The Section 20 Shuffle

I saw an article on the Guardian's Social Care Network today, commenting on the decision by Worcestershire council to explore recouping costs of taking children into care under certain circumstances.

Apparently, the 1989 Children Act allows for councils to recoup the cost of accommodating children who have been voluntarily placed into care by their parents, for whatever reason, and Worcs is among several councils who are, or have been, exploring ways of getting parents to pay.

I'm aware that every time an MP or councillor talks about making cuts, or charging people for things, somebody will pop up and say that it would be a complete disaster to save money that way! But those who imagine feckless, lazy parents dumping their kids into care on a Section 20 (voluntary accommodation) while they go on holiday or something really need a reality check.

In my experience, Section 20 is too often used to persuade parents to surrender their children 'voluntarily' while social workers are busy behind the scenes preparing paperwork for court orders to make the whole thing a lot less voluntary and a lot more permanent.  Should we really be charging parents for this, adding insult to injury?

Surely Section 20 should be designed as a last-ditch support for families who have nowhere to turn, but are experiencing temporary difficulties - mental or physical illness, homelessness, financial problems and so on.  Families should be able to turn to social services for support without the fear just asking for help will eventually result in their children being removed on a Section 20 and becoming the subject of a care order soon afterwards.

So, no, families shouldn't be charged for the voluntary accommodation of their children, but at the same time, Section 20 shouldn't be used as a back door way of getting children into care.  The whole thing probably needs something of an overhaul.

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