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Heartbroken grandparents say Tusla custody battle is 'killing' them

Following yesterday’s exclusive report by TheJournal.ie, Tusla has commented further on the situation.

THE GRANDFATHER AT the centre of the custody battle with the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) over their grandchild said the situation is “killing them”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie this morning, the grandfather said “it never should have come to this. All we want is our grandchild back with us while we are still on this earth”.

“It’s so dehumanising and is causing a lot of distress to the whole family and community. My wife is struggling.”

The child was removed from their care and placed with foster carers despite protestations from the couple, the child’s school and doctors.

The exclusive story, reported by TheJournal.ie yesterday morning, revealed the child had been living with its grandmother and grandfather for more than four years when they were told they would never be approved as foster carers.

In a letter – seen by TheJournal.ie - 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 age of the grandparents 

A spokesperson for Tusla told TheJournal.ie today that age “was not the only consideration in this case”.

The agency added the “child needed other kind of care”, and it acted in “the best interests of the child in this case”.

The spokesperson stated the reasons for the couple not being approved as foster carers were listed in the letter supplied to the grandparents, the details of which are included in yesterday’s report.

It added that the “love and care of the grandparents” in this case were not being questioned, but that Tusla does not believe the couple are able to reach the needs for the child.

The agency said the role the grandparents played in the life of the child was important and it hoped it would continue.

Commenting on the situation today, Fred McBride, Chief Executive of Tusla, said in a statement:

I want to reassure people that Tusla values the important role of the extended family, especially grandparents in raising a child in care.
While, as a general guide, it is preferable not to place a child in a home on a long-term basis where there is a 40-year age gap or more between the carers and the foster child.
But of course, there is flexibility around this guidance, especially where the child has a relationship with a grandparent or other relative.  Each case is treated individually having regard for the needs of the child.
 A decision to remove a child from a placement is only made if, after a careful consideration of all of the circumstances, it is determined that the child’s needs cannot be met in the current placement.  Tusla’s priority is to ensure that each child is living with a foster carer who is best suited to meet their needs.  In many cases, this is a relative, in others it is with a general foster carer.

Court battle 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live last night, the grandfather said he was “gutted to bits” when the child was taken from them.

grandfather Source: Screengrab/RTE

“I mean we’re totally and utterly distressed over it because he was our pride and joy,” he told the programme.

“[My wife is] same as myself sure she’s gutted and sure she’s the same way like.”

The couple said they gathered testimonies from the child’s school as well as a consultant pediatrician who declared the child as being emotionally stable with his grandparents.

grandfather 4 Source: Screengrab/RTE

“I don’t know how many back up and we’ll say references from people around and this that and the other,” the grandfather said on air.

He said they would willingly give up the child if and when doctors stated they were unable to care for the child.

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

All we want is to care for our grandchild, until such a time the parents will be able to take the child on again one day. That’s the hope.

He said the mother had a difficult life. “People aren’t down all the time, there are plenty of good people in this world suffering from depression.”

Since the initial report and last night’s show, the story has been widely picked up by other media outlets and broadcasters.

The grandfather said while he wanted his grandchild returned to their care, he said he would settle for access, which he claims has been restricted.

He said he also wants the mother and father to play some sort of role in the child’s life.

We are willing to put all our efforts into caring for the child, the child is our world.

Calls for ageism to play no part in placement

A number of TDs have called for the case to be reviewed and for the Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, to investigate the case.

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs Anne Rabbitte, Independent TD Mattie McGrath and the former Tánaiste, Labour’s Joan Burton have called on the Zappone to investigate the case.

McGrath said it is “absolutely outrageous the way Tusla have treated this honest hard working family”. He called for swift action to be taken.

Rabbitte said she found the case “extremely worrying”.

Questions need to be answered in this case specifically, as to why it was deemed in the best interests of this child to be removed from close family members, despite positive testimonies from the child’s school principal, a local GP and a consultant paediatrician.

She said in wider policy terms, foster placement guidelines as set by Tusla may need to undergo a root and branch review.

I do not believe it is in children’s best interests if it is the case that immediate family members, such as grandparents – who already have a strong bond with the child, and who would otherwise be suitable foster parents – are not being considered because the 40 year guideline is the overriding criteria considered by the Foster Care Committees.This should be reviewed to ensure that the well-being of the child is always the primary consideration in the decision making process.

Burton said the minister should “make it clear that there is no ageism involved when decisions of this importance are being made”.

While the welfare of the child is always of the utmost concern I think we would all agree that keeping a family together should be a priority whenever it is a genuine possibility.

She said the passing of the Children’s Referendum was meant to ensure that a child centred approach to all decision making in cases such as this be taken.

Every single case must be examined on its own merits with the best interests of the child being paramount. We must not end up in a situation where stability or access to biological family is being restricted because of inflexibility or a lack of common sense decision making.

Read: Grandparents and foster care – how the system works

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