for a permanent placement.
Last night Alison Thomas, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children’s services, said she was confident the authority was making the right decisions for the county’s children.
But she added: “Most people out there have no idea that there are all these children needing the local authority’s support and all these children out there that potentially need people to come forward and either be adopters or foster carers.
“If that map – showing Norfolk as one of the areas with high numbers – means the message gets out that, actually, while we think it’s lovely and leafy here there are problems and children who need you to come forward, that can only be a good thing.”
When the figures were collected by the government in March 2012, there were 110 children waiting for an adoptive family in Norfolk.
The figure was considerably higher than its nearest geographical neighbours in Suffolk (70), Cambridgeshire (40) and Lincolnshire (45).
But the government data also found Norfolk had considerably more children in need of new families than the majority of its “statistical neighbours” – areas like Cornwall, Cumbria and Northumberland that are considered similar in terms of their make-up.
Last night, figures from Norfolk’s children’s services said Norfolk did not make decisions to take children into care lightly.
County councillor Sue Whitaker, children’s services spokesman for the Labour party, said: “They make every effort to try to keep children with their families.”
Mrs Thomas urged people to treat the overall figures with caution, particularly when comparing them with other counties.
She said Norfolk’s high population – with more than 160,000 people under the age of 18 – would always put the county ahead of many others.
She also stressed that its so-called “statistical neighbours” often did not included a county’s urban centres.
Mrs Thomas said Norfolk had four areas with particularly high levels of deprivation – Norwich, Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Thetford – which went some way to explain the high numbers.
“Those urban areas are where there is the highest need for intervention. That is why the numbers are going to be higher,” she said.
Last night Tom Rahilly, from children’s charity the NSPCC, said: “The department for education’s adoption map highlights the scale of the number of children waiting for adoption across England. It shouldn’t be used as an indicator of local authority performance, and there are a lot of underlying issues that need to be understood, but it does highlight one aspect of the challenges facing children in care.”
Norfolk County Council said it was not interested in “massaging” the figures to try to make Norfolk look better on a league table.
Mrs Thomas said the government figures also showed that between 2009 and 2012, just 4pc of children were taken off the adoption waiting list in favour of a different option – one of lowest percentages in the country.
The cabinet member said that meant the authority was refusing to give up on the hope of finding them a “forever family”.
“We continue to search for a family for longer rather than saying we’re going to abandon it and that child remains in care for the rest of their childhood,” she said. “For me, it’s all about our children.”
One child had to undergo three years of therapy to help them reach a point where they were ready to be adopted and is now settled with their new family. Mrs Thomas said: “We could have given up on them but we said we still have time to find them a forever family.
“Forever family sums it up. That’s how we describe it to the children.”
Liberal Democrat spokesman Mervyn Scutter said early intervention had to be the focus to stop more children having to be taken into care.
While the county council insisted it was working hard to support families as early as possible, Mr Scutter urged it to put more money into those efforts.
“I don’t think we put enough resources into ensuring this situation doesn’t arise,” he said.
Norfolk County Council urged anyone considering adoption to get in touch to find out more. Contact the adoption team on 01603 638343.