Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Grandparents' Rights

After having written The Custody Minefield on parental rights, I was approached by a grandparent who asked ‘can you write a book for us too?’ The honest answer was ‘no’ since grandparents don’t have any rights. The more I looked into this issue the more uncomfortable I became with our current laws. This led me to join the campaign to grant grandparents legal rights, and to start a petition asking that the Prime Minister change certain laws.

While the campaign is entitled ‘Grandparents’ Rights’, the purpose of the petition is to ensure children’s welfare. In the petition, I ask for the following:

· that the Children Act allows grandparents to apply to the court for Contact or Residence Orders.

· grandparents should automatically be granted Parental Responsibility in the event of the death of the holder(s) of parental responsibility.

· that Grandparents have an automatic right to involvement in care and adoption proceedings and the automatic right to apply.

· we ask that the Adoption and Children Act 2002 be amended to include grandparents alongside parents and guardians.

As a grandparent, should your children die and not have named you as a guardian in their will, your grandchildren could be placed in care or put up for adoption without your knowledge or involvement. While your opinion should be sought, this doesn’t always happen.

The petition doesn’t suggest that grandparents be given an automatic right to residence or contact, or prevent grandchildren being taken into care or adopted. The changes provide a safety net by ensuring a grandparent’s opinion will be heard in Court should the parents die or become otherwise incapable of providing care, and ensure family involvement in decisions about the children’s future. The Courts will still consider whether the grandparents’ wishes are in the children’s best interests.

If you are a paternal grandparent, and your son doesn’t have parental responsibility, his own agreement to adoption isn’t required since only parties with parental responsibility need to give their permission.

Parental responsibility for the father normally comes from having been married to the mother, or if unmarried, having jointly registered the birth of their child after 1st December 2003. A father can also acquire parental responsibility by applying to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order, having been granted residence of the children by the Court, or having made a formal parental responsibility agreement with the mother.

Most people think that parental responsibility only affects such things as choice of school and involvement in medical decisions about children, but the implications of not having it are far more serious.

I’ve been asked why grandparents and not some other family member should be granted parental responsibility on the parents’ death. 60% of childcare is provided by grandparents in this country. 82% of grandparents provide a degree of child care. The majority of grandparents are therefore not only capable, but deemed suitable by the children’s parents, and are already involved in the children’s care. 1% of grandchildren have their grandparent as their main carer.

What galvanised me into getting involved in this campaign was a case where Social Services attempted to stop grandparents from seeking to care for their grandchildren when the parents had become unable to. The Social Workers told the grandparents that the children should be adopted because ‘they were easy to place’.

Social Services delayed the grandparents’ assessment for 6 months, and the children remained in foster care for a further 12 months while the residence application was heard by the Court (and contested by Social Services). Eventually the grandparents did gain residence, but it cost them £10,000 in legal fees.

Perhaps Social Services had good intentions, but the delay in resolving such matters was unacceptable, as were the legal costs involved. This situation is made worse by legal aid funding being reduced this year, with many solicitors considering giving up legal aid work.

Surely there is no incentive for Social Services to put children up for adoption? John Hemming MP with cross party support from 22 other Members of Parliament are concerned that there is. They have signed an Early Day Motion (EDM626) which reads “This House notes that local authorities and their staff are incentivised to ensure that children are adopted; is concerned about increasing numbers of babies being taken into care, not for the safety of the infant, but because they are easy to get adopted; and calls urgently for effective scrutiny of care proceedings to stop this from happening.”

To help safeguard your grandchildren’s future please sign this petition today by visiting the Prime Minister’s website and signing the Grandparents’ Rights Petition.

The web address is: