It took me nearly two years to set up a support group for grandparents , in Bristol, who have lost contact with their grandchildren. I have spent a great deal of time considering why it has been so difficult for grandparents to put their heads above the parapet, I believe there are lots of reasons, it could be that they are involved in a court case so of course they don’t say anything for fear of jeopardising their case, they are afraid that if they speak out it could make a heartbreaking situation even worse and for me I feel as a grandparent I should be able to make it better and to have failed fills me with shame.
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!’
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