Ten ways to give children in Norfolk a better future
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Today we launch a manifesto to improve the prospects of children in Norfolk as part of our Fighting For Their Futures campaign.
Over the last week, this newspaper has been investigating concerns and complaints about Norfolk County Council's children's services department. From tomorrow we will turn our attention to other areas where children could get a better deal.
Here are ten areas in particular where we hope progress can be made to give our youngsters a stronger start in life.
1) Fewer looked after children sent out of area
Norfolk needs to find more accommodation in the county for the children it takes into care.
It is not fair on the child to take them into care when the council does not have enough accommodation for them here and so has to send them away from friends and families.
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Around 16pc of children in the County Council's care (177 in 2016) are accommodated outside of Norfolk – with a bill of around £10m a year.
Some will need to be sent out of the county to specialist accommodation, but if the council can find homes in Norfolk, be that with foster carers or in its own care homes, that will be better for the children and better for the council's budget.
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2) Adequate funding for the children's service department
The County Council's children's services department is going around £14m over budget this year, largely because it has spent more money than expected on placing children in care in expensive residential homes.
Addressing the first point in our manifesto would go someway to helping, but the department can not be expected to always deliver better services with less money.
Its budget has fluctuated since 2010. Money needs to be targeted at the areas where the council can make best use of it – reducing number of children in care, where appropriate, and putting them in the most suitable care placements.
3) Come out of 'inadequate' Ofsted rating
This will be the clearest proof yet that the council's service for vulnerable children is getting better. The children's service department has been rated 'inadequate' in its last two Ofsted inspections – in 2013 and 2015. Ofsted rated three of five areas inspected as 'requires improvement' in 2015, a step up from 'inadequate' in 2013. But with two other areas deemed 'inadequate' the overall rating remained 'inadequate'. Inspectors spoke of 'widespread and serious failures'.
At the end of 2016 a monitoring visit by Ofsted found some improvements, but said it was not happening fast enough.
The council is due another Ofsted inspection in the next two years and we hope it will be enough to bring the service out of inadequate and eventually up to a good rating.
4) Find a permanent head for Norfolk children's services
It is hard for an organisation to improve when there is no permanent leadership.
The children's services department has had five different directors in four years. The latest director, Matt Dunkley, is also an interim and is only expected to remain to see Norfolk through to the next Ofsted inspection. We hope he can help the council find an able, permanent leader for the department.
5) Eradicate the number of children not getting a school place after being excluded to zero
Dozens of children who should be in school are currently not getting an education because so many have been excluded from mainstream schools. There is a long waiting list to get a place at schools where children are sent to after being excluded. That is unacceptable. Last year we reported that 41 children were not getting an education. This has now more than doubled to around 100. These are Norfolk's most difficult children and they need help. No child or young person should be left without an education for any length of time.
6) More provision for special educational needs and disability (SEND)