Parents could be forced to pay as much as £900-a-month if their children are taken into care, under plans announced by Worcestershire County Council.
Charges will be levied if children are placed in care “voluntarily”. Image: Arlen Connelly
A draft policy document released as part of a consultation on the controversial proposals reveals that the authority, which has around 640 children in care, wants to start charging where a child is taken into care in “non-crisis” situations.
It will also charge for certain services designed to keep children within their own family.
Children’s services will continue to meet the cost of statutory services such as child protection, adoption, and youth offending services, but will use provisions set out in the Children Act 1989 to claw back money from parents “where reasonable”, depending on their financial means.
A child may also be asked to contribute to the cost of their own care if they are over 16 and are deemed to have enough cash.
The policy states that the maximum weekly charge for looking after a child will be equivalent to the age-related fostering allowance paid to in-house foster carers in Worcestershire.
This could come to as much £888-a-month (£10,660 a year) based on the national minimum fostering allowances as recommended by the Department for Education for 2013/14.
Certain exemptions will be made. Parents in receipt of income support or child tax credit, jobseeker’s allowance, or state pension, will not have to pay.
The policy document also states that there “may be instances where it is not appropriate to seek a financial contribution from an absent parent”, such as where a woman is fleeing domestic violence.
Under the plans, a financial assessment of parents will take place prior to a child being accommodated in care.
Non-resident parents paying maintenance will also be assessed, and may be asked to contribute to the cost.
Parents’ financial contributions will end when a child ceases to be looked after or reaches their 16th birthday.
The proposals are being opposed by children’s charities.
Tom Rahilly, head of strategy and development for looked-after children at NSPCC, said: “It is disappointing that they are still considering plans to charge parents for services for children in care.
“We believe that this won’t be in the best interests of children. It’s unlikely that they will recover a significant contribution towards the costs of care but more importantly it risks putting parents off seeking help.
“This will result in later support for children and could mean that their problems get worse.”
Jonathan Rallings, assistant director of policy and research at Barnardo’s, said: “We are concerned that what this will do is potentially place children in danger because it could deter parents from placing children in care.”
Worcestershire County Council has said the proposals are not about saving money, but about being clear with parents about their responsibility for their children and supporting partnership working.
Siobhan Williams, Worcestershire County Council’s head of children’s social care, said: “We believe that a child’s parents should be as fully involved as possible in all aspects of the care and wellbeing of their child and this policy is about supporting that partnership approach.
“In certain cases, some parents and carers express a wish to contribute towards the cost of some of the services their children receive if they have the means to do so, and the charging procedure that is part of this policy has been developed to enable them to do this.
“Unfortunately there are also rare cases where parents who can offer their children a home again refuse to do so, and this policy also allows us to ask those parents for a contribution towards the cost of their care. If a family are in crisis they would not be charged for services.”
A consultation on the proposals, which were initially mooted in March, will run until 11 October.
SOURCE: Children & Young People Now