Worcestershire parents who put their children into care could be made to pay the cost under council plans.
Worcestershire County Council is consulting on plans to charge parents for care. Image: Morguefile/posed by models
Worcestershire County Council is considering introducing a new charging policy that will mean parents being levied for the cost of the care of any children deemed “not in crisis”.
The plans have been criticised by the fostering and adoption charity Tact, the NSPCC and The Who Cares? Trust.
Under the proposals, the council will “seek to recover the full or partial cost of providing a service” from parents if they have “sufficient means”.
It could also charge young people themselves for the cost of services, if they are over 16 and can afford it.
The cost of care for a young person who is intentionally made homeless or abandoned by their family could also be passed onto the parents.
The plans are due to come into effect from 30 June this year following a consultation.
The NSPCC has called for a rethink, warning that charging for services could place children in danger by deterring parents from seeking help.
Tom Rahilly, head of strategy for looked-after children at the child protection charity, said: “At its worst, such a move could place children at risk of harm.
“There is also a risk that charging for care services will hamper social workers’ efforts to work with parents to address their problems, which is critical to keeping the child safe and helping prevent the need for care.
“This could potentially store up costs for local authorities in the future, with a need for more specialist support and care later in the child’s life.”
Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of The Who Cares? Trust, said Worcestershire should consider how services could do more to support families early on, before problems get out of hand.
“A nominal charge will not recoup the costs of intervention, but may put off families from contacting the council and mean children do not get the vital support and services they need,” she said.
Gareth Crossman, executive director of external affairs at Tact, said parents do not take the decision to ask for a child to be taken into care lightly, and charging will be a disincentive for them.
“This is a poorly thought-out cost-cutting exercise that doesn’t seem to be based on evidence,” he said.
“Decisions need to be made based on the best interests of children.”
But Worcestershire Council has defended its plan.
Siobhan Williams, head of safeguarding and services to children and young people at the authority, said the details of policy are at a “very early stage”.
“If a family is in a genuine crisis situation or on a limited income, there will not be a charge,” she said.
“The proposals are not about saving money, but about defining relationships with parents and carers, being clear with parents about their responsibility for their children and supporting partnership working.
“We believe that this policy will encourage parents who are financially able and want to do so, to continue to contribute towards aspects of the care of their own child.
“In a very small number of situations it may also act as a deterrent in cases where there is no crisis, or the crisis is past.
“If, after consultation and further discussion the proposals are implemented, the charging policy will affect a very small number of families.”
SOURCE: Children & Young People Now