Confident message from leader of Norfolk’s troubled children’s services department

Deputy Leader of the County Council James Joyce.

Deputy Leader of the County Council James Joyce. - Credit: Archant

'We're getting back on track' – that is the confident message from one of the leaders of Norfolk's troubled children's services department.

And Ofsted bosses have been told that when they return for their next inspection, they will find a 'department changed for the better'.

The Norfolk County Council service has been under intense pressure and scrutiny since the publication of three highly critical Ofsted reports in 2013.

The watchdog criticised its arrangements for safeguarding children, its role in challenging and supporting schools to improve and deemed its services for looked -after children inadequate.

But in a letter to the EDP, chairman of the children's services committee James Joyce said he felt positive about the department's future and praised the work done by interim director Sheila Lock, who replaced former director Lisa Christensen last year.

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He said: 'Nothing is more important than the way a community deals with its most vulnerable people – particularly its children. 'I am delighted that considerable cross-party political support, additional resources and the inspirational management provided by our interim director Sheila Lock and her team are making a difference in all areas of the department and its work with our partners – not least on the morale of staff charged with carrying out often heartbreaking work keeping children safe day in day out. 'Both a peer review and a government-organised strategic review last year told us we've improved. Ofsted have already reversed their first 'ineffective' decision – telling us we are now providing good support to Norfolk's schools.'

At the start of February, social work adviser Mark Gurrey, who was drafted into Haringey Council after the death of Baby P, was appointed to help oversee the attempts to bring the department back on track, a decision which Mr Joyce called 'pioneering'.

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He said: 'We see this as a great development for authorities like ours who have satisfied government that we no longer need a formal Improvement Board – and it's something we fully expect other areas to copy. 'We are eagerly anticipating a re-inspection of the areas where we were found wanting back in 2013, and whenever Ofsted chooses to call we believe they will find a department changed for the better.'

Millions of pounds has been spent to try and aid the struggling service, with advertisements on the London Underground calling for social workers in Norfolk failing to attract the desired staff.

Last month, the council reported that the number of children in care had fallen from 1,153 in May 2014 to 1,060 at the start of January - the lowest level for nearly two years.

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