Norfolk spends fourth highest sum on looked after children in the country

Norfolk County Council's County Hall in Martineau Lane, Norwich. Picture Julian Nicholls.

Norfolk County Council's County Hall in Martineau Lane, Norwich. Picture Julian Nicholls. - Credit: Archant

The high number of children in care in Norfolk saw the council spend £72m in one year - the fourth highest sum on looked after children in the country.

In total, Norfolk County Council spent £72.3m on services for looked after children in 2015/16 - a figure surpassed only by Hampshire, Kent and Birmingham. The latest Department for Education figures reveal the figure is more than double that spent in neighbouring councils - with Suffolk paying out £34.5m and Cambridgeshire £35m.

Norfolk's steep cost is, in part, explained by a disproportionately high number of children in care - an issue the council has long been trying to tackle. As of March 31 last year, there were 1,045 children in care in Norfolk, compared to 795 in Suffolk. The average for the region was 534.

A spokesman for the council said: 'Children are only taken into care when a court determines that their parents cannot look after them safely. Sadly, in Norfolk we have a higher proportion of children in this situation than the national average and this is an issue for all agencies and communities in the county.'

Mark Kiddle-Morris, county councillor for Necton and Launditch, said it was a 'great shame' to see the number so high.

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'We should be able to do something about it,' he said.

'Strategies over the last four years haven't worked, but now we have a new administration in place hopefully something can be done.' He said the council often took in children with siblings, which increased the numbers, and that Norfolk's high number of deprived areas could be behind the figures.

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The council said the £72m covered residential care, fostering and adoption, leaving care services, educational support, unaccompanied

asylum seeking children and short breaks for disabled children.

While about 75pc of looked after children are placed in local foster care, some are sent further afield, leading to a higher cost.

'Looking after these children is expensive but we cannot put a financial cost on their safety,' the spokesman said. 'The numbers in care and the cost of placements are higher than our neighbours and we have plans in place to address this. However, placement stability is really important for children and we can't move them back into county and out of residential care when this isn't in their best interests.'

Insight into education finances

The figures also provide a health check into the region's school finances.

Of the 317 schools in Norfolk that were local authority run from 2015/16, 18 were in deficit and 299 in surplus.

The total deficit worked out as -£922,325, and the total surplus £23.3m.

Things were somewhat more rosy in Suffolk - of the 254 local authority run schools during the same period, just five were in deficit, with a total figure of -£316,160.

In a breakdown of school spending, the numbers show that £99.6m was spent on running expenses across Norfolk schools, and £77.7m in Suffolk.

Teachers, education support staff and other employees in Norfolk were paid £260.7m, while £239.3m was paid across the border.

The figures are part of a national look at how schools and councils spend their funding for education, children's services and social care for 2015/16.

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