'Once-in-a-generation' chance to improve children's social care

Sara Tough, director of children services at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Sara Tough, director of children services at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Julian Claxton Photography

An independent review of council-run children's social care offers a "once-in-a-generation" chance to improve, according to Norfolk's director of children's services.

The Independent Review of Children's Social Care found that, nationally, social services overly focused on "investigating" families struggling to care for their children, rather than providing support to help them through their difficulties.

Former school teacher Josh MacAlister, who led the review, described the current system as a "tower of Jenga held together with Sellotape" and called for investment and reform.

Sara Tough, who heads Norfolk County Council's children's services department, welcomed the report and said many of its recommendations were already common practice in the county.

She said: "It really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, if we can make a meaningful and lasting change for children."

Ms Tough welcomed the call for an emphasis on prevention, saying a £12m investment in Norfolk was  helping social workers support families and prevent children going into care.

She said: "That's what we have been trying to achieve in Norfolk over the past three years - to focus on building relationships and prioritising family based care where at all possible."

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The number of looked after children in Norfolk has dropped, from 1,193 to 1,093, while those subject to child protection orders has gone down from 607 to 448.

Those with children in need plans has fallen slightly, from 1,297 to 1,291, while families receiving support are up almost 30pc, from 707 to 917.

Ms Tough said: "There has been a lot of significant investment locally, such as in inclusion, early intervention and support as a cornerstone of this."

The set-up of social work teams has been changed, so they can spend more time with children and families, rather than on paperwork, she said.

She said projects such as New Roads - hubs offering specialist support such as speech and language therapy and life coaching - improve children's opportunities and reduce need for residential care. 

And a Targeted Youth Support Service is protecting children at risk of exploitation and abuse from outside the home, such as through County Lines.

Ms Tough said: "I'd like to praise the incredible work done by social workers day in day out.

"They do a really difficult job, but what they do can be life changing for many children."

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