‘Our family is on hold’ - Five children in care placed more than 250 miles from home
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Five children in the care of Norfolk County Council have been placed in accommodation more than 250 miles away from home, figures have revealed.
One woman, whose child has been placed more than a seven-hour drive away, says the situation has put "family life on hold" and created a heartbreaking situation where the child's sibling no longer knew them.
But the council said its proportion of children placed out of county is lower than both national and regional averages and said all children are visited regularly by social workers.
In January 2020, at least 215 children were placed outside the Norfolk county boundary, including 91 who were less than 25 miles from Norfolk in neighbouring towns such as Lowestoft, Bungay and Brandon.
But 49 were placed more than 100 miles away, a distance as far as Blackpool, London and Derby.
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Emma*, from Norwich, is one of those whose child is currently placed hundreds of miles from home. She and her husband are only able to visit their child, who they adopted, once a month.
She said the journey and travelling time was "exhausting".
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She said: "We can see her once a month, three hours on a Saturday and three hours on a Sunday and we have to travel there and back on a weekend."
Emma said her daughter was first taken into care four years ago, after she developed behavioural problems, and, at first, was placed in Norfolk but last year was moved further away.
She said: "We were promised that she would get a lot of help... It was a difficult time, we took her out of the care system [when we adopted her], we weren't given any help or support, she's got complex needs. It's heartbreaking.
"Her sister doesn't get to see her, to be honest because it's been four years now, they don't know each other, even myself and my husband don't really know our daughter anymore.
"It's awful, it has destroyed our family, our family has been on hold for four years, it's just heartbreaking."
Emma said she hoped her daughter would be moved closer to Norwich and would eventually be able to return home.
She said they had a supportive group of friends, but said while their daughter was far from home they "can't move on".
As of February 13, 2020, 221 children in Norfolk were placed out of county, equating to 19.6pc of the total number of children in care of the county council, a slight fall compared to March 31 2019, when 22pc of children were placed outside Norfolk.
For the same year, local authorities in the east of England placed 36pc of children out of county, compared to 41pc across England.
John Fisher, NCC cabinet member for children's services, said the council's aim was to always place children as close to home as possible. He said: "Our priority is always to make sure children are safe and getting the best care.
"Sometimes this means placing children out of county, with their extended family, in foster families or in residential care. However, the proportion of our children placed out of county is lower than both the national and regional average.
"In the majority of cases, these children will be living in Suffolk or Cambridgeshire, in placements that are closer to their homes and schools than other foster care placements on the other side of Norfolk.
"Sometimes, however, children will be placed further afield because they need very specialist care, for their own safety, or have extended family elsewhere in the country. All children in our care, including those outside of Norfolk, will be visited regularly by their social worker and their placements will be closely monitored."
In September 2019, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, published a report which found when children were placed outside their home area, the risks they faced escalated.
Mr Fisher said while the council was performing better than neighbouring authorities, it was still looking to invest more money in services so young people can live locally, including a £5m investment in council accommodation for care leavers.
*Name has been changed.