Full story of grandparents ‘too old to adopt’
WHEN news broke earlier this week about grandparents who, at the age of 58 and 70, had been told they were “too old” to adopt their three-year-old granddaughter, there were howls of protest at the apparently callous decision.
MPs and campaigners spoke out in defence of the couple, who live in the coastal town of Shoeburyness, Essex.
The grandmother, a shop assistant, and her husband, a retired fireman, attacked the “wicked” ruling and questioned how it could happen in a “civilised society”.
Yet the story is not all it seemed. The previously unseen court judgment reveals a far messier picture of the background of the family – who cannot be identified for legal reasons – and the difficulty in placing the child with her grandparents. There is only one mention of the couple’s age in the ruling, which has been redacted in places, and no further comment is made.
The judgment, made by District Judge Stephen Hodges on June 17, details the circumstances in which the child was put into care.
It says the child’s mother cut herself with a kitchen knife in her daughter’s presence on Jan 16 and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The child was placed with her grandparents for three days before the mother “objected” and she was placed in foster care.
The grandparents allege that no legal representative was present when their daughter made the final decision to hand over the child to the authorities. During a radio interview on the
Richie Allen Show, which is broadcast online in association with a website belonging to the conspiracy theorist David Icke, the grandfather said his daughter “wanted her to come and stay with us”.
But in an interview conducted with the mother, and outlined in the court judgment, she said that she had experienced an “unhappy and dysfunctional childhood” and “there has been no evidence put forward” by the grandparents to demonstrate that they had addressed their parenting style.
The judgment also states that the grandfather admitted under oath that his wife had on occasion slapped their own child’s legs for poor behaviour, while the daughter claimed she had been “abused physically” by them several times. According to the judgment, the grandfather admitted that his wife suffered long-standing depression which had caused her to miss many meetings over their own daughter’s future. She was still receiving a low dose of medication to treat the illness, al- though she hadn’t suffered a depressive episode for “a year or two”, and concerns were raised that she would be able to cope any better with her granddaughter than she had with her own child. The judge said that while he accepted “clear evidence that they have been good grandparents”, his main concern was that the grandfather had indicated he wanted to stay in touch with his daughter as well as caring for his granddaughter. “I just cannot envisage how the triangular relationship can possibly work,” he said.
There have been previous examples of deliberate bias against grandparents seeking adoption. Last November, three social workers in North East Lincolnshire were heavily criticised for “grossly overstating” evidence against a three-year-old boy’s grandparents in order to support the council’s attempts to place him into care.
However, Lynn Chesterman, the chief executive of the Grandparents Association, said she would be very surprised to find examples of overt ageism in the courts. “I suspect there are some people who imply it, and I’m not saying it’s all totally gone, but they obviously can’t turn people down just because of age,” she added.
The grandparents represented themselves in the family court hearing last month but their case has since been taken up by Karina Chetwynd, a solicitor with John Copland and Son, on a pro bono basis. She said yesterday that the court should issue a full transcript of the hearing and that her client stood by the claim that he was told he was too old to care for his granddaughter. She added that the couple were still considering an appeal.
“They need to make an informed decision whether they can battle on,” she added. “I want them to but I would never force any client to do something they are not comfortable with.”
‘I’m not saying [ageism] has completely gone, but they obviously can’t turn people down just because of age’