Concern over children in care

Nearly one in three youngsters in care in Norfolk and Suffolk is placed with foster parents or in homes more than 20 miles from their natural families, it has emerged.

Nearly one in three youngsters in care in Norfolk and Suffolk is placed with foster parents or in homes more than 20 miles from their natural families, it has emerged.

Figures from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) reveal that the region's most vulnerable and often abused children are being placed long distances from friends and family.

The problems have been attributed to a shortage of foster carers and the region's rural geographical makeup.

The figure for children in care placed more than 20 miles from their natural families in Norfolk is 31pc and in Suffolk it is 27pc. The national average is 17pc.

The statistics mean that youngsters may have to travel for hours to visit home, and many have to move school.

Last night Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: “It is unacceptable such a high proportion of children find themselves moved so far when they come into foster care.

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“It is a difficult enough experience for some of the region's most vulnerable children without the

added stress of a school move,

or finding friends and family

suddenly hours away.”

Last month the EDP reported how figures showed that youngsters in care are lagging far behind their peers in the classroom and are four times more likely to get a caution or conviction than children who are not in care.

The latest figures reveal there are now more than 1,500 children in care in Norfolk and Suffolk.

They also show that 12pc of children in care in Norfolk and 11pc in Suffolk had been moved to three or more placements in just one year in 2006.

Lisa Christensen, director of children's services for Norfolk County Council, said: “We do our utmost to find foster families for vulnerable children that match their individual needs and in most cases are able to keep them near to family and friends within Norfolk, if it is safe to do so.

“We have around 500 foster carers - a record number that has been expanding year on year - because we give it such a high priority. However, we are always looking for more.

“Norfolk is a very large, rural county and clearly has very different issues to large Metropolitan areas like London or Birmingham. This means we are able to keep most children in the county and over 70pc within 20 miles of home, giving us the opportunity to do all we can to minimise disruption, for example, to their education.”

John Gregg, Suffolk County Council's service director for vulnerable children, said: “We make every effort to ensure all children are placed close to their natural families. At times this is not possible, either because of their particular circumstances or a shortage of foster carers. Nevertheless, the vast majority of placements in Suffolk are made close to children's local areas.”

Fostering Network's annual awareness campaign foster care fortnight began on Monday and runs until Sunday, May 27.

For more details about fostering in Norfolk contact Norfolk County Council's fostering recruitment team on freephone 0800 005007 or e-mail: fostering@norfolk.gov.uk

In Suffolk call 0800 3282148 or log on to www.suffolkfostering.com

People can also visit Suffolk County Council's fostering event at the Britten Shopping Centre in Lowestoft from 10am to 3pm on Friday May 26.

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