New boss of Norfolk children’s services Matt Dunkley fights back
- Credit: Norfolk County Council
The man charged with bringing the department, which looks after Norfolk's children, up to scratch today came out fighting, painting a positive picture of the service and its future.
Matt Dunkley took over as interim director of Norfolk County Council's children's services at the start of February and in his first wide-ranging interview he said:
•Fewer children should be taken into care
•More foster carers needed to be recruited
•Latest signs showed the department was performing well
•Coverage over the last week in this newspaper of problems with the department was 'unfair and misleading'
This newspaper has been investigating children's services over the last five days as part of our Fighting For Their Futures campaign.
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The investigation was prompted by a series of complaints we have received and Ofsted inspectors stating in November last year that improvements to get the department out of its current 'inadequate' rating were not happening fast enough.
But Mr Dunkley said our coverage this week gave 'an image of the department based on historical matters which people do feel has been dealt with'.
Despite being rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted twice since 2013, Mr Dunkley said: 'I've a found a department that is much more buoyant and forward looking than I was expecting to find.'
'I can see the milestones on the journey that this service is making from the low point of 2013 to where it needs to be to get out of intervention.'
He cited the example of Ofsted inspectors finding in 2013 that hundreds of cases where children were in need had not been given to a social worker. Now there are none.
Mr Dunkley, the former director of children's services in East Sussex, said staff were optimistic about the future. The department was now planning the next stage in its improvement and looking at how to get better faster, he added.
'The basics are there. We are doing the right things,' he said.
According to its latest performance data, most services for children in care were performing 'really well', he said.
But he warned improvement took time at large councils and it was 'unrealistic' to expect the department to be rated 'good' at its next Ofsted inspection.
He said across the country councils had found it very difficult to emerge from 'inadequate' ratings and the margins between inadequate and good were fine.
'All the boxes for the preconditions of success... have been ticked,' he said. 'That doesn't mean job done because you've got to convert that to real progress.'
One challenge facing Mr Dunkley is recruiting more experienced social workers into vacancies. But perhaps his biggest hurdle is dealing with why more children than planned are being taken into care and are then placed in expensive residential accommodation.
That has put his budget under pressure, with the department now expected to be £14m overbudget this year.
This newspaper has reported this week on past cases where questions have been raised about whether children should have been taken into care.
Mr Dunkley stressed that was for the court to decide and no children were being taken into care who should not be.