Serious concerns over treatment of foster carers in Norfolk submitted to national inquiry

Norman Lamb MP. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Norman Lamb MP. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Serious concerns over the way foster carers have been treated in Norfolk have been submitted to a national inquiry into fostering - with a Norfolk MP saying carers should be invited to give verbal evidence before the committee.

MPs on the House of Commons education committee launched a national inquiry into fostering in October. Issues it will consider include support for and treatment of foster carers.

The Norfolk Foster Care Association (NFCA) has submitted evidence to the committee on the situation in Norfolk. An independent review into foster care commissioned by Norfolk County Council and published in September concluded six carers had been wrongly treated by the council.

But cases involving foster carers associated with the NFCA were not included in that review, with the association and the council having been at loggerheads over aspects of it, including over the role of the council's own lawyers in it.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb had attempted to resolve those issues and attended meetings between the two parties. When the Parker Review was published, he said its findings vindicated the concerns the NFCA had raised.

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And the former health minister today backed the submission by the NCFA to the committee, which highlighted a range of concerns.

Those concerns included inadequate support for foster carers from local authorities; frequent and unnecessary removal of children from their established foster placements; a lack of legal protections for foster carers who blow the whistle on bad practice; and a failure to ensure that allegations or complaints about foster carers are investigated fairly.

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The NFCA also questioned the fairness and legality of the council's implementation of the 'Staying Put' initiative, a scheme which allows young people to stay with foster families after they turn 18. The amount those carers are paid drops after the young person's 18th birthday.

The NFCA has put forward a string of recommendations to improve the fostering system, including better support for foster care associations from local councils, statutory whistleblowing protections, new standards to ensure that investigations are conducted fairly, more robust processes for removing children from their foster placements, and a Central Register to overcome recruitment challenges and allow foster carers to relocate more easily to other parts of the country.

Mr Lamb, in a letter to the education committee chair Neil Carmichael MP, said: 'The failures in the fostering system have been particularly acute in Norfolk, where I have been shocked at the way in which foster carers have been treated by the county council in recent years.

'This is serious for two reasons. First, there is, I believe, a serious injustice in how people have lost the ability to foster through the arbitrary behaviour of the council. Second, I believe that there has been a serious negative impact on looked after children.'

The former Liberal Democrat health minister has called for representatives from the association to be allowed to give verbal evidence at the inquiry.

A spokeswoman for Norfolk County Council said: 'We are happy to co-operate with Mr Lamb to ensure he has all the information he needs to provide a full picture to the select committee, and to engage with the select committee if requested.'

The council's children's services has twice been rated inadequate by Ofsted since 2013. A latest critical monitoring letter was followed by the resignation of the department's director Michael Rosen.

Consultant Andrew Bunyan has been appointed as interim director during the search for a permanent successor.

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