What the politicians responsible for Norfolk children’s services have to say
6:00 AM March 25, 2017
10:59 AM October 10, 2020
With extra scrutiny placed on services for children in Norfolk, through this newspaper's Fighting For Their Futures campaign, we asked all 17 councillors on the County Council's children's services committee questions about the department and its future.
The committee, with politicians from all parties at County Hall, meets every two months and is responsible for services in Norfolk which keep children and young people safe, including social services and schools.
Inspectors from watchdog Ofsted have rated the council's children' services department 'inadequate' twice since 2013, but the council says it is making improvements and it has a new interim director of the department to lead the changes.
The three Labour councillors on the committee - Mike Sands, Emma Corlett and Chrissie Rumsby - responded as a group. Two Conservative councillors replied, the chairman of the committee Roger Smith who said he was responding with his 'immediate colleagues' and Mark Kiddle-Morris.
Questions and Answers
You may also want to watch:
1) What improvements do you think Norfolk County Council's children's services department has made since 2015?
Mr Smith: Norfolk is the fifth most improved county nationally for the proportion of pupils at good or outstanding secondary schools over the past four years.
In terms of child protection, in the July 2015 inspection we moved from inadequate to requires improvement. We have continued to transform social work practice.
We've developed a really successful support scheme for our new social workers and developed the Social Work Academy to ensure ongoing development for staff.
We have much improved data, we're auditing case work and managers and members have a much clearer idea of what's happening on the frontline and what needs to improve.
Mr Kiddle-Morris: In partnership with head teachers and governors, Norfolk County Council initiatives have improved outcomes for children in Norfolk significantly.
A key improvement that we made was re-introducing a leaving care service, as it was clear that those young people were not being served well by previous arrangements.
There has been a significant improvement in the completion of pathway plans for young people, which sets out what support will be in place towards leaving care, and who is responsible for what.
There are clearer links in each area between social care staff and other organisations working with young people, where previously people told us they didn't know who to contact in their areas and partnership working was a challenge.
The Local Transformation Plan for local children and young people's mental health support sets out some high ambitions.
2) Where do you think more work needs to be done?
Mr Smith: There's really good practice happening across the county but we need to ensure it is consistent.
The development of an Early Help service has been a significant step but we know that there is more to do to get help and support to families earlier, before they reach crisis.
We know that technology has been an issue for staff and we're moving to a new contract with Liquid Logic to ensure a smoother and more efficient recording system.
Mr Kiddle-Morris: The creation of the early Help scheme and the Looked After Children (LAC) and Leaving Care team are improving outcomes for children in care and those leaving care, these have been slow to realise and need to be speeded up
The voice of children and young people is often missing from information presented to councillors.
The sharp rise in the number of looked after children since May last year is a concern, and there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency to get on top of this.
Ofsted were clear in their feedback that the pace of change and improvement needs to escalate.
I'm concerned about staff well-being and social work caseload numbers. Unregulated accommodation is a clear issue that warrants further scrutiny.
We have too many young people in residential care out of the county, and need to recruit more foster carers.
There needs to be a drastic reduction in the number of children excluded from schools
We do not sufficiently focus on the needs of children with disabilities, and we need to protect their services.
3) How do you think these improvements could/should be made?
Mr Smith: Ensuring consistency is about making sure there is a strong leadership, including political support; commitment from staff; effective supervision and management and good training and development opportunities. We have all of these things in Norfolk which is why services are improving.
Mr Kiddle-Morris: A consistent approach with a strong political leadership and effective management.
Recruitment of a permanent Director of Children's services as a matter of urgency.
Strategy to retain existing social workers and to recruit permanent social workers across the county, especially in West Norfolk. Promote Norfolk as a good place to live and work.
Schools should be held to account regarding inclusion, and provide increased advocacy for parents.
4) Any other comments you'd like to make about children's services in Norfolk and the work of the committee?
Mr Smith: It's really important to remember the great work that social workers do, day in day out. It's hard enough at present for social workers to operate under such close scrutiny. Constant criticism from the media, as we've witnessed, and the regurgitation of historical issues, can be hugely damaging to morale, and make recruitment even more difficult than it is already.
Mr Kiddle-Morris: The Committee exists to ensure the best outcomes for all Norfolk's children, I believe it does this in a non ideological way
Norfolk is a great place for children to grow up, but not all children are able to benefit equally from what there is to offer. Tackling inequality has to be at the heart of what children's services does.
Overall there is positive cross-party working. In my opinion the quality of scrutiny has increased from when I was first elected, but I don't think that all 84 councillors take their responsibilities as corporate parents equally seriously.
•Green Party, Liberal Democrat and UKIP councillors on the committee have not responded to our questions. The questions were sent to the email addresses of all 17 councillors on the children's services committee on Monday and we asked for responses by Wednesday.
•Read more from our Fighting For Their Futures campaign here
Become a Supporter
This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.