Emails cast doubt over independence of Parker Review into how foster carers were mistreated by Norfolk County Council
PUBLISHED: 11:05 06 March 2017 | UPDATED: 08:20 10 March 2017
A cache of emails sent between council chiefs about an investigation into how children were wrongly removed from foster carers in Norfolk has cast doubt over the investigation's independence.
The emails were published after a Freedom of Information request from North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb who said the dossier “completely confirmed” his fear that an inquiry into the historic treatment of foster carers in the county published last year, called the Parker Review – which was meant to be independent from Norfolk County Council – was not.
The emails show:
•The report was finalised by the directors of the department it was meant to be investigating
•Mr Parker finished all involvement with his review weeks before his report was finished and published
•At least £95,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent on the review which did not investigate all of the cases it had been set up to investigate.
The Parker Review, led by former Middlesbrough Council chief executive Ian Parker, was published in autumn 2016 and looked at eight fostering cases.
It found “there was a repeated failure” by the council’s children’s services department to follow “proper procedures”.
In six cases, foster carers were not treated fairly and/or justly by the council, it said.
But disputes over its independence meant a group representing some aggrieved foster carers, called the Norfolk Foster Care Association (NFCA), did not have any of their cases included, as initially intended by the review.
Mr Lamb had tried to broker a deal between the NFCA, Mr Parker and the council to get those cases included.
The NFCA sent a proposal to Mr Parker in March 2016 which Mr Parker described as “workable” but no agreement was implemented with the council.
The NFCA would not take part while the council’s own lawyers, nplaw, were used for the review.
Mr Lamb said he told the council in December 2015 that nplaw could not be involved. “You can not have an independent review that gets its legal advice from the council’s lawyers,” he said. “It was outrageous. It was the council which was supposed to be investigated.”
He said the lack of independence “rendered the whole exercise utterly pointless and a waste of both time and public money”.
Chairman of the NFCA Ray Bewry said: “A way forward was agreed so that all the foster carers would be allowed to take part in the review.”
But he said: “In my view the council never had any intention to review our cases.”
Emails sent between Mr Parker and the council show he had intended to review the NFCA cases. In March 2016 he wrote to Michael Rosen, the then head of children’s services, saying there were likely to be 15 NFCA cases for him to review.
That would take another six months of work, he said, meaning he would be there until September that year.
But he left in mid-summer without hearing those cases.
At the end of May he wrote an email to Mr Rosen, urging the council to contact the NFCA and reach an agreement.
In the emails Mr Parker also asked the council for help with staffing and said he was hampered by a lack of resource.
When no deal was reached between the council and NFCA, Mr Parker said in the emails he saw “no option” but for the work of his panel to come to an end and a new panel to open in September 2016 to look at the cases.
After his departure, the council took control of the review, deciding when it should be published, how it should be presented and wrote a summary of it.
The final draft was reviewed by children’s services chiefs rather than by Mr Parker before it went out, according to the emails.
The report was then scheduled to be shared with the children’s services committee in September but was pulled because the council felt it was not yet ready.
•What Norfolk County Council says...
A spokesperson for the council declined to answer specific questions about the Parker Review.
“We do not intend to comment further on this matter, but instead to focus on looking to the future and supporting foster carers and the children in their care,” they said.
“We continue to work closely with the Norfolk Fostering Advisory Partnership, which represents and involves current foster carers.
“We run regular, successful recruitment campaigns to recruit more carers and would always encourage more people to consider what is a hugely rewarding vocation.”
TOMORROW IN OUR INVESTIGATION: How a partnership between Norfolk County Council and charity Barnardo’s has failed to get off the ground.