‘It has not had the impact we hoped’ - Future of Norfolk Children’s services partnership under review

Childrens services director Sara Tough. Photo: Norfolk County Council

Childrens services director Sara Tough. Photo: Norfolk County Council - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of a partnership which was meant to help reduce the number of children in care in Norfolk.

Children's services bosses have revealed that a much-vaunted partnership between Norfolk County Council and Barnardo's is under review because it has yet to deliver the improvements hoped.

The number of looked after children as of January stood at 1,151 - the highest level in 12 months.

The partnership with Barnardo's, was imposed on the council when its children's services department was rated as inadequate by Ofsted.

Then education secretary Nicky Morgan announced the move would establish a joint looked-after children service - the first of its kind in the country.

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But the service lost out on a bid for £7m from the government and it was not launched until summer last year.

The charity is managing a service called New Directions to provide what County Hall described as 'intensive support to families and help return children home from care, wherever this is safe and in their best interests'.

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At a meeting of the council's policy and resources committee today, Labour councillor Emma Corlett questioned whether the partnership was working, with high numbers of children still going into residential care.

And children's services director Sara Tough revealed concerns over performance had sparked a review into the partnership, which has just concluded.

She said: 'It would be fair to say it has not had the impact we would have hoped by this stage.'

She said the review would consider the working relationship over the project.

Ms Tough added that there had recently been an unusually high number of children needing residential care - particularly children under the age of four and even under the age of one.

She said that was due to 'serious concerns of non-accidental injury' and added: 'It's been a very unusual period and one I hope we won't continue to see.'

She said there had been a high number of interim care orders to protect such children.

In January, inspectors from Ofsted upped the council's children's services department rating to 'requires improvement', after twice seeming it 'inadequate'.

A Barnardo's spokesman said: 'Barnardo's is pleased to be part of the long term process to address the issue of children in care in Norfolk. The New Directions service has been in effect running since October 2017, as new staff have needed to be recruited.

'The recent review was set up to make sure that moving forward we fulfil the aims of the service, and we are positive that we will be able to provide intensive support to families, and help return children home from care wherever this is safe and in their best interests.'

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