Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Memories when my children were on stage, memories to savour and to keep,
Monday, 29 November 2010
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Saturday, 27 November 2010
Grandparents (Access Rights)
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give grandparents rights of access to their grandchildren in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.
Although this might be entitled the Grandparents (Access Rights) Bill, it could just as easily be renamed the Grandchildren's Rights Bill. If the Bill progresses, it will increase the rights of grandchildren to access their grandparents.
I want to thank many of the campaigners who were involved in this campaign, which has gone on for some time, including my predecessor as MP for Brigg and Goole, Mr Ian Cawsey, who moved a similar Bill a couple of years ago that was sponsored by you, Mr Speaker. A number of organisations are involved, including the Grandparents Association and I also want to draw on some of the work undertaken by the Centre for Social Justice. Above all, I want to pay tribute to my constituent, Dorothy Fagge, who has been a dedicated campaigner on this issue for a number of years, having twice been to court to access two different sets of her grandchildren. I shall talk about Dorothy's experience in a moment.
Some 1.3 million families in England use grandparents as the primary source of care for about 1.8 million children, offering a saving to the taxpayer of about £4.8 billion a year given the average cost of child care. That would equate to a cost of about £92 million a week to the public purse.
The Grandparents Association estimates that about 1 million children do not see their grandparents because families have separated or lost touch. For me, the role that my grandparents played in my childhood and until they passed away was incredibly significant, and its value cannot be quantified. There is strong evidence regarding the value of grandparental involvement, particularly in the lives of adolescents, in reducing adjustment difficulties when marriages or partnerships fail. That was reported a few years ago in a national study, "Involved Grandparenting and Child Well-being".
That view is shared not only by those who have an interest in this area and have campaigned in it, but by young people. A study that was quoted in the Centre for Social Justice's family law and children report showed that 75% of young people said that a grandparent was the most important person, or one of the most important people, in their life. A sample of 1,500 young people showed that grandparental involvement in schooling and education is linked to lower maladjustment scores and fewer contact problems and that being able to talk to a grandparent is linked to their having fewer emotional and behavioural problems.
As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, before I came to the House I was a schoolteacher. I taught in a number of very deprived communities in Yorkshire and we sometimes found that grandparents were the sole point of contact in a child's life, acting as an anchor or rock. Often, when all else around was failing, the grandparents were the only people left standing for
that young person. Sadly, grandfathers are sometimes the only male role model whom many young people encounter.
"Grandparents are a link to the past and a bridge to the future, for family history and medical details. To give a child a sense of belonging from the roots of their family."
"Grandparents are known to provide care for grandchildren more extensively than other relatives, and we believe that this puts them in a special category."
Grandparents can face a number of legal problems, particularly when they have been denied access to their grandchildren as a result of bereavement or divorce. With bereavement, the surviving parent might find a new partner, which might involve the grandchildren being introduced to a new family. Over time, the family might move and grow ever more distant from the bereaved grandparents. With divorce and separation, the grandparents are often forced to take sides and it is human nature for them to side with their own child. That can lead to children being used as a weapon in particularly acrimonious divorces or separations. Access is often denied or, even worse, traded for financial reasons.
All that places grandparents in an incredibly difficult position. Currently, the law is not necessarily on their side. There is no automatic right for a grandparent to go to court to seek contact with their grandchild. In fact, they must seek the court's permission to seek access through it. The process can be long winded and very expensive. This morning, I spoke to Lynn Chesterman of the Grandparents Association, who told me that the average cost of such a process is about £20,000. That option might be accessible for better-off grandparents, but there would be no possibility of those from more deprived or poorer backgrounds pursuing it.
My constituent, Dorothy Fagge, whom I mentioned earlier, was able to go to court and use substantial amounts of her own finances to gain access to her grandchildren, which had been denied to her in two different circumstances, one of which was incredibly tragic. Despite all her resources and her ability to pay for legal representation, it took her more than a year to gain access.
This is not an easy situation to address. I understand that, and there will always be cases in which contact with grandparents is not desirable, but the courts must determine that. However, I seek through the Bill some changes to the law to protect grandchildren in gaining access to their grandparents. I would like to see an automatic right for grandparents to seek contact through the courts so that they do not have to go through the double process of having to seek leave first. I hope that, through the review undertaken by the coalition Government, there will be moves to establish some form of early mediation to sort out contact issues, which happens through the Australian family mediation centres.
It has also been suggested that there should be a presumption in law that children have a right to their grandparents, subject to the appropriate protections I mentioned earlier. One recent proposal, which is worthy of further investigation, is that children should have, at the very least, an automatic right to letterbox contact with their grandparents while proceedings in the courts are progressing. In the case of a bereaved grandparent, there is a strong argument that the grandparent, who is often the child's only link to that side of the family, should inherit the right that previously existed for the parent.
I know that this is not an easy issue, and that the Government are already examining it through the family law review, which is due to report next year. As I said at the beginning of my speech, my own grandparents were incredibly important to me. I know that for many people the role that their grandparents play in their lives is one that they value for the rest of their lives. It is appalling when grandchildren are used as a tool in divorce or in separation. That is why I would like to see implemented the changes that I have outlined, so that we can better protect the rights of grandparents and of grandchildren.
That Andrew Percy, Tracey Crouch, Justin Tomlinson, Tom Blenkinsop, Mr Gregory Campbell, Karen Bradley, James Wharton, Greg Mulholland, Chris Skidmore, Martin Vickers, Mr Brian Binley and Craig Whittaker present the Bill.
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
What are your memories are they good ones?
I know when I smell sweet peas I think of my grandfather, as he grew lots of them in his beautiful garden and I remember a tiny doll my Granny Jo gave me called Isabelle.
Please share your thoughts.
Monday, 22 November 2010
When you find yourself in this situation, when all lines of communication have broken down you start to explore the different options open to you. You will soon discover that as a grandparent you have no automatic legal rights to see your grandchildren, but you will also find solicitors who are only to willing to apply for leave (permission) to the court for you to then apply for a contact order. It is necessary to apply to the court for leave to apply, as a grandparent, as set down in ‘The Children Act 1989.’
In the eyes of the law grandparents are referred to as “irrelevant persons.’
Complicated, it is indeed.
I read with interest a newspaper article recently, where a retired judge had gone through this process and all the anguish it involves for everyone concerned, he and his family decided to withdraw their application as the emotional strain was too great but he also concluded that even if an order for contact was agreed it would lead to turmoil of a kind that would be detrimental to the children. He also stated, that he believes that the approach of the family court ,in cases such as these is fundamentally flawed. And that the welfare of the children should not involve a court battle between to factions.
I speak to grandparents daily, all with their own very painful experiences, causes are family breakdown, alcohol, drugs, bereavement and grandparents who have been full time carers to their grandchildren, for years, only for mum/dad to decide that she/he wants the children back , what would you do if you opened your front door one morning to find two policeman and a social worker there to take your grandchildren away?
In some of these cases the children are returned to drug and alcohol users, lives that are full of dangers.
What ever happened to child protection?
Are we never going to learn by past experiences, when people ring alarm bells to the authorities, they must act, they must listen, saying sorry after a tragic event is not enough. Take responsibility.
I must make it clear that of course if mum/dad have decided that they do want their children back everything must be done to make it happen. But not like this. These children had never seen their mum/dad, had no contact at all, mum/dad were complete strangers to them.
It has to be handled sensitively , slowly and with love.
Of course this issue does not only involve grandparents, many fathers /mothers are going through similar experiences, having no contact with their children , and yes fathers/mothers do of course have rights but so often ,like the retired judge they feel to battle on with court cases etc is detrimental to their children.
Children have to continue to live their lives with whoever the resident parent may be, and it may not always be the life that the non-resident parent or grandparent would choose for their children/grandchildren but to continue through the courts will make life more difficult for them than it very probably is already.
If a retired judge could not break through, then what hope do we have with no knowledge of the law at all, putting our trust in very highly paid solicitors who tell us ‘you have a good case, and to help you with our fees, here’s a paying in book dated every month until 2012!’
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Like being a parent for the first time, no-one tells you how to do it, you do it by making mistakes and learning by those mistakes. Being a grandparent is no different, no-one tells you how to play this important role, the trouble is that when you make mistakes it can have catastrophic consequences.
A wrong word, a misunderstood look is sometimes enough for it to start to fall apart.In a perfect world we would all be respectful of one another, make allowances be caring but sadly this is not a perfect world, people are busy, they are anxious, the outlook is uncertain, but we ALL still need other human beings in our lives.
As a grandparent remember how it was when you were a parent for the first time, be there to be supportive never to interfere allow your children to make the same mistakes you made and to learn from them, think your own thoughts but leave just as thought not the spoken word.
Saturday, 20 November 2010
Thursday, 18 November 2010
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
The phone rings ,it rings and rings,
‘Hello, how are you, what did you say?’
Oh that’s fantastic news, how did it happen,
He asked you to be his friend on Facebook ,you accepted,
He said he thought you had forgotten him,
He was told that you didn’t care,
But you have always been waiting there.
I smile and cry along with you,
Its been a good year for lost ones being found,
It is why I do what I do , we hope together,
We support each other, we fight,
And speak to those we think can make a difference.
Inside I cry out loud ,who is listening to me,
When will it be my turn, when will I make someone’s phone ring,
And say, ‘Hello, it’s happened?’
When, oh when.
Monday, 15 November 2010
A special guardianship order is an order appointing one or more individuals to be a child's 'special guardian'. It is a private law order made under the Children Act 1989 and is intended for those children who cannot live with their birth parents and who would benefit from a legally secure placement. It is a more secure order than a residence order because a parent cannot apply to discharge it unless they have the permission of the court to do so, however it is less secure than an adoption order because it does not end the legal relationship between the child and his/her birth parents.
- Any guardian of the child.
- Any individual who has a residence order or any person where a residence order is in force and who has the consent of the person in whose favour the residence order is made.
- Anyone with whom the child has lived for at least three years out of the last five years.
- Anyone with the consent of the local authority if the child is in care.
- A local authority foster parent with whom the child has lived for at least one year preceding the application.
- Anyone who has the consent of those with parental responsibility.
- Anyone who has the leave of the court.
- NOTE: You must be over 18 years of age and you can apply on your own or jointly with another person.
- Whether the child has brothers and sisters and details of both parents.
- The relationship a child has with other family members and the arrangements for the child to see or keep in touch with different family members.
- Details of the child's relationship with his/her parents.
- The parent/s' and the child's wishes and feelings.
- The prospective Guardian's family composition and circumstances.
- Parenting capacity.
- Medical information on the child, prospective special guardian and the birth parent(s).
- An assessment of how a Special Guardianship Order would meet a child's long term interests as compared with other types of order.
- Financial assistance (means tested).
- Assistance with the arrangements for contact between a child, his/her parents and any relatives that the local authority consider to be beneficial.
- This assistance can include cash to help with the cost of travel, entertainment, and mediation to help resolve difficulties on contact.
- Respite care.
- Counselling, advice, information and other support services.
- Services to enable children, parents and special guardians to discuss matters, this might include setting up a support group.
- Therapeutic services for the child.
What do we mean by parental responsibility?
The Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as, ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’.
Broadly this means that a parent with parental responsibility can make decisions about the child’s upbringing and is responsible for the child’s welfare. Sometimes decisions are so important that the law requires both parents with parental responsibility to consent to an action, for example controversial medical decisions. Good practice requires consultation between parents, when possible, even if only one parent has parental responsibility. A parent may not act in a way that is inconsistent with any court order.
The term ‘parental responsibility’ is used to show that parents have rights because they have obligations towards their children.
Who has parental responsibility?
All mothers have parental responsibility for their children. Any father who is, or has been, married to his child’s mother has parental responsibility and, following a change in the law, so does an unmarried father who is registered on his child’s birth certificate after 1 December 2003 (Adoption and Children Act 2002 s.111). Other unmarried fathers and anyone else, including grandparents, may acquire parental responsibility.
How can an unmarried father acquire parental responsibility?
An unmarried father without parental responsibility can acquire this by marrying the mother or by making a parental responsibility agreement with her. The agreement may be achieved more easily while the parents are together but, even if they have separated, the mother may consent to making the agreement. The agreement must be made and recorded in the manner required by regulations. Further information about how to make an agreement can be obtained from any court that deals with family matters, a solicitor. If an unmarried father wishes to obtain parental responsibility and the mother refuses to make an agreement, or her whereabouts are unknown, he should apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
The child's welfare will be paramount and the court will consider all the circumstances, including the commitment the father has shown the child, the attachment between them and his reasons for seeking the order.
A court must make a parental responsibility order if it makes a Residence Order in favour of the father.
Does a father without parental responsibility have any rights or responsibilities?
Whether or not a father has parental responsibility he has the same liability to support his child financially, the same rules of inheritance apply and he has the same right to apply to the court for a Residence or Contact Order. If his child is looked after by a local authority he has many, but not all, of the same rights as a father with parental responsibility. His agreement to an Adoption Order is not required but the local authority must consult him, even if the mother objects, unless there are exceptional circumstances for not doing so.
Can a parent loose parental responsibility?
A mother or married father will only lose parental responsibility if the child is adopted or freed for adoption. An unmarried father’s parental responsibility can be ended by a court on an application by anyone with parental responsibility or by the child if he or she has the court’s leave (permission) to apply.The child’s welfare will be the court’s paramount consideration. Parental responsibility ends when a child is 18 unless it is ended earlier by a court.
Is it possible for grandparents to have parental responsibility?
Grandparents cannot get a Parental Responsibility Order but if you are bringing up your grandchildren you will have parental responsibility for a child living with you if a court makes a Residence Order in your favour or you are the child's guardians.. A Residence Order says who a child is to live with and gives parental responsibility to the person with the order if he or she does not already have it. If the court does not discharge the order earlier, it will end when the child is 16, unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as the child’s learning disabilities. While a residence order continues you will share parental responsibility with the child’s parent(s).
Are grandparents with a residence order in the same position as parents?
Grandparents with parental responsibility are not in exactly the same position as parents with parental responsibility. One difference that often troubles grandparents is their inability to appoint a guardian to take their place.
Who has parental responsibility for a 'looked after' child?
The Children Act 1989 defines children as ‘looked after’ if they are in the care of, or are provided with accommodation by, a local authority. When a child is in care, the local authority have parental responsibility for the child. Parents keep their parental responsibility too but the authority decide how far they can meet their parental responsibility. Parents may still make a parental responsibility agreement or a father can apply for a Parental Responsibility Order. A local authority that accommodate a child do not have parental responsibility.
Will parental responsibility give grandparents more influence over what happens to a looked after child?
Before making any decisions about a child that they, or intend to look after, a local authority must, so far as is reasonably practicable, find out the wishes and feelings of the child, his or her parents, anyone with parental responsibility and any other person they consider relevant. Your wishes and feelings must be taken into account if you have parental responsibility otherwise it is up to the local authority to decide if they are relevant. If your son is the father of a looked after child your position is the same whether or not your son has parental responsibility.
Will parental responsibility make a difference to grandparents seeking contact with a looked after child?
Where a child is looked after, the local authority must try to promote contact with his or her parents, those with parental responsibility and relatives unless this is not reasonably practicable or not for the child’s welfare. Grandparents can remind local authorities of this provision and the right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and press them to comply with their duties. If the child is subject to a Care Order, the local authority must allow the child to have reasonable contact with his or her parents and anyone, including grandparents, who had parental responsibility before the child came into care unless they obtain an order allowing contact to be ended. Grandparents without parental responsibility who are refused contact must apply to the court for leave to apply for a Contact Order if they want contact with a child in care.
Will grandparents with parental responsibility get more support from a local authority?
A local authority has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are ‘in need’. Whether you have parental responsibility or not, if you are bringing up your grandchild you may receive help or services from your local authority if the child is ‘in need’, if for example he or she is disabled. The local authority has a discretion to pay a contribution towards the child’s maintenance if you have a Residence Order. However, the local authority are likely to pay an allowance only if they have looked after the child, or would have to look after the child if you did not do so.
Sunday, 14 November 2010
Charlotte Leslie MP meeting some of The Bristol Grandparents Support Group.
(Photo names left to right, Ann ,Daphne ,Charlotte ,Ruth , Mary, Audrey and front row Marc and Jane Jackson.)
On Saturday Nov 13th Charlotte Leslie MP was invited to meet some of the, ‘The Bristol Grandparents Support Group’ and to listen to the issues that face grandchildren and grandparents who are denied contact with each other.
Spokesperson, Jane Jackson for the group said,
“Over one million children in the UK are affected by being denied contact, the situation that they and grandparents find themselves in can be caused by any of these situations, separation/divorce of their parents/children, alcohol/drug dependency ,domestic violence, bereavement or family feud.
With The Family Justice Review being discussed at the moment with a report due in the Spring, it is vital that the government take this opportunity to address the heartbreaking position we and our grandchildren find themselves in. I believe that when a couple make the decision to split mediation should be a compulsory element and during that mediation legal agreements drawn up concerning contact with firstly non resident parents and then the grandparents and all extended family, if the agreement is not adhered to there must be consequences, at present there is very rarely any redress.
The children must also be involved in this process.
This has never been about Grandparents Rights but the rights of our grandchildren, they have the right to contact with their grandparents and extended family if it is safe for them to do so.
Of course there may well be situations when it is not safe for children to see their grandparents but equally there are some parents who should not have contact with their children , but in both cases that is a very small minority.
To have Charlotte Leslie championing the rights of our grandchildren is most definitely a very big step in the right direction.”
Friday, 12 November 2010
Dates for meetings of The Bristol Grandparents’ Support Group.
Friday February 4th at 2pm.
Saturday April 2nd 7pm.
Friday June 3rd 2pm
Saturday August 6th 7pm.
Friday October 7th 2pm
Saturday December 3rd 7pm.
Bristol Grandparents Support Group.