Neglect of children’s emotional wellbeing is a national scandal

This article was first published by The Times Red Box on 10th January 2017. 

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk and former Minister of State for Care & Support

For all the talk of giving young people the best possible start in life, the truth is that this country hasn’t paid enough attention to children’s mental health. The Prime Minister's speech today was, in many respects, welcome. However, with so much evidence of a serious shortfall in the extra investment promised, it felt like a rather puny response to a burning injustice.

An estimated 1 in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem – roughly three pupils in every school class.  But too many of these children do not get the effective and timely support they need.  The consequences are often lifelong, continuing into adulthood and affecting everything from mental wellbeing to physical health, employment prospects to relationships.

When we know that the majority of mental illness starts before the age of 18, prevention and early intervention in childhood is essential. Schools have a crucial role to play in promoting positive mental health – not only by building emotional resilience and equipping children to cope with life’s challenges, but also by providing early support when times get tough to prevent any problems from getting worse.

Counselling is an important evidence-based approach to supporting mental health, and Department for Education guidance sets an expectation that this should be made available in all schools. Sadly, however, this is not the case. School-based counselling is not a statutory requirement in England and the provision and quality of these services remains patchy, with estimates suggesting that up to a third of secondary schools still do not offer counselling to their pupils.

As well as the distressing impact on those who miss out on support, children’s mental health services in the NHS are left to pick up the pieces. Yet they are now buckling under the strain of unprecedented demand, with longer delays and more children being sent outrageous distances for treatment.

Meanwhile, the Children’s Society’s latest annual Good Childhood Report found evidence of a widening gender gap in children’s mental health, with more girls aged 10 to 15 unhappy with their lives or their appearance today compared to five years ago. Together with a recent report by NHS Digital highlighting a significant rise in self-harm among young women, this paints a very bleak picture of the state of our younger generation’s mental health.

The neglect of children’s emotional wellbeing is nothing short of a national scandal. We can, and must, do much more to reduce the prevalence of mental ill health in children, and reduce the stigma so that more people speak out and seek help. That is why I am leading a debate in Parliament on Tuesday, supported by MPs from all parties, to discuss how we can make sure every child receives effective and evidence-based mental health support in schools, and to demand that the Government takes bold action to translate this ambition into reality. 

Fortunately, we aren’t starting from scratch.  School-based support is at the heart of Future in Mind, the ambitious national blueprint for modernising children’s mental health care launched when I was the minister. Among the chief recommendations were a named mental health lead in each school to oversee whole-school approaches to improving mental wellbeing, including provision of counselling services and better links with specialist NHS mental health services.

An independent Commission set up by the Education Policy Institute, which I chaired, recently published its report examining the progress made in implementing this plan.  We found a number of barriers to progress including poor engagement between schools and the NHS, school leaders lacking the experience or time to commission high-quality counselling services, and heavy workloads restricting teachers’ involvement in mental health promotion.

To spark a genuine impetus for change, the Commission’s central recommendation is a new Prime Minister’s Challenge on Children’s Mental Health.  This would feature a major national programme to ensure a stronger focus on mental health and wellbeing within schools, with funded mental health training for teachers, high-quality statutory Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE), and a stronger emphasis on mental wellbeing in the Ofsted framework.

These are just some of the measures I will be calling for in the debate.  The speech from Theresa May was a welcome start, but will count for nothing if it is not backed by radical action. 

Norman Lamb secures cross-party meeting with Prime Minister to discuss NHS and Care funding

The Prime Minister has agreed to meet with the Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Norman Lamb, together with other MPs calling for cross-party talks on the future of NHS and Social Care.

A group of more than 20 MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats today issued a joint call for the Prime Minister to establish an NHS and Care Convention to come up with a long-term funding settlement for the health and care system. 

A coalition of 75 charities, professional bodies and trade unions in the healthcare sector – including Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), Care England, The Patients’ Association, The Royal College of GPs, The Royal College of Nursing, and Marie Curie – have also published a joint letter urging Theresa May to set up an inclusive cross-party process to secure these services for future generations.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon, Norman Lamb urged Mrs. May to meet with the group and listen to their case for the proposal, saying: 

“The Prime Minister will understand, despite her reassurances, that there are genuine and really serious concerns amongst staff and patients across the NHS and care system about the pressures they are under.  It is for that reason that MPs from her own party, and the Labour Party, and from my own, have come together to call for the Government to establish an NHS and Care Convention, to engage with the public so that we can come up with a long-term settlement for the NHS and Care.  Would the Prime Minister be prepared to meet with us just to discuss it, so that she can hear our case?”

The Prime Minister responded: 

“I recognise the interest and the attention that the honourable gentleman has given to these issues – and of course, he is a former health minister himself – and I would be happy to meet with him and others as he suggests.”  

Commenting afterwards, Norman Lamb said:

“The NHS and Social Care are under unprecedented strain, and a fundamental review of how we fund these services is urgently needed.  The crisis continues to deepen, and the consequences of failing to act now could be catastrophic for patients and vulnerable elderly people in need of care.

“The Prime Minister’s response was constructive and I welcome that she has agreed to meet with us to hear our case.

“I hope that this will be the start of a constructive cross-party approach to developing bold long-term solutions, and that we will see an end to the partisan bickering that has failed patients for too long.”

Norman Lamb launches cross-party NHS and Care campaign

A cross-party group of more than 20 MPs, co-ordinated by Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Norman Lamb, has today launched a major campaign calling on the Government to establish an NHS and Care Convention to find a long-term solution to the crisis in health and social care funding. 

  • The launch of the campaign is strengthened by an open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by 75 health and care organisations, urging her to pursue a cross-party process.
  • At Prime Minister’s Questions, Norman Lamb will urge Theresa May to meet with MPs to discuss the proposal.
  • Members of the public can support the campaign by signing up to an online petition on the UK Government and Parliament Petitions website.

In a joint statement, MPs from Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats note that there is “widespread recognition that the NHS and the social care system are under unsustainable strain and that the pressures on the system are increasing”.

They warn of an increase in failures of care and “very serious” consequences for vulnerable people if the Government does not take immediate action, noting estimates that more than a million elderly people currently are not receiving the social care and support that they need.

In recognition of these challenges, the MPs are encouraging the Prime Minister to establish a cross-party NHS and Care Convention to examine the immediate and longer-term funding requirements of NHS and social care services.  The Convention would engage patients, the public, civic society, staff, trade unions, and providers of health and care services in a national conversation about how we guarantee a strong and effective NHS and care system which is sustainable for the future.

Spearheaded by former Care Minister Norman Lamb, the statement is signed by the Conservative former health minister Dan Poulter MP and Labour former shadow care minister Liz Kendall MP. It is also supported by four Select Committee Chairs – Sarah Wollaston MP (Health Committee), Meg Hillier MP (Public Accounts Committee), Clive Betts MP (Communities and Local Government Committee) and Frank Field MP (Work and Pensions Committee) – along with more than a dozen other MPs and former Health Secretaries Stephen Dorrell and Alan Milburn. 

A separate letter, which has been co-ordinated by Independent Age, is backed by charities, professional bodies and other organisations across the health and care sector including the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), Care England, The Patients’ Association, The Royal College of GPs, The Royal College of Nursing, and Marie Curie. 

The open letter warns that unless the Prime Minister takes “a bolder approach millions of older, ill and disabled people and their carers will continue to be badly let down.”  The letter recognises that a long-term solution cannot be owned by one party, and demands a cross-party process which is:

  • Inclusive: established by the government with meaningful cross-party engagement
  • Open: listening to the public and professionals who use and work in these services every day
  • Urgent: ensuring the cross-party process gets underway without delay.

At Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, Norman Lamb will urge the Prime Minister to agree to meet with him and other MPs to make the case for a cross-party approach.

Norman Lamb MP, former Minister for Care and Support, said:

“The health and social care system in England is facing unprecedented challenges. Failing to find a solution to this crisis puts some of the most vulnerable people at risk – frail and elderly people in need of care services, disabled people who need support and people with long-term illnesses, particularly those suffering from mental ill health.

“Building a sustainable health and care system that can provide high-quality care can’t be realised without putting aside party political point-scoring.

“The public sick and tired of the NHS and care system being treated like a political football.  People have had enough, and are crying out for an honest discussion and bold solutions to these challenges.

“It speaks volumes that so many Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum are backing this initiative.  At Prime Minister’s Questions, I will urge Theresa May to recognise the gravity of the situation we are facing, and to agree to meet with us to listen to our proposal.”

MPs Statement in full

There is now a widespread recognition that the NHS and the social care system are under unsustainable strain, and that the pressures on the system are increasing and we will see failures of care. The consequences of this for many highly vulnerable people are very serious. We note that it is estimated that over a million older people in need of social care are not getting the care or support they need.

We welcome the Prime Minister’s focus on mental health, but also recognise that we will never achieve genuine equal treatment for those with mental ill health for so long as the whole system is under such financial pressure.

We are also concerned about the impact that these pressures are placing on staff in the NHS and the care system.

We recognise the importance of confronting this challenge and we accept that this transcends narrow party politics. A system designed to meet the needs of the population of this country in the 1940s is in need of renewal. It is not our intention to seek to blame any particular government or political party. Our aim is to find a sustainable solution that will have genuine cross-party support for the future.

In recognition of the scale of these challenges, we join together to launch a campaign to encourage the Government to establish a cross-party NHS and Care Convention to examine the future funding requirements of these cherished services and agree a new, long-term settlement to guarantee their sustainability for future generations and to ensure that this country has one of the best health and care systems in the world.

Now is the time for the Government to start a national conversation involving the public, civic society, healthcare professionals, carers and other experts.

We are pleased to note the call from over 70 health and care organisations including Medical Royal Colleges, charities and trade unions for the Prime Minister to initiate a cross party process.

There is a real urgency about this. The time to act is now, and we need the process completed within a clearly defined timescale.

Vulnerable people will be at risk if we do not confront this growing crisis, and we urge the Government to take immediate action in the interests of the country.


Norman Lamb MP

Dan Poulter MP

Liz Kendall MP

Sarah Wollaston MP

Meg Hillier MP

Clive Betts MP

Frank Field MP

Nick Clegg MP

Andrew Murrison MP

Caroline Flint MP

Chuka Umunna MP

Jeremy Lefroy MP

Lisa Nandy MP

Tom Brake MP

Heidi Allen MP

Sarah Olney MP

Peter Bone MP

Greg Mulholland MP

Johnny Mercer MP

Ivan Lewis MP

Mark Williams MP

John Pugh MP

Stephen McPartland MP

Alan Milburn, former Health Secretary

Stephen Dorrell, former Health Secretary


Public Petition

A public petition has today been launched on the UK Government and Parliament Petitions website, ‘Theresa May: Seek an urgent cross-party solution to the health and care crisis’.   Norman is encouraging members of the public to show their support by signing the petition.

Delayed discharges blighting mental health care uncovered by Norman Lamb

Delays in discharging people from hospital are rising more rapidly in mental health trusts than other parts of the NHS in England, Norman Lamb has learned. 

An analysis by NHS England, obtained by the Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson and reported by BBC News, shows that there was a 56% rise in the number of bed days lost to delayed discharges in the 24 trusts specialising in mental health and learning disability care, over the twelve months to October 2016.  This compares with a 30% rise in delayed days in acute hospitals across the same period. 

A broader analysis - including trusts that provide community as well as mental health services - shows a 43% increase in delayed days.

The chronic shortage in funding for local authorities is a key factor behind the delays, with a lack of available support from community psychiatric nurses and district nurses presenting major challenges for mental health patients waiting to be discharged from hospital beds.

Elderly people with dementia and other chronic conditions can be particularly hard to place, while younger people with mental health and addiction issues are often not considered a priority for community-based support.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb, who obtained NHS England’s analysis of delayed days in each type of trust, said:

“This significant increase in delayed discharges in mental health is a hidden scandal which demands the Government’s urgent attention.  People often talk about the disastrous rise in patients stuck in acute hospital beds, but these figures suggest that the deterioration is even more serious in the mental health system.

“It paints a bleak picture of a system struggling to cope with unprecedented demand for treatment at a time when many mental health trusts have once again reported cuts to their budgets.

"If patients cannot be discharged it often leaves hospitals full to overflowing. The knock-on effect is that patients needing inpatient care are sent out of area because there are no beds available - an outrageous practice which is associated with an increased risk of suicide. This is intolerable.

“Mental health services in the NHS remain scandalously under-funded, but it is made worse by the squeeze on local authority budgets. A radical upgrade in mental health care in the community and the home is essential if we are to achieve genuine equality for people with mental ill health, and put a stop to this dreadful rise in mental health patients being stuck in hospital.” 

Jeremy Hunt letter shows weekday hospital care is under threat

Norman Lamb has accused the Government of putting the safety of weekday patient care at risk, after the Health Secretary failed to guarantee that more junior doctors will be hired to help deliver a seven-day NHS.

Throughout the year-long dispute over the junior doctors’ contract, Norman has expressed concern that Jeremy Hunt’s plan to make junior doctors work more at weekends will mean that hospitals have fewer medics on duty during the week, unless the NHS employs enough new junior doctors to fill the gap.

In the House of Commons on 5th September, the Health Secretary promised to write to Norman to confirm exactly how many additional doctors will be working in the NHS this year and every other year before the end of this parliament in 2020.  However, Hunt’s letter did not provide any detail on how many extra junior doctors would be trained and employed, despite having told Norman that he would give him a number.

In the letter, the Health Secretary said that it was up to each hospital trust to expand their junior doctor workforce, raising doubt that he would make good on his pledge to ensure that enough doctors are employed to protect weekday cover.  The letter simply restated the government’s longstanding pledge that there would be 11,500 more doctors by 2020 than there were in 2015.

The Health Secretary has previously acknowledged the potential for too few doctors being on duty between Monday and Friday as a result of the new junior doctors’ contract, which was imposed in October.  When Norman first raised the prospect of shortfalls in weekday medical rotas affecting care standards, in a Commons debate on the dispute on 19th May 2016, the Health Secretary told him: "The short answer is that we need to increase the NHS workforce."

Speaking to The Guardian, Norman Lamb said:

“This letter from Jeremy Hunt fails to reassure me.  There appears to be no clear plan as to when more junior doctors will be employed, and yet the changes to the contract are being imposed immediately.

“There seems to have been no assessment of the number of additional junior doctors needed to ensure that additional weekend hours won’t have a dangerous effect on weekday cover. Jeremy Hunt has failed to provide the evidence to back up his claim that the problem will be addressed by additional junior doctors.

“My fear is that unless you can guarantee that there will be more junior doctors employed, imposing a change which involves more hours being worked at weekends will inevitably reduce the numbers of hours worked during weekdays when the pressure is at its greatest. 

"This could result in real safety concerns. With many rotas already left unfilled around the country during the week, the Government risks making the situation worse by stretching NHS resources too far. The consequences for patient care could be disastrous." 

Serious mistakes in NHS patient care uncovered by Norman Lamb

Surgical, diagnostic and care errors are on the rise in NHS hospitals, according to official NHS England figures obtained by Norman Lamb MP.

The last three years have seen more ‘serious incidents’ involving delayed diagnosis, staff failure to act on patients’ test results, poor care of seriously ill patients, and mistakes in surgery.

The figures, which were obtained via a Freedom of Information request by Norman Lamb and reported in The Observer, have sparked concern that unprecedented strain on hospitals and staff is putting patients at risk, amid growing fears that the NHS will experience its worst winter crisis since 2011-12.

The figures show:

  • The number of serious incidents involving ‘sub-optimal care’ for a patient whose condition is deteriorating more than doubled from 260 in 2013/14 to 588 in 2015/16.
  • Diagnostic incidents including delayed diagnosis and a failure of healthcare professionals to act on test results have also jumped by more than 40%.  There were 923 incidents of this nature last year, while in 2013/14 there were just 654.
  • Hospitals recorded a sharp rise in surgical errors. In 2014/15, 362 serious incidents involved a surgical error or wrong-site surgery, in which surgeons operated on the wrong part of a patient’s body.  This figure more than doubled last year, when 740 serious surgical incidents were recorded.

Speaking to The Observer, Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb said:

“These figures confirm the stark and distressing reality that thousands of people are being failed in their hour of need because the NHS is under such intolerable pressure, with overstretched hospital staff unable to give patients the care and treatment they deserve.

“The Health Secretary has talked a lot about wanting to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world. But is that ambition realistic? These figures show worrying rises in the number of incidents which have a damaging and potentially fatal effect on patients.

“My worry is that the NHS is under such impossible pressure, with clinicians too often working under intense strain, that increases the risk of serious harm being caused to patients, which can have incalculable consequences for them and their families.”

‘Quick and thorough’ investigations needed for learning disability deaths

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, has welcomed the recommendations set out by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to improve the processes for investigating and learning lessons from unexpected deaths in the NHS, but warned that progress must be made in ensuring that investigations are conducted in a timely manner. 

In April, the Health Secretary instructed the CQC to review how NHS trusts investigate and learn from patient deaths, following the tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk, an 18-year-old with autism and learning disabilities who drowned in a bath while receiving care at Southern Health. 

A jury inquest found that neglect and other "serious failings" at the trust contributed to his death. After learning about the tragedy as a minister, Norman Lamb has campaigned closely with Connor's mother, Sara Ryan, who found that she was largely excluded from the investigation into her own son's death.  

This week, the CQC's national review found that the NHS is missing opportunities to learn from patient deaths, and that too many families are not being included or listened to when an investigation happens. It raised significant concerns about the quality of investigation processes led by NHS trusts, and the failure to prioritise learning from these deaths so that action can be taken to prevent similar deaths in future. 

The CQC has called for a new national framework, so that NHS trusts have clarity on the actions required when someone dies in their care.  All NHS trusts will be required to collect a range of information on potentially avoidable deaths, and to consider what lessons need to be learned, on a regular basis. Each trust will be asked to identify a board-level leader as patient safety director to take responsibility for this agenda and ensure that it is prioritised within the organisation. 

Responding to a statement by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the House of Commons, Mr. Lamb paid tribute to Sara Ryan and highlighted the importance of timely investigations when a patient dies in unexpected circumstances. He said:

"I also pay tribute to Sara Ryan, the mother of Connor Sparrowhawk, who has fought tirelessly for justice for those with learning disabilities. I warn the Secretary of State that I think she will take some convincing that things really will change, given all the resistance she has come up against. I hope he has managed to meet her; if not, would he be willing to meet her, with me, to discuss the plans going forward?

"One key issue not covered in the report or statement is the timeliness of investigations. A report nine months or a year after the incident is often no good at all: the organisation has moved on, and people have forgotten what has happened. I commend Mersey Care, which does a very quick, thorough investigation within 48 hours, when the information is really current and people are still shocked by what has happened. That is how Mersey Care seeks to implement the lessons from every tragedy."

In response, the Health Secretary praised Sara Ryan's campaign to achieve justice for people with learning disabilities, as well as Mr. Lamb's role in the Coalition Government. 

"I want to put on the record that the right hon. Gentleman was a big champion for people with learning disabilities when he was in my ministerial team, in particular over issues such as Winterbourne View, which he brought to my attention and did a huge amount of positive work on.

"I have met Sara Ryan. I spoke to her again yesterday. I repeat what I said in my statement, that without her campaigning we would not now be making the huge changes on a national level that we are. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s other comments."


Tories must deliver on the Lib Dems' vision for child mental health

This article was first published by The Guardian on 7th December 2016

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk and former Minister of State for Care & Support

If mental health is the Cinderella service of the NHS, then child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) is the Cinderella service of the Cinderella service. It’s a cliche that bears repeating, because the reality of children’s mental health services in this country still falls woefully short of the vision set by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives during the coalition government.

One in 10 children suffers from depression, anxiety or another diagnosable mental health problem, and 75% of mental illness starts before the age of 18. Intervening early with effective, evidence-based support can not only stop a child’s condition deteriorating to crisis point, but also have a transformative effect on long-term recovery and life prospects in adulthood.

When mental ill health costs the economy an estimated £105bn every year, the economic as well as the moral case for prioritising children’s mental health is unanswerable. But when I became minister, I was horrified by what I witnessed.

For too many people, help is not available when they need it. Nearly a quarter of young people referred to specialist CAMHS services are turned away, often because they fail to meet outrageous eligibility thresholds. The anorexic teenager is denied treatment until she becomes dangerously thin. The boy with OCD is told there is no specialist support until he has experienced repeated suicidal thoughts. And those who do get treatment are often faced with excruciating waiting times, which can vary dramatically across the country.

As well as being morally indefensible, it is the antithesis of the important principle of early intervention. We have ended up with a grossly inefficient system designed to treat rather than prevent mental ill health in children. Fragmented, tiered services are complex and dysfunctional, while the perverse financial incentives in the system fail to encourage a focus on prevention and instead push children into specialist acute settings where NHS England picks up the bill, rather than local clinical commissioning groups.

Determined to address this appalling situation, I set up a task force. The result was Future in mind: a blueprint for the modernisation of child and adolescent mental health services, backed by extra funding of £250m each year until 2020.

At its heart is a significant shift towards the prevention of ill health, working with schools to strengthen resilience and improve support before health deteriorates. Attracting support from across the political spectrum, it was subsequently endorsed by NHS England’s own five-year plan for mental health.

The Conservative government, however, has shown little drive to deliver on this golden opportunity. In the first year of the promised investment, only £143m was released instead of the £250m expected. Mental health providers have reported that the money failed to reach frontline services, with many still seeing cuts to their budgets.

Worse still, the government chose not to make up this £107m shortfall in the second year of the programme. Nor was the money that was allocated to clinical commissioning groups ringfenced, so there is a real risk that it will leak out to other local priorities such as A&E waiting times.

It’s hardly surprising that we’ve not seen the progress many had hoped for. The Education Policy Institute’s commission on children’s mental health, which I chair, recently published its final report, highlighting that excessive waiting times and treatment thresholds are still commonplace. There also remains a dreadful cliff edge at the age of 18 when young people make the transition from CAMHS to adult services.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, recently pledged his commitment to CAMHS, which he rightly identified as the “biggest single area of weakness” in the NHS. But rhetoric is not enough. It’s now time for a bold statement of intent, otherwise all momentum will be lost.

We need to see a bold programme of reform – implementing the principles of Future in mind – with an ambitious focus on schools and prevention, early intervention, and improving access to high-quality services. The EPI commission called for the government to use the additional £250m a year as a lever to drive continued change, making receipt of the money conditional on areas demonstrating that all the money is being spent on children and that there is an ambitious programme to shift resources to prevention. Each area should also be expected to demonstrate that they have delivered on their plans.

The chronic underfunding of children’s mental health services must be consigned to history. Despite receiving a paltry 0.7% of the total NHS budget, CAMHS is too often at the front of the queue when there are cuts or “efficiencies” to be made. The health secretary should make it his priority to reverse this scandalous disinvestment, pushing and cajoling the NHS to ensure that every last penny of the extra money secured by the Liberal Democrats is spent as intended.

Children and young people have been let down for too long. We know what an effective and modern children’s mental health service looks like, and we have a roadmap for how to get there. Responsibility now lies with the government to deliver on it so that all young people receive the support they need to flourish and achieve their full potential.

Fostering system in need of reform - Lamb

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, has written to the Chair of the Education Select Committee in support of the Norfolk Foster Care Association’s proposals for reforming the fostering system.

In October, the Committee launched a new inquiry into fostering in England, looking at a range of issues including the adequacy of current recognition and support given to foster carers, challenges in recruitment and retention, and the stability of foster care placements for looked-after children.

In its submission to the inquiry, the Norfolk Foster Care Association (NFCA) has highlighted a range of serious concerns about the fostering system.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • inadequate support for foster carers from local authorities;
  • frequent and unnecessary removal of children from their established foster placements;
  • a lack of legal protections for foster carers who blow the whistle on bad practice; and
  • a failure to ensure that allegations or complaints about foster carers are investigated fairly.

The NFCA also questioned the fairness and legality of Norfolk County Council’s implementation of the ‘Staying Put’ initiative.  The scheme supports young people to remain with their foster families beyond their 18th birthday, but a cap on funding in Norfolk currently discriminates against young people wishing to remain with ‘Level 5’ foster carers, who receive the highest pay rates because of their specialist knowledge and experience. 

The NFCA has put forward a set of recommendations to improve the fostering system so that it better supports foster carers and the vulnerable young people who depend on them.  Key recommendations include:

  • better support for foster care associations from local councils;
  • statutory whistleblowing protections for foster carers;
  • new standards to ensure that investigations into foster carers are conducted fairly;
  • more robust processes for removing children from their foster placements; and
  • a Central Register to overcome recruitment challenges and allow foster carers to relocate more easily to other parts of the country. 

In a letter to the Education Committee chair Neil Carmichael MP, Norman Lamb, a long-time campaigner for better rights for foster carers, endorsed the NCFA’s proposals for strengthening the system. He has also called for representatives from the NCFA to be invited to give spoken evidence to the inquiry at future meetings.

Commenting, Norman Lamb said:

“Foster carers play a hugely valuable role in caring for society’s most vulnerable children, and it’s a great scandal that they are so often denied the support, rights and protections they deserve. This ultimately has a damaging effect on the wellbeing of looked-after children who, above all else, are in need of safety and stability.

“This inquiry is a timely opportunity to shine a light on some of the most egregious failings in the system and provide a catalyst for change. I am very pleased to support the NFCA’s involvement in the process, and hope that the Education Committee will take its important recommendations on board.” 

Chancellor must pledge funding for rural roads - Lamb

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, has called on the Chancellor to ensure that rural areas get a fair slice of new funding for improving Britain’s roads.

In his first Autumn Statement tomorrow (Wednesday 23rd November), Chancellor Philip Hammond is set to announce an extra £1.3bn for improving Britain’s roads, to ease congestion in towns and cities and upgrade transport networks.

Mr. Lamb has now urged the Chancellor to make sure that rural areas share the benefit of this investment as well as towns and cities, particularly country roads prone to flooding.

Commenting on the eve of the Autumn Statement, he said:

“Roads and transport links are a crucial part of Britain’s infrastructure, so the announcement of additional investment is welcome.

“However, Mr. Hammond must make sure that a fair share of this money is spent on maintaining rural roads. Roads in Norfolk have not been well enough maintained in recent years with cutbacks to funding. They are often hit by flooding problems because of inadequate drainage, causing great inconvenience to local residents and damage to the local economy. The sad truth is that the Government doesn't seem to realise that they will pay the price for this neglect in years to come. 

"Better maintenance and better drainage in rural areas must be a priority, and my challenge to the Chancellor is to provide a cast-iron guarantee that communities like Norfolk will not miss out on this much-needed investment.”

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