CHARGING parents with children in care risks young victims of abuse slipping through the net, a leading charity has warned.
The controversial measure was approved by Worcestershire County Council earlier this month and means the Children Act 1989 can be used in certain circumstances to ask parents or guardians of children over 16 to contribute to their care.
The NSPCC has warned the move, part of a new policy on partnership working with parents, is not in the best interests of children while Labour councillors have called for an apology from Coun Liz Eyre, responsible for children and families, claiming she repeatedly said families would not be charged.
But Coun Eyre said she had always made it clear families in crisis would not be charged adding children needing to be kept safe and those on benefits or low incomes would also be exempt. She added a contribution would only be asked for after a full financial assessment had been made and a contribution did not necessarily mean money but paying for an item of clothing or an activity.
The sort of circumstance where someone might be charged was when parents of someone under-16 refused to care for them but an assessment indicated they could be returned home.
There are about 700 children currently in care across Worcestershire.
Coun Eyre said: “There are a tiny groups of areas where we can ask for a contribution but never when somebody is at risk.”
She also criticised inaccurate media reports stating children could leave care with debts of £10,000.
But Tom Rahilly, the NSPCC’s head of strategy and development for looked after children, urged the council to reconsider.
“With families in crisis not being charged it is unclear exactly who will end up paying for this service – therefore it is unlikely they will recover a significant contribution overall towards the costs of care,” he said.
“More importantly this change risks putting parents off seeking help and children suffering abuse could fall through the net. This will result in support for children coming later and could mean their problems get worse.”
Coun Pattie Hill, Labour’s spokeswoman for Children and Young Peoples Social Care, added: “Children in care already have a multitude of problems, these charges will acerbate them. Social workers will have extra work loads which itself is both a problem and further cost to the authority.”