A Conservative-controlled council in the Midlands are considering radical plans that would force the parents of children taken into care to pay or make contributions towards the cost of the child’s social care bill.
Worcestershire County Council, who are looking to make cuts in their budget of £90m over a four year period, launched the consultation on child care support stating that their future policy could mean “parents asked to contribute towards the cost of certain services provided for their child, provided they have the means to do so.”
Social care, according to the council, becomes necessary when a family is in crisis, their child has special needs, or there are concerns about child safety or well-being,
The consultation document identifies “rare cases” where parents who can offer their children a home again [after a period in care], refuse to do so, and this allows us to ask those parents for a contribution towards the cost of their care. “
The councillor with responsibility for children and families, Elizabeth Eyre, told The Independent that “finance was not the issue and nothing has yet been decided.” Ms Eyre said the council were simply examining “options that could be put in social services’ toolkit.”
She said the council currently had “no mechanism” that could allow it to accept payments for families or extended who wanted to contribute to care costs. She claimed the council accepted no other authority in England or Wales who were looking such payments.
However the Worcestershire’s Labour leader, Peter McDonald, branded both the plan and the consultation “really outrageous and really stupid.” He added “Expecting parents who have had their children taken into care, often against their wishes, to then pay towards the costs of their care, is something that just will not happen.”
Cllr McDonald said the policy was “being driven by finance rather than by children’s welfare and raises the spectre of turning social workers into bailiffs as they chase unpaid bills from troubled families. That is not the job of any social worker in the worker.
Although the consultation on parents being asked to pay care costs is so far limited to Worcestershire, the issue is being regarded by Labour shadow ministers at Westminster as a policy that could resonate nationally as other councils struggle with shrinking budgets.
Among the more radical proposals in the Worcestershire consultation, which will last till October, is the notion that outstanding charges could be shifted on to the child as they pass the age of 16. If they are deemed capable of paying, they would be expected to contribute
Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow children’s minister said “Vulnerable children in need of care and support shouldn’t face a bill for being cared for. David Cameron and Michael Gove must explain how a Tory-controlled council can be planning to make this change. We look forward to hearing the education secretary condemn this proposal in the strongest terms.”
Tom Rahilly, head of strategy and development at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, branded the consultation an exercise that held “significant risk.”
He said “If this council are saying parents should be charged for care services, then they have seriously misjudged the complex needs of often vulnerable families.
“Rather than saving money, this is a policy that could, if copied, end up costing councils far more. Families that need support at an early stage will worry that they could face bills in the future and will avoid seeking the help they need. Help and care arriving at a later stage, will inevitably cost more as the problems will often have got much worse.”