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Foster carers who had children taken away by Norfolk County Council are still looking for answers

PUBLISHED: 06:30 06 March 2017 | UPDATED: 08:20 10 March 2017

Hundreds of children are successfully placed with foster carers each year in Norfolk but past concerns hang over the children's services department. Photo: Archant

Hundreds of children are successfully placed with foster carers each year in Norfolk but past concerns hang over the children's services department. Photo: Archant

Archant

Former foster carers said today they were still searching for answers about why children were removed from their care.

They are now taking their grievances to a government select committee, after they claimed a review commissioned by Norfolk County Council last year into foster carers’ concerns, called the Parker Review, failed to investigate their cases.

The concerns come in day two of our investigation into Norfolk’s children’s services department, which began on Saturday with fears being raised as to why the department was still struggling some four years after being rated as ‘inadequate’ by inspectors.

The foster carers are being backed by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb who said: “Foster carers have had their livelihoods removed without proper process.

“Children have been removed without proper process and given the trauma these children have suffered, to do that is scandalous.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has supported foster carers who say they are still looking for answers about why children were taken from them. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA WireNorth Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has supported foster carers who say they are still looking for answers about why children were taken from them. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

“The unsatisfactory manner in which allegations are investigated is a critical difficulty in recruiting and retaining foster carers.”

Mr Lamb was one of three MPs who in 2013 heard the grievances of around 20 foster carers and children who had been removed from the foster parents care.

Those cases were supported by a group called the Norfolk Foster Care Association (NFCA) who said almost every case they dealt with involved the most expensive and experienced foster carers, called level five.

Around three-quarters of Norfolk’s 1,100 looked after children are successfully placed in foster care with some of the county’s hundreds of foster parents.

Chairman of the Norfolk Foster Carers Association Ray Bewry says he has come across lots of cases where children were wrongly removed from foster carers. Photo: ArchantChairman of the Norfolk Foster Carers Association Ray Bewry says he has come across lots of cases where children were wrongly removed from foster carers. Photo: Archant

And a group called the Norfolk Fostering Advisory Partnership (NFAP) brings social workers and foster carers together.

But allegations about how some foster carers have been mistreated hang over Norfolk children’s services department.

The NFCA has submitted some of its cases to MPs on a parliamentary select committee.

They say the carers in these cases are still looking for answers, despite losing children years ago.

In one case a foster carer says they were ignored when raising concerns in 2011 about inappropriate contact between the child they were looking after and a member of the child’s family.

The person the foster carer had raised concerns about was later convicted of sexual activity with the child and jailed.

The foster carer claimed their concerns were not taken notice of and they have not been offered any more foster placements since 2011.

In another case now submitted to the select committee, two siblings were removed from foster carers after allegations were made against the carers in 2010.

The police investigation into the allegations found no evidence to support the reason given for the removal, but the children were never returned. The foster carers were subsequently deregistered.

Ray Bewry, chairman of the NFCA, said these cases were the “tip of the iceberg” and should have been heard by the Parker Review.

He said the NFCA had come across almost 30 cases over the last few years where children had been removed from level five foster carers.

“The main problem is the local authority has not complied with their own procedures,” he claimed. “That has always been our case. People are still approaching us now. They (the council) are still not learning.”

Mr Lamb has also written to the education select committee supporting the NFCA evidence.

He wrote: “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 main injustice for me is that there are a whole lot of foster parents who feel they have been wrongly prevented from doing their work as foster carers. A whole lot of these people have never had their cases considered. All these people are still waiting.”

•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.”

•Analysis

To be a foster carer is to offer a child the chance of something they potentially have never experienced in their young lives - a loving home and a family.

There are examples of foster carers in this county who have helped to raise dozens of children over years and years.

The children they look after can be challenging. That is hardly surprising given the neglect and abuse which these youngsters have suffered at the hands of adults who should have given them love.

But it’s a role which is hugely rewarding and can turn the lives of young people around.

The council recently urged members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to apply to be carers and it is good to see such an effort to engage.

However, the council has not always got it right in the past. That is evidenced by the Parker Review, which found foster carers had been wrongly treated.

MP Norman Lamb and the Norfolk Foster Care Association still have concerns about that review and it is unfortunate, to say the least, that the situation has not been resolved.

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