New Norfolk children’s commissioner calls for swift action

Dave Hill of Essex County Council who has been brought in as a commissioner for Norfolk children's s

Dave Hill of Essex County Council who has been brought in as a commissioner for Norfolk children's services - Credit: Archant

Norfolk's children deserve better, and the county council has three months to make sure they get it.

That was the message from government appointed Children's Commissioner Dave Hill who started his job with a warning shot that swift change was needed ahead of a likely decision about the department's future by the end of March.

In his first interview since taking up the post, Mr Hill warned Norfolk County Council would have no more last chances.

The Essex County Council director said that while some progress on child protection and safeguarding of children had been made in the last few years, there had not been sufficient progress for children in care, looked-after children and children leaving care.

'There is no room for complacency here. The situation has got to move quickly, not just because the minister wants it, or because Norfolk wants it, actually because the children in Norfolk and their families want it. That will be an unerring focus for me. Children in Norfolk deserve better than they are currently getting,' he said.

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'Norfolk are on their second last chance. They had a last chance three or four years ago, it didn't quite work when Ofsted came back and frankly they won't have another chance. They either manage to sort these things pretty swiftly or they will be taken over or treated in some other way.

'I am expecting in a three month period to have taken a long hard look. I expect by the end of March to have reached a position regarding what should happen.'

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Mr Hill has been drafted in after education watchdog Ofsted said the most vulnerable children in the county were still being let down by the council after the authority was branded 'inadequate' for the second time in three years in October.

Two of three areas within child protection and services for children in care in Norfolk were rated as 'requires improvement', but another – support for looked-after children and care leavers – was deemed inadequate. That led to an overall 'inadequate' rating, although inspectors had been content with improvement to support for schools.

At any one time the county council's children's services will be working with between 5,000 and 6,000 young people. Of these, more than 1,041 are in care and

450 are subject to child protection plans.

Questioned on whether he believed Norfolk's children's services department could avoid a takeover, amid warnings from David Cameron that councils deemed to be failing would face such action, he said the authority needs to bring the 'focus and resources to bear'.

He added: 'I wouldn't have agreed to do this role if I didn't think that was possible. I've been a local authority person all my career. I believe passionately local authorities can do it – indeed, many have.'

He said that over the coming weeks he would be reviewing the management skills, expertise and structures within County Hall. 'I will leave no stone unturned in terms of making sure they have the staff and the management systems in place that will achieve those goals. Most importantly I will engage with the children themselves and foster carers to make sure they are being well-supported, and enabled in the way they need to be. Actually the best way of finding out whether things are improving is by asking people on the frontline.'

He said it would be 'counter productive' to have another management change, adding: 'I want to, and hope I will, confirm they have the right people with the right focus. Until I sit down with people and look at the performance of the department it is too early for me to make a comment.'

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