Angry, hopeful and no more cuts! What Norfolk’s MPs say about children’s services in the county
12:16 PM March 30, 2017
10:59 AM October 10, 2020
A permanent head, an investigation into failures and no more passing the buck - these are some of the things our MPs would like to see happen at Norfolk County Council's children's services department.
Four years ago, when the department was first slammed by inspectors from Ofsted and rated inadequate, Norfolk's MPs intervened, putting pressure on the director of the department Lisa Christensen to leave.
But since then the council has not found a long-term permanent director and, despite some improvements, it was rated 'inadequate' again by Ofsted in 2015 - so what do the MPs have to say now?
We emailed all nine Norfolk MPs last week with the same questions, as part of our Fighting For Their Futures campaign which is looking at services for children in the county.
Three responded - Norwich South MP Clive Lewis (Labour), North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham (Conservative) and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb (Liberal Democrat).
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1) Do you believe Norfolk County Council's children's services department has made significant improvements since its last Ofsted inspection in 2015 when it was rated inadequate?
Mr Bellingham (Conservative): 'A Conservative administration is in place now, that is part of the solution. They are doing their level best. We have to look forward now.'
Mr Lamb (Liberal Democrat): 'I hope that the department has made improvements and I'm happy to accept assurances that this is the case. However, there is still too much which causes concern. I have still not had a clear explanation as to why the council failed to implement the way forward agreed between Ian Parker and the Norfolk Foster Care Association (for a review into foster caring in Norfolk).
'I am angry that, having made real efforts to bring the council and the association together the chance of a collaborative way forward to ensure justice was done was lost. I still believe I was misled by the council. That does not encourage confidence.'
Mr Lewis (Labour): 'There is a bigger picture here that means going back a bit further than 2015. Before Labour took control of the county council in 2013 (in a rainbow alliance with the Greens, UKIP and Liberal Democrats), the general view - reflected in the judgment of Ofsted - was that the service was doing very badly indeed.
'I am of the firm view that while it didn't get everything right, that Labour administration acted decisively to put Children's Services on the right track. Contrast that with where we are now with the Tory leader of the County telling us he doesn't know what's going on with Children's Services and his deputy being the same person who oversaw the service's catastrophic decline before 2013.'
2) What changes would you like to see the department and council make to improve children's services?
Mr Bellingham: 'I think there has been a cultural problem within children's services. I think there have been cover ups. I think there have been mistakes made and I think unfortunately the whole culture led to adoption not as a last resort but one that was used too readily. But I think we must look to the future. It is a human right to keep your child unless the child is at risk. We can not apply middle class values and say, 'that family is not ideal, children's services should take the children away'.'
Mr Lamb: 'The culture of the leadership needs to change. End the defensiveness and open up to examine failures in the past and the present. Engage with those who challenge you rather than excluding them. Set ambitious goals and then plan how you can execute them.
'I would also like to see them innovate more, applying emerging evidence about the value of preventive work to improve wellbeing and to strengthen resilience.'
Mr Lewis: 'The Tories need to stop passing the buck between each other. The Conservatives have run the council for most of the time since their own Tory government came to power seven years ago. The decline of Children's Services in Norfolk is a Tory failure.
'The most important thing now is to get a permanent head of the service in place as soon as possible.
'We can't carry on with the gaming around schools exclusions - if certain schools and academy chains are failing to take the steps necessary to include all children, they need to be called out and know there will be consequences for failing to play their part.
'This paper has done some brilliant work in highlighting the pressures that our social workers are under. These are the people at the sharp end of so much of the work of the department and many are wilting under the strain of impossible caseload numbers.
'I'm an MP for a city with the second worst social mobility record in the country - a place where shamefully if you're born poor, you're more likely than almost everywhere else in the country to die poor too.'
3) Do you believe Norfolk is adequately funded to enable children's services to improve?
Mr Bellingham: 'Obviously every local government department is under pressure financially. We are not going to have significant additional money for children's services.'
Mr Lamb: 'Norfolk is not adequately funded. The planned 8pc real terms cut in per student funding by 2020 nationwide is deeply concerning - at a time when we should be investing more in children and young people.'
Mr Lewis: 'The County Council has had to make well over £300 million of cuts since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. And there's no prospect of this financial assault on local services coming to an end anytime soon.
'These cuts are happening at the same time as demand for core county services like Adult Social Care soars as more people, live longer. It is an absurdity to pretend that given rising demand and slashed resources, services can be 'managed' in such a way that local people don't suffer.'
4) What have you done/will you do to ensure Norfolk has enough resource to adequately protect children?
Mr Bellingham: 'I'm not asking for the government to put in more money; we need a change of policy (fewer children being taken into care) and stronger leadership.'
Mr Lamb: 'I will campaign nationally and locally to challenge the Government on levels of funding. I have just sent out a survey to every school in north Norfolk so that I have a full understanding of the position locally.
Mr Lewis: 'I have and will continue to make the case for better funding for all of our local services and against this government's ideological and self-serving cuts. I will also continue to demand that everyone in charge of public services in our city and beyond shouts from the rooftops that our services are sinking rather than pretending that everything will be OK if only the deckchairs can be re-arranged in a different way.'
? We contacted all MPs in Norfolk last week with the same questions about children's services. Norwich North MP Chloe Smith is on maternity leave. MPs George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth), Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk), Richard Bacon (South Norfolk), Keith Simpson (Broadland) have not responded.
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