Children 'may be charged for care'

Child playingChildren could be asked to cover some of the costs of being taken into care under radical new plans under consideration by one council.

Worcestershire County Council is considering recovering some of the costs of children's social care from parents or even children themselves if they are over the age of 16 and meet certain criteria.

The council has launched a consultation on recouping some of the costs from parents but also says children over the age of 16 are "liable to contribute".

The document says the council cannot charge for services that it is legally obliged to provide - such as child protection or adoption - but it could charge for accommodation costs or social worker fees.

The consultation document acknowledges there would be "very limited cases when it would be considered appropriate to seek a contribution from a young person", and parents would be charged "only if it is reasonable to do so".

But failure to make payments could result in them being taken to court.

Under the proposals, parents, or children over the age of 16, would be told they might be required to make financial contributions before the child is placed into care.

The document says: "The point at which a child becomes accommodated can be quite traumatic and it is recognised that this may be a difficult time to start a financial assessment.

"However it is essential that parents are made aware that they retain parental responsibility for their child and will be expected to contribute towards the costs of their care."

But the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said that the proposals could put parents off seeking help.

NSPCC's head of strategy and development for looked after children,Tom Rahilly, said: "It's 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.

"This is also likely to increase the cost for the council. As part of this consultation, we urge them to think again."

The consultation will run until October.

The council's head of children's social care, Siobhan Williams, 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."