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'They are not alone': Grandparents fighting for custody of their grandchildren not unique

Last week, TheJournal.ie reported about the removal of a child from the care of the grandparents due to their age.

Image: Shutterstock/carballo

A LEADING LAWYER in the area of child and family law has said the case where grandparents lost custody of their grandchild is not unique.

Gareth Noble of KOD Lyons practice told TheJournal.ie this issue is arising in the courts on a regular basis.

He said it was an issue being discussed across all disciplines in the care system and called for a public debate on the issue of foster care.

Last Monday, an exclusive TheJournal.ie report revealed a young child has been removed from the care of its grandparents and placed with foster carers despite protestations from the couple, the child’s school and doctors.

The child had been living with its grandmother and grandfather for more than four years but they have been told they will never be approved as foster carers.

Too old to be foster carers 

In a letter – seen by TheJournal.ie - the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) told the couple they are too old to be the foster carers of their grandchild.

They are both in their mid-60s. The child is in primary school.

The child’s parents are not in a position to care for the child and the mother suffers with mental health difficulties.

The grandfather told TheJournal.ie this week that despite national media coverage of the situation, Tusla has not been in touch with them. They are currently fighting for justice in the courts.

He said he was briefly allowed a phone call with his grandchild during the week.

It never had to come to this. I didn’t want to go down this road. But I said this was the way it would go if we didn’t get answers, but they thought we were bluffing.

Speaking about the parents of the child, he said they were coping, but said he hoped one day the child could return to their care.

“He [the father] has to keep going with his life, that’s what I told him,” said the grandfather of the youngster.

“They are not alone,” said Noble.

Greater flexibility needs to be shown by Tulsa

Grandparents are the obvious choice 

When children are taken into care, the first port of call is to look at the immediate family. “The grandparents are the obvious choice,” said Noble.

Even if they are grandparents, the must be approved by a fostering committee meeting and this is where all the guidelines, such as that of age, kicks in.
Generally, that age guideline is flexible when it comes to family members.

He said the reason of age is often cited in foster care rejections, much to the frustration of grandparents.

The grandfather at the centre of the custody battle said he and his wife are heartbroken with the situation.

He said they are fit and capable of caring for the child.

A number of TDs have called for a review of Tulsa’s decision, with some going so far as calling for an overall “root and branch” review of the agency due to recent controversies surrounding the organisation being reported in the media.

“Grandparents are very frustrated with the system – which is a system they are not used to navigating… They are not given the significant recognition they deserve,” said Noble.

Mistrust of grandparents 

He said he felt there could also be a certain amount of mistrust of grandparents by the authorities.

“When they look at the parents of the child, the grandparents own children, there is sometimes an innate suspicion towards grandparents, that they will not oversee and carry out the care order.”

Often times care orders mean restrictive access to the parents of the child.

The grandparents are not given enough credit in a lot of situations. Often they are the people that have raised concerns with the social workers and they will fully respect the care order handed down by the court.

He said grandparents are often the people who first raise concerns with the social care departments about the safety of their grandchild.

I am aware of a case of grandparents raising concerns about the care of their grandchild with department of social care. They looked after the child and raised it as there own, only for the CFA to remove the child from their care, citing age as one of the reasons.

He said that more supports needed to be offered to grandparents who offer a loving and stable home to children, instead of removing the child for often menial reasons.

The sad part of the family care proceedings is that grandparents aren’t party to the discussions and proceedings. A case is usually the CFA against the parents and it is difficult for grandparents to get their views across in court.

He said the issue of social workers was the next issue that was going to explode in the care system.

You have social workers straight out of college dealing with extremely delicate and complicated situations with families.

Pressure on social workers 

The burnout for social workers is huge due to their workload, he said.

He raised concerns about children, who have gone through extremely difficult situations, who already have trust issues, having more than three social workers assigned to their case.

When a child is taken into care, it is often an emergency, so a social worker is appointed to the child. Then there is often a different social worker who goes to court, then a long term social worker is appointed. There is often more than three.
There is no such thing as a child having one social worker. Then there are the children who don’t even get a social worker appointed to them.

Fine Gael TD and family lawyer, Josepha Madigan has said it is very important that grandparents know their rights.

The recent heart-breaking case, where a child in care was removed from grandparents who were assessed by the Child and Family Agency as not being able to meet the child’s needs, has put the spotlight on the rights of grandparents.

She said it is important that all grandparents know their rights and realise there is an appeal process in place, whereby decisions can be challenged.

It is important for us all to recognise the contribution grandparents make, enriching the lives of a child through contact, as well as providing care and support where a parent is unable.

The Dublin Rathdown TD said the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 radically increased the rights of grandparents to make applications in court, where agreement has not been possible including guardianship, joint custody or sole custody.

It is vital that all grandparents know that they have a crucial role in a child’s life, be it access or care when it is in the best interests of the child.

EXCLUSIVE: Heartbroken grandparents say Tusla custody battle is ‘killing’ them>

EXCLUSIVE:Young child taken from grandparents and put into foster care because of their age>

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