Another review has been announced into Norfolk’s troubled children’s services department

Sheila Lock, interim director of children's services at Norfolk County Council.

Sheila Lock, interim director of children's services at Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Archant

An independent review looking at the treatment of foster carers in Norfolk has been announced.

Norfolk County Council has brought back Ian Parker, the former chief executive of Middlesbrough Council, to look at allegations that foster carers were unfairly treated in the past.

It is the second review led by Mr Parker in two years after Norfolk MPs raised a series of concerns about carers' treatment with the authority in 2013.

Mr Parker was commissioned by County Hall then to externally review these worries but according to council bosses, just two people came forward.

The latest probe has been ordered by Sheila Lock, interim executive director of children's services.

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It will look at whether the council or other agencies did enough about carers' concerns, as well as making sure young people were properly protected while the rights of adults are respected.

The announcement comes after a member of staff was dismissed in the children's services department after allegations he removed a child from a foster carer without evidence of deliberate harm and the appointment of a social work adviser who was parachuted into Haringey Council after the death of Baby P.

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County Hall is calling this second review an 'extension' of the predecessor, yet the scale of the latest one is considerably larger than the first.

Now, with Mr Parker as chair, the review team will be five-strong, comprising of a social worker, two foster carers, a representative from Norfolk police and a health specialist if deemed necessary.

Ms Lock said: 'When concerns are raised about the safety of children, we have to act in their best interests.

'But in doing so we need to always treat our foster carers – who do such a brilliant job for us – with respect, listen to what they say and take that information seriously.'

County Hall deny the review was triggered by the dismissal of Peter Barron, a team manager in children's services.

While the authority refuses to discuss the circumstances – it is understood to relate to a recommendation he made to remove a child from a foster carer, in which he made statements which appeared to not be backed up by evidence.

After an independent investigation and disciplinary hearing, it is believed he has been recommended for dismissal, but has two weeks to appeal.

The review is open to carers who have already gone through the council's complaints procedure, but do not feel their case was dealt with properly.

The children's services department has suffered stinging criticism from Ofsted inspectors in recent years and is taking steps to improve.

Experienced troubleshooter Mark Gurrey was appointed last month to help oversee the council's attempts to turn it around.

The social work adviser worked on the Baby P case which sparked public outcry on how the authorities protect vulnerable children.

In a letter to members of Norfolk County Council, managing director Wendy Thompson, said: 'As an improved and improving department, it's important for children's services to listen and learn when people have concerns, and it is hoped that more of those carers will this time feel more confident in our processes and our willingness to listen and act on their concerns, and will come forward.'

The review will open on March 24 and the last date for cases to be raised and included in the review is May 29.

Ms Lock said she expects the panel to report its initial position on May 8 and again on June 5.

The report will be published, although it is unclear how much will be redacted, and any actions that are necessary will be brought to the attention of the Local Safeguarding Children's Board

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