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'If we had simply accepted that ageist foster parents rule, it would still be with us'

In May, TheJournal.ie exclusively reported about the case where grandparents were told they were too old to be the foster carers of their grandchild.

IN MAY, THEJOURNAL.IE reported that a young child had 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 when they were told they would never be approved as official carers.

Following the publication of the article, there was outrage among politicians, advocacy groups and grandparents around the country, which resulted in a promise to lift the ban on older foster parents in the new year.

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

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

foster care

When the case was first brought to TheJournal.ie’s attention by Independent TD Mattie McGrath, questions were asked as to whether age could really be a reason for a happy child to be removed from the care of their grandparents?

Tusla told TheJournal.ie at the time that there were guidelines in operation which state it is preferrable not to place a child in a home where there is a 40-year age gap or more between the carers and the foster child.

However, the agency explained it was not a hard-and-fast rule which is usually dealt with on a case-by-case basis. A spokesperson said it did not always apply in the case of grandparents.

After TheJournal.ie exclusively broke the story it was picked up by other publications, including the Irish Independent, the Daily Mail, the Mirror, Newstalk and Irish Central.

The issue was then highlighted by RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live programme, which featured the grandfather (with his identity disguised due to child protection laws).

download (7) Source: Screengrab/RTE

Experts in family law spoke out to say this case was not an isolated one, with one family law solicitor stating the issue was arising in the courts on a regular basis.

It wasn’t just Mattie McGrath that was paying attention now. The story began to gain traction with other politicians such as Fine Gael TD and family lawyer, Josepha Madigan who said it was very important that grandparents know their rights in cases like this.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Joan Burton called on the Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone for clarity on the issue.

McGrath who first raised the issue after hearing about the case this time last year, today says:

It was one of the most heartbreaking cases to have crossed my desk as a public representative. That remains the case.

“That the wellbeing of the child was the grandparent’s sole priority was evident in every conversation.

They were simply at a loss to comprehend how the institutions of the State could have reached into their lives in this way. From their perspective they had made innumerable efforts to comply with every reasonable condition placed upon them.

He said the age gap between the child and them was out of their control.

“In my conversations with Tusla, I was assured that the provision outlining the age gap requirement was to be applied with discretion. No mention was made, or no guarantee was ever given, to the effect that Tusla were even contemplating removing it as a requirement for a successful fostering arrangement,” said McGrath.

Indeed I think now that if I had simply accepted that, the requirement would still be with us.

“When the case went public, initially with the assistance of Christina Finn from TheJournal.ie, my office was overwhelmed with emails and phone calls.

“One of the most disconcerting aspects of that was listening to the fear it generated in grandparents right across the State.”

McGrath said many grandparents who contacted his office thought the age requirement was part of some new legislation and that a review was now in place, essentially, to remove grandchildren from their homes.

The Tipperary TD said he has maintained contact with Tusla throughout the year and made several dozen representations about the issue and also raised the matter during an Oireachtas Topical Issue Dáil debate with Minister Katherine Zappone.

In fairness to Minister Zappone, she made every effort to respond in a prompt and compassionate manner. During my Topical Issue debate she indicated she would instruct Tusla to immediately review the age gap requirement.
At a human level it was a guideline that contributed to enormous pain being experienced quite unnecessarily.

McGrath said it was clear in his mind the only reasonable option open to Tusla was to abandon what he calls the “ageist and discriminatory provision”.

In November, Minister Zappone confirmed to McGrath that Tusla is to remove the ban on older foster parents after she raised the issue with the agency and asked for a review of the guidelines to be carried out.

“In the revised policy, the reference to the 40 year age gap will be removed and it is anticipated that this will be completed for implementation before the end of the year,” said the minister.

“I was delighted,” said McGrath.

As a public representative it is of course very gratifying to achieve this kind of result. It is no more than the public deserve.
I am under no illusions however about the need to continue probing the child welfare arrangements that currently exist within the State.
I would also say that it is only when a very public spotlight is thrown on issues like this that change seems to happen at a noticeably increased pace. That says a lot about how far we have to go.

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

Read: Ban on older foster parents to be lifted in the New Year>

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