North Wales council to charge parents who give up kids

PARENTS struggling to cope with their children will be forced to pay for foster and social care if a council becomes the first in Wales to introduce a radical cost-saving scheme.

Conwy council yesterday denied children will be put at risk by the scheme, which will force some parents to pay more than £8,700 a year.

Tomorrow the county’s cabinet will make a decision on whether to charge parents who voluntarily give up their children.

It would save Conwy thousands of pounds a year by cutting local authority-funded care provided under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

Officers have advised councillors to vote in favour of the controversial change in policy.

For the past 15 years most local authorities have not charged parents who’ve asked for help to look after their children, believing the administration costs of obtaining money from parents would not make the scheme worthwhile.

But now Conwy, who have set their council tax at the highest rate in Wales, hope to charge £118.60-a-week to parents who give up children up to age four, £135.10 for five to 10-year-olds and £168.18 for eleven to -15-year-olds.

The cost of looking after one child within the authority for a year is more than £20,000, and despite 90% of children given up voluntarily being under the care of parents on income support it is hoped the cash-strapped council can recover tens of thousands of pounds annually.

Within Conwy there are currently 50 children looked after under section 20 of the Children Act.

The Council estimates around 15% of parents should be able to make a contribution.

Clwyd-West conservative MP David Jones said he backed the move, but said he was surprised the council didn’t already force parents to pay up.

“Obviously I think the council should be working to avoid children going into care in the first place.

“The best place for any child is with its parents,” he said.

“Frankly if the parents decide he or she can’t cope and has to give up the child and has a means to pay, I think the parents should be making a contribution to the maintenance of their own child.

“I think that is right, if a parent can afford it, the council have got a duty to their tax payers to obtain as much back as they can. I would support that.”

A spokeswoman for Conwy said the scheme had already been a success elsewhere in the UK.

“The charging policy has been developed based on good practice in England, where such policies have been effectively implemented,” she said.

“The policy would have no impact upon decisions, which need to be made about the protection of children.

“There is no charge for placing children who the county deems must be removed for their own safety.

“The charges apply to those cases where parents request accommodation of their children. In every case where a child is in need of accommodation the child’s need is reviewed at a panel chaired by senior managers. This is a check on decisions and ensures children are properly safeguarded.

“Our motivation in bringing forward a charging policy is two-fold: to ensure that parents understand that they have a continued responsibility for their children, even if the child is accommodated. “Secondly, to ensure that those most in need benefit from the resources Conwy has available.”