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More than 1,000 children in care in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 06:30 31 October 2011

Archant © 2011

The number of children in care has hit another heartbreaking milestone in Norfolk, with more than 1,000 of the county’s youngsters now separated from their families.

With each case being called “an individual tragedy”, campaigners agreed the focus needed to be placed on supporting parents early to prevent the numbers rising even higher.

Norfolk County Council confirmed there were now 1,015 looked-after children being cared for in this area, with the 1,000-mark being hit earlier in the month.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children’s services, said, while numbers had in part increased due to a change in legislation, which meant homeless 16 and
17-year-olds were now treated as looked-after children, more and more very young children were being affected.

She said: “We are continuing to see an increase in the numbers of children coming into care and are finding more very young children are suffering chronic neglect and emotional harm, in many cases caused by alcohol or drug use or domestic violence.”

One Norfolk charity, which works with both parents who are struggling to cope as well as providing accommodation for vulnerable young people, described the latest figure as “a poignant milestone”.

Sharon Matthews, operations manager for children and young persons at The Benjamin Foundation, said: “Children end up in care for so many reasons and every individual story is unique and heartbreaking.”

Councillors and charities united as they stressed the importance of working with families as early as possible to prevent difficult situations escalating and leading to youngsters being taken into care.

Miss Matthews said its parent support advisers aimed to tackle individual worries as well as wider issues concerning families and the wellbeing of a child. She added: “Parenting can be far from easy and we know that many families face huge amounts of stress which can on occasion lead to children having to leave the family home.”

County councillor Mike Brindle, the Liberal Democrats’ children’s services spokesman, said: “Each one of those 1,015 children represents an individual tragedy.

“But it’s also a concern that I have that we are not very good at parenting. It’s one of the most important things that human beings ever do and we seem to have lost the plot.”

Norfolk County Council said it had maintained its funding for child protection and invested much of its early intervention grant in children’s centres and family intervention projects, which target families most in need.

Children’s services cabinet member Mrs Thomas added: “We have also just started a new pilot project in the south of the county, particularly focused on families where children are at risk of coming into care. We want to target support through children’s centres to families with the youngest children, offering them the support they need before problems escalate.”

But when children cannot stay with their family, the county council stressed that being in care could be a positive experience.

Alison Macphail, the county’s operational lead for corporate parents, said it was children’s services’ job to listen to the youngsters, help them understand what had happened in the past, and provide a stable and safe environment for them – something they may not have experienced before.

She said: “The children can go on to have very happy childhoods.”

Jane Horne, children’s services manager for Barnardo’s adoption service in the East, urged local authorities to ensure cuts to their budgets did not “compromise decisions made in the best interests of children” – a concern echoed by Lib Dem Mr Brindle.

He said he feared the major budget cuts facing children’s services in Norfolk would harm the county council’s ability to help families and ensure those children who did end up in care got the best possible support – without having to leave the county.

He said: “Keeping them within travelling distance of friends, cousins, or maybe a sibling who still shows an interest is really important.”

Norfolk County Council said, despite the increase in young people coming into care, it had managed to reduce the number of youngsters being placed out of the county.

As well as recruiting more foster parents and adoptive families, the authority has increased the number of beds available in Norfolk and will have a further 24 available by the end of the financial year.

Mrs Thomas added: “We are continuing to appeal for more foster carers and adopters to come forward and particularly need adoptive parents for groups of siblings and children with additional needs.”

Anyone interested should call the county council customer services centre on 0344 800 8001.

victoria.leggett@archant.co.uk

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