Norfolk County Council’s children’s services department is moving in the right direction

A child learning at school. (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA)

A child learning at school. (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA) - Credit: PA

For the first time since 2013, Norfolk's children's services department is no longer rated as inadequate. This week Watchdog Ofsted published their findings following their full two-week inspection of the department in November.

They have upgraded the department's rating from the 'inadequate' awarded in 2013 and 2015, to 'requires improvement'.

The council is rightly pleased at the progress which has been made and credit must go to the department's former interim director Matt Dunkley, who put in place the changes which have led to this better rating, along with the recently appointed permanent head Sara Tough.

For the adoption performance to be rated as outstanding is particularly impressive. This is a department which looks after our county's most vulnerable children. Requires improvement is an important step in the right direction. But, until the last year or so, progress to improve was just too slow. A succession of different managers and heads of department cannot have helped, with constant changes in approach not making it easy for the workforce to get a grip on issues.

This newspaper has come in for criticism at times for what the council has said has been overly negative reporting on the department. But, for a long time, it was hard to see what the positives were – reflected in the criticism, some of which recurred time and again, when Ofsted delivered its verdicts. A number of serious case reviews also painted worrying pictures of failures in communication between organisations meant to protect children – not just children's services, but police, GPs and schools.

And when we raised issues about the quality of accommodation at a company called Sixteen Plus, which the council paid to support care leavers, the initial response was that the council was satisfied with a company they had paid £1.56m to. It later suspended all placements, while a councillor who investigated a handful of the complaints said the service they received was 'absolutely appalling'. We have repeatedly said we know social workers have an extremely difficult job. Our criticism was intended to focus on the failing of those tasked with turning around the department. After all, workers are only as good as managers enable them to be.

The department now has a permanent director and hopefully, Ofsted are right – that Norfolk County Council's children's services department is moving in the right direction – that the tanker has finally been turned.

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We'd be delighted if, a couple of years from now, we can write a story saying that our county has a children's services department rated as 'good'. That's the very least children in Norfolk deserve.