New county councillors say turning around Norfolk’s children’s services department is ‘mission possible’

Stuart Dark and Penny Carpenter, the new vice-chair and chair of Norfolk County Council's children's

Stuart Dark and Penny Carpenter, the new vice-chair and chair of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Turning around Norfolk County Council's children's services department is 'mission possible' according to two former police officers leading the committee responsible for the service.

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Fighting for Futures logo - Credit: Archant

Penny Carpenter and Stuart Dark only became county councillors at last month's elections, but leader Cliff Jordan has handed the County Hall novices the roles of chair and vice-chair of the children's services committee.

The department has twice been rated as inadequate by Ofsted and, although a recent monitoring visit highlighted improvements, inspectors said the service was still not consistently good enough.

But the pair say they have the forensic skills which will be needed to help improve the department - having both served in the police.

Mrs Carpenter, who represents West Caister, said: 'We are new to the county council, but we are not new to life. We bring an awful lot of experience to these roles.'

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Her experience includes working in a children's home and as a police officer in Hampshire, a 10-year spell with Sussex police and then as a civilian crime reduction officer for Norfolk police in Great Yarmouth.

She said: 'All my years working has been a dress rehearsal for now. I think the department is on the cusp of being turned around through the efforts of [department director] Matt Dunkley. We are taking on board what Ofsted have said and things are changing.

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'We're going to bring fresh pairs of eyes to it and our ambition is to improve further. I know from my background that you cannot change things overnight. I know it's a massive undertaking, but I think we are ready for the challenge.'

Mr Dark, who represents Dersingham, served the police in London for 30 years, reaching the rank of detective superintendent with the Met Police, where he investigated organised crime.

He was awarded the police's highest operational honour while commanding the initial response to the tsunami in South East Asia.

He also led on the national Kickz scheme, which aimed to use football in a positive way for young people.

He said: 'Although we are new to this, we are not new to leadership roles, strategic roles and taking on new areas.

'We became councillors because we want to do some good.

'It's in everybody's interest to look after children to give them the best outcomes we can.'

These are some of the challenges which the new committee will face:

* There was an £8.5m overspend in children's services in 2016/17

* Latest figures show a drop in the percentage of children in need with up to date plans (down from 87.7pc to 81.9pc)

* The number of looked after children (currently 1,089) remains above target

* Concern over percentage of assessments of children referred to the service being completed within targeted timescales

* Concern over the number of young children placed in residential units - in March there were 15 children aged 10 or under in residential care, not counting 10 babies in residential units with their parent(s). An audit has been carried out to look into this and has made recommendations to address it

* The percentage of schools in Norfolk judged outstanding (14pc) is below the national average of 21pc

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