What happened to probe into shocking state of homes for Norfolk teenagers?
PUBLISHED: 12:47 25 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:31 26 July 2017
It's been almost five months since this newspaper exposed the dreadful state of homes some of Norfolk's most vulnerable teenagers were being put in.
But the findings of a Norfolk County Council investigation, prompted by our articles, are yet to be shared with councillors and the company behind the homes, Sixteen Plus, is not responding to requests for comment and has shut down its Facebook page.
In March we published photos showing broken bathrooms, mattresses crammed into bedrooms and mould around windows in homes which Norfolk County Council was paying Sixteen Plus to put children leaving care in to.
The teenagers were meant to get support from the company to prepare for life outside of the care system.
But both the children and former workers raised concerns about the conditions of the homes and level of support.
One mother whose son was in Sixteen Plus accommodation said he didn’t get support from workers and ended up wrecking his flat in anger at being kicked out.
In May her son appeared at Norwich Magistrates’ Court charged with criminal damage. He pleaded guilty and was given a conditional discharge.
But magistrates said no compensation should be paid to Sixteen Plus. One reason for that was an absence of support from Sixteen Plus.
Cambridgeshire and Norfolk County councils both suspended new placements with Sixteen Plus in March, which has a contract with Norfolk worth £4.4 million.
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Those new placements are still suspended and an outside investigator was brought in by Norfolk in March. Her findings are yet to be published.
Jonathon Childs, the former UKIP councillor who brought the problems to the council’s attention, said he was told he would see findings of a report on Good Friday – more than three months ago.
“The gist of the report with vulnerable people’s identity protected should be made public,” he said. “There is clear documentary evidence of failings by the county council in monitoring the well being of young people placed into certain modules of care.”
Norfolk County Council said its report into a small number of Sixteen Plus cases would go before the next meeting of its Corporate Parenting Executive Group. That is scheduled to meet this Thursday.
“Decisions on any future placements with Sixteen Plus will be dependent on the discussions and recommendations of that group,” a council spokesman said.
“The complaints investigation was completed during the local election purdah period, which was then followed by general election purdah.
“This meant restrictions were in place and the Children’s Services Committee was unable to meet to establish the new membership of the Corporate Parenting Executive Group (CPEG).
“However, during this time we have been taking action to address issues that arose from the investigation, as well as closely monitoring existing placements.
“Thursday’s meeting is the first opportunity that the new group has had to meet to discuss this investigation. Any system wide issues will be reported to Children’s Services Committee in September.”
Meanwhile one of Sixteen Plus’ owners and directors has set up a new firm called Grove Social Care.
Grove Social Care has been recruiting staff in Yarmouth, King’s Lynn, Ipswich, Huntingdon to work with teenagers.
But both Norfolk and Cambridgeshire county councils said they had not used the firm.
We have contacted the director of Grove Social Care and Sixteen Plus for comment.
•Homes for teenagers ‘limited’
Councillors raised their concerns at a meeting of the children’s services committee in March about accommodation for teenagers leaving care in Norfolk.
In response council officers provided a report in June saying there was limited accommodation in Norfolk for young people with “challenging behaviour” and finding them accommodation was “difficult”.
The report said they were finding homes owned by the council which could be used instead.
Just under 94pc of care leavers were in “suitable accommodation” in March, according to the council.
That is an improvement from just 66.5pc the year before.
Support for care leavers was one area previously found by Ofsted to be “inadequate” in Norfolk. And it is still an area Ofsted said in its latest report was still not good enough when inspectors visited King’s Lynn last month.