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MP Norman Lamb’s warning over Norfolk County Council foster care relationship

10:02 25 May 2012

Thelma Berry and Dibs Aldon, from Norfolk Foster Carers Association, have spoken out about concerns about the foster service in the county

Thelma Berry and Dibs Aldon, from Norfolk Foster Carers Association, have spoken out about concerns about the foster service in the county

Archant

The “dysfunctional” relationship between Norfolk County Council and a foster carers’ association could prove damaging to children and put others off taking on the vital role, an MP has warned.

Norman Lamb (pictured below) wants the two groups to work together to improve the service and ensure both youngsters in care and their carers feel appreciated and supported.

He said: “We rely on foster carers to rescue children often in very difficult circumstances and so, from my point of view, I think it is essential that there is a constructive relationship between the county council and the association.”

Norfolk Foster Carers Association (NFCA) said the council refused to accept it as a representative of the county’s foster families and it feared children were being removed from homes unnecessarily because of a lack of communication.

But last night the county council said Norfolk’s foster carers were “highly regarded and valued for the work they do” and insisted it was keen to have a strong working relationship with the NFCA.

It rejected any claims that the ongoing problems were having an adverse impact on children and young people.

Mr Lamb, North Norfolk MP, said he had been in contact with the foster carers’ association for a number of years and was “aware of the genuine and real concerns about the relationship with the county council”.

At a time when the authority is working hard to recruit more foster carers amid a national shortage, he said the situation in Norfolk could put people off taking on the vital role.

After attending a meeting between the authority and the NFCA, including its president Ian Gibson, the MP has urged both to rebuild the trust between them.

“Let’s look at best practice elsewhere,” he said. “Look at where there is a good relationship. It’s not there in Norfolk at the moment. It’s very damaging. The danger is it’s the children who miss out. It’s in no-one’s interest that we have this dysfunctional relationship.”

Retired foster carers Thelma Berry, 78, and Dibs Albon, 64, have returned to the NFCA committee in recent years because of worries about the fostering service.

They say carers have no legal rights – including no employment rights or union representation – which makes them vulnerable when complaints or challenges are made against them.

Mrs Albon, who first began fostering in 1976, said children could be taken away from their foster families without any consultation with them. But she believes many of those problems could be overcome by talking to the carer and allowing the NFCA to represent them.

She said: “Nine times out of 10 it could have been sorted. There are lots of children out there that need not be moved – a little chat round the table, a little bit of thought, and we can meet in the middle.”

The association, which had 50 of Norfolk’s 360 foster carers attend its AGM this year, wants monthly meetings with the county council.

Last night Lesley Whitney, assistant director for children’s services, said the two organisations had come to an agreement at a recent meeting that they would meet every six weeks and no objections had been raised.

She said the council would welcome an association that represented all of the county’s foster carers and pointed out that all were currently provided with membership to the National Fostering Network, which had represented carers during disputes.

She added: “We are also currently working with another fostering association in the region and the Fostering Network to see how we can further develop out relationship with the NFCA.”

But she rejected suggestions children were losing out as a result of the current situation.

“We do not believe there is any evidence that this ongoing issue is having an adverse impact on children and young people in the county and there is no reason why it should do,” she said. “We are continuing to work to recruit more foster carers and recognise the important role they play in caring for Norfolk’s children and helping to strengthen and develop our service.”

This week, the county council launched its first ever Foster Carers’ Charter, pledging its support and commitment to Norfolk’s foster carers.

victoria.leggett@archant.co.uk

6 comments

  • Millions of pounds are spent every year in a national recruitment effort for foster carers to meet an increasing need. The example of our local county – Norfolk - suggests however that there needs to be more emphasis on the retention of existing foster carers as on recruiting new ones. According to figures obtained by NFCA the number of local authority foster carers in Norfolk in 2007 was 449; in April 2011 412 and in September 2011 there were 315. The number of Norfolk LA Foster Carers de-registered in the five years up to September 2011 was 189 [2006 (32) 2007 (36) 2008 (27) 2009 (57) 2010 (37)]. Foster carers are probably the most vulnerable workers in the country. They do not have legal status as employees or workers, and are therefore classified as self-employed, though, extraordinarily for self-employed people they are not allowed to work for any other fostering services and are subject to disciplinary sanctions. Foster carers are regularly the subject of allegations triggering a process which - at least here in Norfolk - ends with an ‘Outcomes’ or a ‘Conclusions’ disciplinary hearings without the safeguards afforded to employees. Among those safeguards we can list is the right to Trade Unionlegal representation, the right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal and the right of appeal. Neither the Fostering Panel nor the Independent Reviewing Mechanism can hear appeals or complaints against the findings of an disciplinarychild protection investigation. The nearest thing to appeal available to LA (not agency) foster carers is judicial review application to the High Court. I was forced to take such action when two teenaged boys were removed from my care without warning preparation or consultation. In October 2010 Mr Justice Holman, ruled in the High Court that the failure to consult me, the boy’s foster carer was unlawful. It is a national disgrace that basic human rights, enshrined among the rights of prisoners, are withheld from foster carers who are nonetheless lauded as valued contributors to the care and welfare of vulnerable children and young people. In cases considered serious prisoners are permitted to have their case heard by a ‘visiting magistrate’, a district judge and are entitled to legal representation. In less serious cases the prisoner may have the assistance of a ‘Mackenzie friend’. When a prisoner wishes to register a concern or a complaint, as well as having access to the internal complaints procedure up to and including the Prison and Probation Ombudsman he can also, at any point in the process make an application to the Independent Monitoring Board who have unrestricted access to the prisoner and the prison records and can report their findings directly to any member of the prison establishment up to and including the Secretary of State. Such independent routes to seek redress are not available to foster carers. It is our firm view that the absence of an independent hearing and appeal process for foster carers is clearly a violation of Article 6.1 of the Human Rights Act. These issues need to be addressed with as much urgency as is currently being given to recruitment. All we ask is that foster carers be given the same rights as are afforded to prisoners. Raymond Bewry Chair - Norfolk Foster Care Association

    Report this comment

    Ray

    Friday, May 25, 2012

  • And what of Atos healthcare and Unum insurance Mr. Lamb, please do explain why the Government has choosen a company with a previous record to do the CDWP's work and decide who is eligible for disability benefit?

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Monday, May 28, 2012

  • The comments from Norman Lamb are absolutely true, the situation between Nfca and the council have never been so dire. Lesley Witney should sit up and listen to others rather than herself.

    Report this comment

    Jane

    Friday, May 25, 2012

  • I wish Norman Lamb would take the same care and attention to Atos healthcare, essentially an American company with a dubious reputation. Why has the DWP choosen a company that has a previous record? http:www.theoneclickgroup.co.uknews.php?id=6491#newspost

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Monday, May 28, 2012

  • Millions of pounds are spent every year in a national recruitment effort for foster carers to meet an increasing need. The example of our local county – Norfolk - suggests however that there needs to be more emphasis on the retention of existing foster carers as on recruiting new ones. According to figures obtained by NFCA the number of local authority foster carers in Norfolk in 2007 was 449; in April 2011 412 and in September 2011 there were 315. The number of Norfolk LA Foster Carers de-registered in the five years up to September 2011 was 189 [2006 (32) 2007 (36) 2008 (27) 2009 (57) 2010 (37)]. Foster carers are probably the most vulnerable workers in the country. They do not have legal status as employees or workers, and are therefore classified as self-employed, though, extraordinarily for self-employed people they are not allowed to work for any other fostering services and are subject to disciplinary sanctions. Foster carers are regularly the subject of allegations triggering a process which - at least here in Norfolk - ends with an ‘Outcomes’ or a ‘Conclusions’ disciplinary hearings without the safeguards afforded to employees. Among those safeguards we can list is the right to Trade Unionlegal representation, the right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal and the right of appeal. Neither the Fostering Panel nor the Independent Reviewing Mechanism can hear appeals or complaints against the findings of an disciplinarychild protection investigation. The nearest thing to appeal available to LA (not agency) foster carers is judicial review application to the High Court. I was forced to take such action when two teenaged boys were removed from my care without warning preparation or consultation. In October 2010 Mr Justice Holman, ruled in the High Court that the failure to consult me, the boy’s foster carer was unlawful. It is a national disgrace that basic human rights, enshrined among the rights of prisoners, are withheld from foster carers who are nonetheless lauded as valued contributors to the care and welfare of vulnerable children and young people. In cases considered serious prisoners are permitted to have their case heard by a ‘visiting magistrate’, a district judge and are entitled to legal representation. In less serious cases the prisoner may have the assistance of a ‘Mackenzie friend’. When a prisoner wishes to register a concern or a complaint, as well as having access to the internal complaints procedure up to and including the Prison and Probation Ombudsman he can also, at any point in the process make an application to the Independent Monitoring Board who have unrestricted access to the prisoner and the prison records and can report their findings directly to any member of the prison establishment up to and including the Secretary of State. Such independent routes to seek redress are not available to foster carers. It is our firm view that the absence of an independent hearing and appeal process for foster carers is clearly a violation of Article 6.1 of the Human Rights Act. These issues need to be addressed with as much urgency as is currently being given to recruitment. All we ask is that foster carers be given the same rights as are afforded to prisoners. Raymond Bewry Chair - Norfolk Foster Care Association

    Report this comment

    Ray

    Friday, May 25, 2012

  • His party signed up to the extent of the cuts which are effecting care across our county.

    Report this comment

    Jeffrey Osborne

    Friday, May 25, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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