Charging parents for care undermines social work and does not save money, councils find

At least three local authorities have stopped charging parents whose children go into care after finding the plans failed to deliver benefits.

Picture credit: Gary Brigden
Picture credit: Gary Brigden

Several attempts to charge parents for the care of looked-after children have ended in failure, Community Care has discovered.

Worcestershire council recently caused controversy when it was reported that council bosses are consulting on whether to force some parents to pay for the cost of voluntary care arrangements.

Campaigners and MPs have voiced their concerns over the proposal, which the authority was quick to defend.

Now Community Care has learned that similar charging policies were introduced in at least three other local authorities, but were scrapped years ago after proving ineffective.

Staffordshire council introduced charges in October 2007 for a 12-month trial period in the hope that it would reduce the number of children taken into care voluntarily. However, the policy was abandoned in 2009 after an evaluation found it had failed to generate an income and did not reduce the number of new voluntary care arrangements.

The evaluation also found the policy undermined the ability of social workers to develop effective relationships with parents. “The pilot has not resulted in fewer looked-after children and has no impact on the views of parents who have requested their child to come into care,” the evaluation concluded.

“It has, however, resulted in complaints being made by parents and could have ongoing implications for the reputation of the local authority in terms of parental perceptions about the support being offered,” it stated.

Conwy council also introduced charges on a trial basis in 2009, but a spokesperson for the authority told Community Care that the policy was abandoned a year later because no parents were charged for their children’s care.

A spokesperson for Norfolk council, which introduced its charging policy in 2000, said that while the policy is still in place it is no longer in active use since it was rarely used.

However, the spokesperson said the council is in the early stages of looking again at the policy to see whether it could be implemented again in a more effective way.

Worcestershire council is currently consulting on the plans to charge parents. Councillor Elizabeth Eyre, cabinet member for children and families, told Community Care that a number of other lead members in the West Midlands have expressed interest in seeing how Worcestershire’s plans work out.

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