Norfolk County Council responds to our investigation into children’s services - we have improved

Councillor Roger Smith, chairman of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee. Photo: S

Councillor Roger Smith, chairman of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee. Photo: Submitted - Credit: Submitted

New ways of working mean Norfolk County Council's children's services department has moved on from failures in the past, according to the county councillor with responsibility for the service.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

The EDP's Fighting For Their Futures campaign has been revealing concerns over the service, which has twice been rated as inadequate by inspectors from Ofsted.

Our stories have reported on MPs who have questioned the processes around the removal of children from parents and foster carers.

We have spoken to members of families who still have questions around why their children were removed from their care.

And we have revealed how two former county councillors felt driven out of the authority because they asked questions about children's services. The pair resigned.

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Archant

But Conservative Roger Smith, who chairs the council's children's services committee, said: 'Your reports in the EDP over the last two days once again bring together historic concerns already raised and covered by your paper and others, most of which date back before 2013, when we know there were failures in our services.

'Since then, our social work teams have changed what they do; they have embraced new ways of working and our practice has improved.

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'Our first duty is to children in our care. Not only does your reporting of individual children's cases present the issues almost exclusively from the point of view of the adults in their lives, it is also in some instances adding to the distress of children and those caring for them, as they recognise their cases from the descriptions of them.

'We hope that the EDP will want to report more positive stories from the present, but for now we want to address, once again, some of the historic issues you have raised.'

We reported what North West MP Sir Henry Bellingham called 'a miscarriage of justice' when a young mother had her two boys removed and about a grandmother who wanted to adopt her grandchildren. A court ruled against placing them with her.

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A spokesman for the council said it could not go into details, as that could identify the children, but added: 'The family court is the place where disputes about the care of children are decided. Cases you cover have been subject to the courts, and judges have ruled about the best outcomes for the children involved. We know that some rulings are hard for families to accept.'

We have reported how former foster carers have said they are still searching for answers over the removal of children.An inquiry into the historic treatment of foster carers - the Parker Review was published last year and concluded that some foster carers had not been treated fairly. However, cases involving the Norfolk Foster Care Association did not form part of the review after disputes over the independence of the review and council solicitor nplaw's involvement in it.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb had tried to broker a deal. Emails show Ian Parker, who was heading up the review, felt that was workable but no agreement was implemented with the council and the cases were not included in the final review.

A council spokesman said: 'We have sought to work with the Norfolk Foster Carer Association on the terms of the review, but despite our best efforts, they have put up barriers and not worked with us.

'We have apologised for mistakes in writing – and offered a face to face meeting. Where foster carers suffered financial loss because of incorrect decisions, we have re-paid them.

'We are still waiting to hear from six cases represented by the NFCA who did not want to take part in the review. 'In December 2016, we have – through Norman Lamb MP – offered some different ways of engaging with them. We still await a response.

'We have responded to inaccurate statements about the Parker Review which were included in evidence submitted to the Education Select Committee's fostering inquiry; we have addressed these in our own evidence, which is published on the select committee website.'

The council claimed the NFCA represents fewer than 10 sets of current foster carers and the organisation representing the vast majority of hundreds of current carers is the Norfolk Fostering Advisory Partnership.

•Editor's note

Our reporters sent questions and queries to Norfolk County Council several weeks ago asking them to respond to concerns and findings raised in our investigation into children's services, which we began publishing on Saturday.

We published the responses we received from the council alongside our articles on Saturday and Monday, but we are happy to publish a further response from Mr Smith today.

Mr Smith claims our reporting has distressed children and those who care for them. We're not privy to the information which Mr Smith bases this claim on, but all case studies used in our campaign have deliberately been kept anonymous to avoid identification of children.

Mr Smith is right to say some of the cases we looked at occurred some years ago, but unfortunately those involved still feel aggrieved by the council's behaviour and some of the issues remain unaddressed.

Furthermore, concerns about the current situation have been raised by Norfolk MPs.

Mr Smith is also correct to say the Parker Review into fostering has been covered in this newspaper before. However, yesterday's story brought to light new information about the taxpayer-funded review which we believed was in the public interest.

As stated on Saturday, our campaign will scrutinise the services for children in Norfolk, but also report success stories, of which we know there will be many.

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