Review finds Norfolk foster carers wrongly treated
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A review has found Norfolk foster carers were wrongly treated by the council, while, in half the cases, the needs of children were not made paramount in decisions over potentially-disruptive changes to their care.
The outcome of the £100,000 Parker review into allegations over Norfolk County Council's conduct was finally revealed today, some 18 months after it was commissioned.
Thirty-six foster carers who had been de-registered came forward wanting to take part in the review.
The panel, chaired by former Middlesbrough Council chief executive Ian Parker, and made up of an independent social worker, detective constable and two foster carers, ended up reviewing just eight cases.
Of the cases which were considered, in half the cases, the panel concluded the council had not made the needs of the child paramount when making decisions about their care.
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In six cases, the panel concluded foster carers had not been treated fairly or justly, with the authority told they should write to apologise.
And in two cases the panel said the council needed to pay foster carers money they were entitled to but had not been paid.
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Children's services bosses said the cases should not be seen as a barometer for the state of fostering, stressed the cases were historic and said lessons were already being learned.
But North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who has written to children's minister Edward Timpson requesting a meeting over the way foster carers are treated, said some carers - and young people themselves, who were not invited to make complaints - had still not got answers.
The 10-page report identified 'major themes'. One was a 'repeated failure to follow proper procedures', with the panel questioning whether workers were aware of policies and procedures, or whether they just disregarded them.
And the panel said where they had not been followed, there was no evidence that management had raised concerns - creating a culture that policies and procedures did not matter.
The panel 'struggled on a number of occasions with the poor quality of the records', with emails which led to important decisions not always uploaded onto the council's CareFirst system.
And the report stated: 'Placements have been disrupted too easily without either due consideration or evidence that due consideration has been given prior to a child being moved from his/her placement.'
Michael Rosen, director of children's services, said: 'My feeling is that these eight cases are significant in that some people were unfairly treated. That is important and something we need to get right.
'But it's not a barometer of the system as we have it at the moment. Nobody would say Norfolk was in a good position at the time of this, because Ofsted had found it not to be adequate.'
He said no foster carer had been de-registered since before September 2014 and the council worked hard to keep children in placements where appropriate.
Of the cases which came forward, 20 were deemed to meet the terms of reference for the review, but 12 were not considered.
Among those not reviewed were six cases involving foster carers associated with the Norfolk Foster Carers Association.
The association and the council were at loggerheads over the review, including over the role of the council's own lawyers in it. MP Mr Lamb had attempted to end the stalemate, but those cases did not get reviewed.
Mr Lamb, who helped trigger a previous 2013 review by Parker which looked at fostering in general, said: 'I am left with the feeling that the director of children's services feels we have seen enough to know what the issues are. But what I struggle with is that, three years from the MPs meeting which started this in the first place, we are left with a lot of people who have not had their cases heard.
'It's very far from complete, but I think the Norfolk Foster Carers Association has been vindicated even by this partial analysis. It demonstrates they were right all along to challenge these processes.'
Mr Rosen said alternative options were still available for foster carers, including those who had withdrawn from the process, to have cases independently reviewed.