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Social workers to be placed in Norfolk’s schools to help identify needy children

PUBLISHED: 08:54 10 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:54 10 March 2014

Sheila Lock

Sheila Lock

Archant

Social workers are going into Norfolk schools to target needy children and stop them from ending up in care.

Timeline of children’s services

■ February 2013 – Ofsted brands the council’s child protection services “inadequate”.

■ March 2013 – Ofsted inspects 28 schools in a 10-day blitz. It later says it has serious concerns.

■ June 2013 – Ofsted says the council’s support for school improvement is “ineffective”.

■ June 2013 – Director of children’s services, Lisa Christensen, announces she will step down following pressure from Norfolk MPs.

■ August 2013 – Sheila Lock appointed interim director of children’s services.

■ August 2013 – Ofsted says the council’s services for looked after children are “inadequate”.

■ September 2013 – The council’s £1m strategy to turn around 120 under-performing schools is launched.

■ October 2013 – It emerged that the needs of 998 potentially vulnerable Norfolk children were left unassessed.

■ December 2013 – Ofsted annual report says 20,000 Norfolk children are educated in primary schools that are not yet good enough.

■ December 2013 – ministers issue a statutory direction telling the council’s children’s services department to improve.

■ January 2014 – Norfolk falls 20 places in the GCSE league table.

The six-month pilot is designed to head off crises before they happen – and, ultimately, cut the number of children who are taken away from their families.

Watchdogs, who last year branded Norfolk County Council’s arrangements for protecting children and its services for looked-after children, as “inadequate”, criticised a lack of early help for families.

Now staff have been seconded to schools in north Norwich, Earlham, Swaffham, Thorpe, Dereham and Great Yarmouth, with another pilot project in a Norwich complex needs school and the city’s Short Stay School.

The aim is to give parents and children early access to a social worker when they are experiencing difficulties.

Council bosses said it would encourage families to come forward if they needed extra help.

The social workers will also support teachers and school staff by providing training and guidance in child protection issues.

Norfolk County Council has 1,130 children in care – one of the highest rates in the country – and, with the authority looking to save £189m over the next three years, councillors are keen to reduce that number.

James Joyce, cabinet member for safeguarding children, said: “By placing social workers in schools, we hope that families will have someone who they recognise and trust and that this can give them the confidence to ask for help.

“None of us wants families to get into a position where their children come into our care and we are hopeful that this scheme will also help to reduce the number of looked after children in the county.”

Social workers are also working closely with children’s centres to help families before the birth of children and those with pre-school children.

Mark Adams, head teacher of St Nicholas Priory Junior School, in Great Yarmouth, said: “We hope this pilot will improve communication and understanding between schools and social care to improve outcomes for children and families. We are really excited about the potential of this pilot and even in the first four weeks there has been considerable learning by both schools and social care.”

Binks Neate-Evans, headteacher of West Earlham Infant and Nursery School, said: “Our attached social worker has noted the high level of early intervention our school is providing.

“By having a social worker discuss and plan this work with us, we have been able to act more swiftly and access support from different agencies.” Earlier this year, Norfolk Constabulary hailed an initiative which sees police officers based in the county’s schools, for reducing crime. According to figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request, the number of crimes in all Norfolk schools fell by 27pc between 2010-11 and 2012-13, from 604 to 439.

What do you think of the scheme? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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