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Couple Denied Custody of Granddaughter Because They’re “Too Old”

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Sometimes I think the world has gone mad. Last week I read a heartbreaking story about a couple in Essex, England. Grandparents, aged 58 and 70, were not allowed to adopt their 3-year-old granddaughter after their daughter, who suffers from mental health issues, was persuaded to give her up. Social workers were granted a care order last month after claiming the couple would be incapable of caring for the 3-year-old girl when she reached adolescence.

Although the little girl was being cared for by her grandparents after her mother was hospitalized, Southend Council removed the child from their home. This happened after the grandparents missed a three-week window to appeal the ruling, as they could not afford a lawyer. One has now offered to take up the case pro bono.

The grandfather said age was “one of two factors” behind the decision. He told the BBC, “The other factor they said was that my wife suffered from depression a few years ago. I can’t see why we are in this position — they know we care about her. It’s devastating, it breaks our hearts to be like this.” He added, “We’re very much able to care for her. We feel as though we want to dedicate our lives to our granddaughter, we love her so much.”

Should there be an age limit on caring for children?

My own mother is 67 and my dad will be 70 this year — both are extremely youthful and more than capable of looking after my kids. Granted, when my children will be 12 and 16, my parents will be 73 and 76, but I would argue that they would then have help from aunts and uncles and cousins as well. I would be horrified to think that in the wake of mine and my husband’s death, my children would be given over into the care system and perhaps separated or given to strangers. The thought frankly gives me nightmares.

Back to the case, I would argue that since the grandparents have already been a constant in the child’s life (the grandfather did the night feeds when she was a baby and helped teach her to walk), are blood relatives, and have already raised a family, they’re ideal candidates to look after their granddaughter. As of now, they have been told that the last date they will be able to see the child is July 30th. Can you even imagine their horror and distress at perhaps never seeing their own grandchild again?

Obviously, as grandparents age, they aren’t as robust and energetic as they once were. But does that deem them incapable of raising children? My dad is as youthful as he was when he was 35. When I was last home in Ireland, he took my children rock pooling — climbing over rocks, slipping on seaweed, lifting my 4-year-old as he went. He loved it. My mom takes them on trips to the movies, down to the park, and even runs aground playing football. (This is after both my parents have had knee replacement surgery!)

Yes, I know I am incredibly lucky to have parents in such great health, as this isn’t always the case. But with advancements in IVF, we are seeing more and more mothers having children well into their 40s, and on occasion 50s. Yet, this grandmother aged 58 is deemed “too old” to raise her own grandchild. Solicitor Karina Chetwynd is hoping to overturn the care order by arguing the couple were not given a fair hearing and have been deprived of their right to a family life. Their appeal must take place before the child is settled with a new family and an adoption order is granted, which could happen as soon as September.

For me, the worst part in all of this is that the mother may recover from her mental health issues, only to have lost her child. Meanwhile, the little girl will be raised apart from her family and perhaps grow up thinking she was unwanted by her birth family, which clearly isn’t the case. John Hemming, who runs the Justice for Families campaign group, told the UK’s Daily Mail, “[Social workers] use Section 20s as a cheap way of getting children into care when actually it isn’t necessary. The mother clearly didn’t have the mental capacity to volunteer to put her child into care … if the child was successfully being looked after by her grandparents there is a question of lawfulness.”

So who is in the right?

My personal opinion is that families should try and stick together. I’d be asking if there are other family members to help these loving grandparents as they raise the child. She is wanted, she is cared for, she is loved. Isn’t that enough?

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