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Thursday, 12 March 2015

Norfolk announces independent review of its children's department

Written by The Press Association

A troubled children's services department has announced an independent review in to complaints that children were unfairly removed from foster carers.

The review will consider allegations that carers were unfairly treated by Norfolk County Council and follows the dismissal last week of a manager over claims he fabricated evidence in order to remove children.

It will examine a number of historic cases and carers who have not previously raised concerns are being encouraged to come forward.

The authority's children's service department, branded inadequate in an Ofsted inspection two years ago, has faced criticism from MPs, councillors and the Norfolk Foster Carers Association (NFCA) over claims that dozens of cases may have been flawed.

Announcing the investigation, interim director of children's services, Sheila Lock, said: "When concerns are raised about the safety of children, we have to act in their best interests.

"But in doing so we need to always treat our foster carers, who do such a brilliant job for us, with respect, listen to what they say and take that information seriously.

"When I first came to Norfolk, I worked with a number of our MPs to set up a review process to address concerns that we haven't always done this in the past. At that time two carers came forward, and given that action has been taken in these cases, we hope that those who didn't come forward before may do so now.

"The report will be published and any actions that are necessary brought to the attention of the Local Safeguarding Children's Board."

Ray Bewry, chairman of the NFCA, said he was concerned the review may be a whitewash and nothing more than a PR exercise.

He said: "The majority of cases it will be looking at have been raised by ourselves and yet nobody has contacted us about this investigation.

"How can we have any faith in the process where they are not including us?

"Any review is better than nothing but, if they do not properly engage with us, nobody will believe its findings."

The review will be led by Ian Parker, a former chief executive of Middlesbrough Council, who has already examined two complaints from Norfolk. He will work alongside Norfolk Police and NHS representatives.

Last week Peter Barron, a team manager at the authority, was dismissed over allegations he removed children from a foster carer without evidence of deliberate harm. He has the right to appeal against this decision.

The NFCA along with MPs Henry Bellingham and Norman Lamb have said they were aware of many similar incidents, suggesting this was not an isolated case.

James Joyce, chairman of the council's children's services committee, said: "The fact that this action is being actively supported by both the constabulary and the NHS should encourage people to come forward with their concerns.

"Sheila and I are determined to leave no stone unturned as we move the department forward."

The authority has attracted criticism over other recent cases, including one in which a child was placed at risk after the department failed to prevent a convicted paedophile having unrestricted access to the five-year-old girl.

In that case, the child sat on the sex offender's lap in the presence of social workers - but they failed to check or raise concerns about his background.

A senior Government social work adviser, who worked on the Baby P case, has been drafted in to help turn the department around.

The department was judged to be inadequate in a 2013 Ofsted inspection which raised concerns over its failure to protect children and families.

Lisa Christensen, the then director of children's services, stepped down shortly after that report.

Anyone wishing to raise issues as part of the review, can use the email address parkerreview@norfolk.gov.uk.

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