Parents who put their children into care could soon be forced to foot the bill, under plans being considered by a council in England.
Worcestershire Council is considering the money-saving move to deter parents who relinquish their parental responsibilities, even when there is evidence to suggest that their children could be supported to live safely at home.
According to local reports, councillor Liz Eyre, cabinet member for children’s services, said the idea was “worth considering”, adding that it was a common misconception that only children from deprived backgrounds entered the authority’s care.
“There are a whole raft of reasons why children become looked-after and some of the families can afford to pay. We owe it to the taxpayer,” Eyre told the Worcester News. But Eyre admitted to having some reservations about charging parents. “What worries me is if the charging policy has an adverse affect on young people,” she said.
Council staff are said to be gathering information about the move, which was discussed at a recent cabinet meeting, with a final decision expected shortly.
Under section 20 of the Children Act, children may become looked-after on a voluntary basis, for a variety of reasons, through an agreement between their parents and the council.
Although many of these reasons may be valid, Community Care understands that some councils have become increasingly frustrated, and financially burdened, by parents who expect social services to relieve them of their parental responsibilities.
Andrew Christie, currently director of children’s services across Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea previously told Community Care that charging policies should be given greater consideration.
“Charging can be used as a way to remind parents of their responsibilities, and Hammersmith and Fulham would do this under some circumstances. I suspect charging is being thought of more often, and I do think it needs to be given greater consideration as local authority resources come under greater pressure,” he said.
Matt Dunkley, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “Local authorities have had the power to charge parents who voluntarily submit their children into the care of the local authority, whether long term or for respite care, since at least the Children Act 1989. These parents continue to have parental responsibility for their children and a request for payment is a strong reminder of those responsibilities.
“As resources become tighter, local authorities will be seeking new ways of ensuring that funding is spent on the most vulnerable children and not wasted – this may result in more local authorities deciding that using this power is the right thing to do in particular circumstances.”
He said councils had to consider a number of important factors when deciding whether to charge parents, such as whether the request for voluntary care reflects unmet need in the family that should be met by statutory services and whether charging would be cost-effective, given the “bureaucratic processes of collection and enforcement.”
“These considerations may reflect why the power is rarely used in practice,” Dunkley said.
Community Care is awaiting a response from Worcestershire County Council.
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