Welsh children’s commissioner attacks care charge plans

Children’s commissioner for Wales Keith Towler has voiced concerns about plans to charge parents who voluntarily place their children in local authority care, warning it could lead to family breakdown or homelessness.

Towler was reacting to news that Monmouthshire Council’s children and young people select committee, which scrutinises children’s services in the county, was planning to consider the case for introducing charges locally.

Conwy Council is already planning to introduce a charging policy this autumn. Parents who voluntarily accommodate their children under section 20 of the Children Act will face charges of up to £168.18 a week for 11- to 15-year-olds, £135.10 for five- to 10-year-olds and £118.60 for children aged four and under.

No plans to introduce charges in Monmouthshire

Monmouthshire has no plans to introduce charges at present and the select committee is only expected to consider the issue early next year.

However, Towler criticised the proposals as a “short-term solution to a long-term problem”. He said: “Whilst I understand the financial pressures faced by local authorities across the country, what is imperative is that the best interest of the child is placed at the heart of all decision-making.

Family breakdown or homelessness

“If families were deterred by the introduction of this proposal it could lead to adverse consequences and could even lead to family breakdown or homelessness.

“I sincerely hope that the rights and welfare of children and young people are not being compromised when decisions are taken around identifying priorities and allocating resources.”

Monmouthshire’s head of children’s services, Tracy Allison, said: “The social services directorate has no plans to recommend a charging policy at present within children’s social services, we would not want to deter any family, child or young person from approaching us to seek assistance or advice.

Learning from success

“Our select committees are not decision making bodies. They are there to scrutinise and suggest ways that services can be as efficient as possible.  This means they often look at how other authorities work and consider whether or not we can learn from other council’s successes.”

A paper to Conwy Council’s cabinet in March said that charges had been introduced in some English councils and were being considered by other Welsh authorities.

Reasons cited including encouraging parents to “exercise parental responsibility and to consider alternatives” to placing children with the council, and removing disincentives to children being reunited with their families by ensuring that reunification did not increase costs for families.

‘Deterrent to abandoning parental responsibility’

It said the use of charges had in the past encouraged parents to participate in prevention programmes and acted as a “deterrent to abandoning the responsibility for caring for a child”.

The charge cannot be applied to parents on income support, and the Conwy cabinet paper said that a charge would be applicable in only 15% of current section 50 cases.

Meanwhile, Bromley Council in south east London has confirmed that it is looking at introducing charges for voluntary foster or residential care.

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