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Charity hits out at plan to 'charge for children's social care' in Worcestershire
BRITAIN’S leading children’s charity has hit out over controversial plans to charge parents who put youngsters into care - saying they fear victims of abuse will “slip through the net”.
The NSPCC has urged Worcestershire County Council to re-think the move, insisting it could put children at harm.
More details emerged yesterday about the changes, with County Hall insisting it is “not a money making exercise”.
Your Worcester News can reveal:
- The policy would be aimed at any children deemed to be “not in crisis” after being examined by social workers
- It could be applied retrospectively, meaning bosses may trawl through all 633 children currently in care to see if their parents can pay
- Although county council chiefs insist there is not a major problem with parents trying to give their offspring to the state, there is anecdotal evidence of it
- No other council across the country is believed to be charging for children’s social care, according to in-house research
- Some parents of children with foster carers will also be asked to pay if they are in employment
As your Worcester News reported yesterday, the county council wants to charge working parents who have children put into care from June 30.
The policy will only apply in cases where social workers believe there is not a “genuine crisis”, such as where parents abandon their offspring, or kick them out.
It will also apply in cases where children run and refuse to return home, as long as the parents have an income.
A consultation over the plan will run during May and June and council bosses say parts of the end policy could change.
Councillor Liz Eyre, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “If a family is in genuine crisis, there will not be a charge for anything, I must make that clear.
“We believe this will provide a deterrent in cases where there is no crisis, and parents just want rid of their child.
“An example may be where we take a child in, then things settle down at home but the parents say ‘we don’t want them back with us’.
“Another example would be where parents throw their child out and they become homeless, but mum and dad are in work and perfectly able to contribute.
“It will also apply when we think there is no genuine crisis, and the parents want help from a day care centre, or another service, where we will say ‘you need to pay for it’.
“It will not make us money, and it will only affect very, very small numbers - but it does seem sensible to ask parents with money to contribute where there is no crisis.”
She said she was once contacted by a newly-married woman who “made up stories” to try and get her 14-year-old daughter into care, suggesting under the new system she would have paid.
“She just didn’t want the child around because she felt it would interfere with the marriage,” she said.
“In the end nothing happened but it’s cases like that we’d be looking at.”
The yearly spend on children’s social work is £40 million in Worcestershire.
WHAT THE NSPCC SAID
Tom Rahilly, head of the NSPCC’s looked after children programme said: “The expectation that parents who are able to should take full responsibility for the care and wellbeing of their children is hugely important.
“However, we are concerned about the implications of charging parents for services to support the needs of their children.
“At its worst such a move could place children at risk of harm.
“There is also a risk that charging for care services will hamper social workers’ efforts to work with parents to address their problems, which is critical to keeping the child safe and helping prevent the need for care.
“This could potentially store up costs for local authorities in the future, with a need for more specialist support and care later in the child's life.
“By potentially excluding some children and families from using services in this way, it is also possible that children suffering abuse will slip through the net.
“The most important consideration has to be that vulnerable children have the services and support they need to keep them safe from harm.”