Norfolk care leavers need more support, says report

Young people leaving care in Norfolk do not receive enough support to help them live independently, according to a report.

Norfolk County Council has been criticised by Ofsted inspectors for placing vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds in bed and breakfast accommodation and providing no formal apprenticeships or training opportunities.

The report, which followed a two-week inspection of the authority's safeguarding and looked after children services in June, also raised concern for the lack of robust health assessments for children in care.

However, inspectors concluded that both services and their capacity for improvement were 'adequate' and met statutory requirements in the face of a period of 'turbulence and change' for the council as it reacts to severe budget cuts.

Particular praise was given to how safe children feel within their placement homes and the efforts made to improve their attainment at school.

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The authority said it is in the process of developing an action plan which will address the report's long list of recommendations.

Lisa Christensen, director of children's services, said the inspection was 'rigorous but fair'.

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'The judgements are, on the whole, what we anticipated given the timing of the inspection, which followed hard on the heels of a year of enormous change following the reductions in our budget.

'Throughout this time of change we have continued to meet our statutory requirements and I am particularly pleased that most children feel safe and know how to access help.

'We know what needs to be done to improve services further and Ofsted found that we had already started to address many of the areas for improvement and this is having a positive impact.'

The council currently oversees the welfare of about 1,000 children in care.

Inspectors said improvements to the care services had stalled largely as a result of significant organisational change but added that managers had maintained front line workforce stability and capacity was sufficient to meet demand.

'This has been an extensive, arduous task, impacting on a large number of personnel and taking a significant amount of managerial effort to deliver. Some unintended consequences have been a degree of turbulence and fracturing of some professional and managerial relationships, which are only recently beginning to settle,' said the report.

It added that while the council had a 'strong record' of finding appropriate placements for children, interviewed care leavers said they received 'limited ongoing support'.

The amount of affordable accommodation available to those 16 or over was deemed 'insufficient', options for ongoing employment or training was 'limited' and the number of 17 and 18-year-olds dropping out of college courses was 'too high', said the report.

It said: 'Young people are insufficiently well prepared for leaving care, supported in independence or in sustaining engagement with education, training and employment.'

Criticism was also laid at the falling number of health assessments for looked after children, some of which are not carried out by medical practitioners, while a 'large minority' are not seen at all.

Improvements were also demanded in relation to the quality of children assessments and the timely implementation of plans.

But inspectors concluded that those in the most need of protection were 'suitably identified' and 'almost all' looked after children or those receiving care services said they felt safe. Social workers also said they felt 'valued'.

Inspectors were particularly positive about services provided for disabled children and the strategies employed to help youngsters with their education through schemes like the Virtual School.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said the Virtual School's developing role in supporting 16 to 19-year-olds will help address weaknesses relating to this age group.

'It is fantastic that the Virtual School is having an impact and that we have been judged good in the areas of enjoying and achieving and staying safe – children are making good progress at GCSE and persistent absence is well below average,' she said.

'It is a priority now that we address the health needs of our looked after children and are able to support them to become independent adults who can make a positive contribution. We are committed to this work and are confident that the Virtual School will have the necessary impact.'

To read the full report, visit

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