MP Norman Lamb’s warning over Norfolk County Council foster care relationship

The 'dysfunctional' relationship between Norfolk County Council and a foster carers' association could prove damaging to children and put others off taking on the vital role, an MP has warned.

Norman Lamb (pictured below) wants the two groups to work together to improve the service and ensure both youngsters in care and their carers feel appreciated and supported.

He said: 'We rely on foster carers to rescue children often in very difficult circumstances and so, from my point of view, I think it is essential that there is a constructive relationship between the county council and the association.'

Norfolk Foster Carers Association (NFCA) said the council refused to accept it as a representative of the county's foster families and it feared children were being removed from homes unnecessarily because of a lack of communication.

But last night the county council said Norfolk's foster carers were 'highly regarded and valued for the work they do' and insisted it was keen to have a strong working relationship with the NFCA.

It rejected any claims that the ongoing problems were having an adverse impact on children and young people.

Mr Lamb, North Norfolk MP, said he had been in contact with the foster carers' association for a number of years and was 'aware of the genuine and real concerns about the relationship with the county council'.

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At a time when the authority is working hard to recruit more foster carers amid a national shortage, he said the situation in Norfolk could put people off taking on the vital role.

After attending a meeting between the authority and the NFCA, including its president Ian Gibson, the MP has urged both to rebuild the trust between them.

'Let's look at best practice elsewhere,' he said. 'Look at where there is a good relationship. It's not there in Norfolk at the moment. It's very damaging. The danger is it's the children who miss out. It's in no-one's interest that we have this dysfunctional relationship.'

Retired foster carers Thelma Berry, 78, and Dibs Albon, 64, have returned to the NFCA committee in recent years because of worries about the fostering service.

They say carers have no legal rights – including no employment rights or union representation – which makes them vulnerable when complaints or challenges are made against them.

Mrs Albon, who first began fostering in 1976, said children could be taken away from their foster families without any consultation with them. But she believes many of those problems could be overcome by talking to the carer and allowing the NFCA to represent them.

She said: 'Nine times out of 10 it could have been sorted. There are lots of children out there that need not be moved – a little chat round the table, a little bit of thought, and we can meet in the middle.'

The association, which had 50 of Norfolk's 360 foster carers attend its AGM this year, wants monthly meetings with the county council.

Last night Lesley Whitney, assistant director for children's services, said the two organisations had come to an agreement at a recent meeting that they would meet every six weeks and no objections had been raised.

She said the council would welcome an association that represented all of the county's foster carers and pointed out that all were currently provided with membership to the National Fostering Network, which had represented carers during disputes.

She added: 'We are also currently working with another fostering association in the region and the Fostering Network to see how we can further develop out relationship with the NFCA.'

But she rejected suggestions children were losing out as a result of the current situation.

'We do not believe there is any evidence that this ongoing issue is having an adverse impact on children and young people in the county and there is no reason why it should do,' she said. 'We are continuing to work to recruit more foster carers and recognise the important role they play in caring for Norfolk's children and helping to strengthen and develop our service.'

This week, the county council launched its first ever Foster Carers' Charter, pledging its support and commitment to Norfolk's foster carers.

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