Headlines: June 22nd, 2006

Local authorities in Wales are to be encouraged to make annual contributions to the Child Trust Fund accounts of eligible children in their care. Details have been announced of a scheme that will reimburse councils for each annual 50 pound payment they make to the funds of looked after children.Welsh Assembly Children’s Minister Jane Hutt said the scheme would be in place from September and that some 460 children are expected to benefit from the scheme this year. An additional 200 children on average will benefit each year from then on.

To be eligible for the annual 50 pound top-up, a child must have been continuously looked after by a Welsh council under section 31 of the 1989 Children Act or must have been accommodated under section 20 of the same legislation for six months in the period up to September 1st each year.

At this stage the policy is designed to encourage authorities to make the payments and all elected councillors will get a letter from the Minister reminding them of their responsibilities as corporate parents for children in their care and to encourage their support and scrutiny of the scheme in their local areas. In due course the Assembly Government plans to use its powers to require local authorities to make annual contributions. In the meantime the detailed arrangements for the voluntary scheme will be given in statutory guidance to be published in August.

Jane Hutt said the scheme would ensure looked after children were not disadvantaged when leaving care and had some element of financial security to assist them in the transition to adulthood. “Research shows us that having access to even a modest level of savings, at the age of eighteen, makes a real difference to the sort of decisions which young people make about their own futures. That is why this scheme is so important, “she said.