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Three Norfolk MPs left shocked after meeting foster carers

PUBLISHED: 10:03 05 October 2013 | UPDATED: 10:03 05 October 2013

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk. Picture: Denise Bradley

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant 2013

Three Norfolk MPs have been left concerned after hearing from Norfolk foster families about their treatment by Norfolk County Council’s under-fire children’s services department.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the meeting had proved “really shocking”.

Mr Lamb was joined by Norwich South MP Simon Wright and Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman for a meeting with the Norfolk Foster Carers Association, at The Space conference centre in Sprowston.

The children’s services department has been through a tumultuous year so far after a damning Ofsted report in February graded it as ‘inadequate’ in all areas.

This triggered staff changes and crisis meetings, leading to department director Lisa Christensen stepping down.

Mr Lamb said: “We heard from 12 or 13 foster carers and four youngsters, four very articulate and impressive young men of teenage years and above, who came to talk to us about their experiences and how they had been withdrawn from their foster carers after years in their care, without any explanation.

“We heard a whole series of really shocking stories from carers, many of whom had been foster caring for years and years.”

Mr Lamb, who is the government’s minister of state for care and support, explained that most of the cases had revolved around a new “vulnerable” child being taken in by a foster carer and then causing problems.

Allegations against carers have then subsequently seen the foster carer have other children taken out of their care and new arrangements made.

He continued: “It is very important for foster carers to be treated as innocent until proven guilty, that is the basis of our criminal justice system.

“If a youngster turns up with very disturbed behaviour it might cause a disturbance to another youngster who has been placed there for several years and then suddenly, because an allegation has been made, they can be moved and that can have an incredibly serious impact.

“I’m very grateful to Sheila Lock (the county council’s interim director of children’s services) for agreeing to come along and talk to the panel. She talked to people, gave advice and engaged with us.

“It was markedly fresh approach, from my perspective, to what we have heard in the past.”

The three MPs now intend to put together a dossier of the problems and meet next week with Mrs Lock, to discuss how the situation can be improved.

Mr Freeman said he was particularly passionate about the issue as he had “experienced the trauma of a broken home as a child, twice”.

He said: “We heard a very powerful series of stories of families which had been broken up by similarly arbitrary difficulties and, in some cases, inexplicable intervention by children’s services staff.

“The Norfolk Foster Carers Association made a very powerful case for systematic problems of a lack of respect within the system for the work they do and a lack of due process, natural justice and a right of appeal when allegations like this are made.

“Nobody would want any serious allegations to be anything but acted upon and investigated thoroughly but what we heard were cases of experienced and highly regarded foster carers being treated in a similarly arbitrary and unreasonable way, with very damaging consequences for the people in care.”

Expanding on his own childhood, Mr Freeman added: “I grew up as a ward of court child without access to my father until I was 18 so I take a particular interest in these issues of vulnerable children and, as a newly elected MP, I think part of that role is to speak up for those who don’t have a voice in the system which controls their lives.”

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