The Children’s Commissioners for England and Wales have expressed fears that a massive increase in court fees for care proceedings could put vulnerable children at risk.
This month, the cost for local authorities attempting to take children into care will go up from £150 to as much as £4,875 per case – an increase of more than 3,000%.
Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Children’s Commissioner for England, was alarmed at the increase and the impact it might have on the number of children taken into care. “It would be worrying if the welfare of vulnerable children was put at risk for financial reasons.”
The Deputy Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Maria Battle, said: “This increase may deter local authorities from issuing care proceedings to save money and that vulnerable children will remain at risk.”
Both commissioners promised to monitor the situation closely.
Their statements follow calls from the British Association of Social Workers for an urgent review into the policy at its AGM last week. Social workers with experience of child care spoke passionately about the dangers of the policy at the meeting in Birmingham.
While tabling the motion, Henrietta Heawood, a retired child protection officer from York, said: “Care proceedings are an absolutely integral part of child protection. Anything which might be a disincentive for councils to protect vulnerable children needs to be looked at.”
Alec Fraher, also of BASW’s York and north Yorkshire branch, said a review was necessary to determine the reasons for the tariff’s increase and a breakdown of specific costs. “It would appear that social workers were not consulted properly in this instance,” he added.
The court fees hike came about due to new Ministry of Justice guidelines on public law case management and guidance on statutory care proceedings, which have come into force.
Should a case be settled at the case management conference stage, it will cost councils £1,775 rising to £4,825 if the case follows every stage of the PLO. In theory, better preparation, and a better relationship with parents should mean an earlier – and cheaper – resolution.
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