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

  • 25 May 2016

A YOUNG CHILD has 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 but they have been told they will never be approved as foster carers.

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

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

The child’s parents are not in a position to care for the child and the mother suffers with mental health difficulties.

When the situation became apparent, the grandparents were happy to take care of him for the next four years.

Formal fostering process

For mostly age reasons, he was then removed from their home and placed with a foster family in another county.

Tusla informed the husband and wife that because of the age gap between them and the child, they were not approved as foster carers.

In order to convince Tusla they were capable, the couple had obtained full medical reports and went to parenting courses. “We are fit and well,” says the grandfather.

They also collected testimonies from a number of people who declared the child was happy in their care and that they were capable of looking after the youngster.

A consultant pediatrician from a large hospital, who treated the child for enuresis (bedwetting) wrote a letter to confirm that the child’s condition had improved and that the care of the child’s grandmother had “afforded a huge degree of stability”… and that it was clear the child felt “secure with its grandmother”.

The letter urged that the child’s situation should not change:

I would therefore be strongly opposed to any attempt to move [the child] from its present placement. [The child's] interests come first and this child is clearly doing well… moving [the child] from this environment would be detrimental to [the child's] welfare.

The child’s school principal also testified to the child being “very happy”.

The child’s local GP said the child had “not seen any evidence of physical, emotional or sexual abuse” and that “[the child] has always appeared happy and well cared for”.

Despite these testimonies, the child was removed from its paternal grandparents and since then, they have sought justice through the courts.

Age gap guidelines

Tusla told TheJournal.ie there are guidelines in operation that 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, this is not a hard and fast rule and is usually dealt with on a case by case basis. A spokesperson said this does not always apply in case of grandparents.

The letter from Tusla to the grandparents said:

Without doubt your love of [child's name] has not and is not in question. I know that you want the best for [this child]… as [child's name] grandparents you should and will play a significant role in [the child's] life – we recognise the importance of this relationship for both you and [child's name] and that relationship should be preserved and promoted as a grandparent relationship.
However, you will not be approved as foster carers for [the child].

Denied

Their lives were turned upside-down when the denial came through after a foster care committee assessment.

When the grandparents asked Tusla for the reasons behind this refusal, the agency said one of the primary reasons was their age.

Documents and correspondence from Tusla, seen by TheJournal.ie, list ‘Your Age’ as a reason, with the following explanation

Your Age especially giving consideration to [child's name] young age – Fostering Standards specified that carers should be of an age that ensures there is a reasonable expectation that they can provide adequate care for the foster child in the future. It is recommended that there be no more than a 40-year age gap between foster carers and a foster child for whom they are caring.

The letter goes on to say that this is just a guideline.

While there can be some flexibility on this to a small degree, the 60-year age gap which exists between yourself and [child's name] is very concerning especially if [child's name] is to remain in long term care (which is the social work application before the court) until [the child] is 18 years.

Distance

Following the child’s move to another county, Tusla told the grandparents in the letter that there was a “reasonable expectation” the foster carers would have both the “physical and emotional energies” to care for the child long term and through to adulthood.

The letter acknowledges the “emotional attachment” the grandparents have to their grandchild, but said:

… it is unreasonable to consider … you would have the same physical and emotional energies required to parent a teenager to the levels required of you in accordance with fostering standards. This concern would be the same for any applicants of your age.

Tusla went on to outline other concerns, such as the grandmother’s “health needs”.

She suffers from Type 2 Diabetes but is currently in gainful employment. She said she is willing to give up work if necessary to have her grandchild returned to her care.

On that matter Tusla stated: “Just to say, we are mindful of [grandmother's name] health needs and while this is being managed at present, it is important that stress and demands of fostering doesn’t affect her own health particularly as she ages.”

Other concerns listed included the fact the family owns a farm, with the agency stating its concerns about farm machinery safety, while also conceding the grandparents had “made efforts to improve the outside safety issues”.

Restricted access

It also makes reference to the poor communication between the family and the social workers involved. The grandparents say they have experienced numerous correspondence delays from social workers on occasions and “have been totally left in the dark”.

The grandfather claims on numerous occasions meetings have been cancelled at the last minute and that one family meeting was arranged with the social work team in an open air park, which he believes was unprofessional. On another occasion it was meant to be in a local community centre but the team leader was more than an hour late.

“How are we meant to work with a professional body like that when they can’t even act in a professional manner and then we are blamed?” he asked.

Despite assurances that communication would be continued between the child and relatives, access has been restricted.

“We have visitation but we want the child back and our grandchild is mad to come back to us, the child is not happy where it is,” they say.

Just before Christmas, they were looking forward to having their grandchild visit over the holidays. This was pulled at the last minute. Due to the biological mother’s mental health difficulties, it was conveyed to the grandparents there were concerns the mother would act inappropriately while the child was present.

“But sure we are aware of the situation, we would have kept the child safe, we know how to keep the child safe. This child is our pride and joy,” the grandfather told TheJournal.ie.

Despite having a court order for fortnightly visits, they claim access has been denied now.

The grandfather said this was a result of them being given no information about the child’s whereabouts or contact details. “My wife was at her wits end,” said the grandfather.

A recent meeting to try and resolve the access issue with the regional division of Tusla, the grandfather said it was “one of the worst days of my life”.

“I have never felt so humiliated. My poor wife left in floods of tears after the way they treated us. We were told, ‘sure let the courts fix it’.”

He said the child is much loved by the local community and its removal has been “devastating”. The whole matter has left the couple “utterly broken hearted”.

He said while the case is ongoing they have had many sleepless nights with worry, and feel they have left on the “scrap pile”.

“We are honest people, I’ve never been in court in my life. All we want is for our grandchild to come back to us,” he said.

We cherish and adore this child, our number one pride and joy. We just want to see our grandchild develop and grow up to be a good citizen some day. But now we have been robbed of our greatest treasure.

The grandparents also wanted to make it clear that they are not seeking any carers’ payment from the state and have paid out all their own fees in the courts.

They are now running out of money to pay their legal team.

The law will have to be changed for grandparents. I have more rights to my dog that I do to my own grandchild. Isn’t that a sad case? Something is wrong in this country.

The grandfather said he has raised the issue with a local TD who brought it to the attention of former minister James Reilly. He said he believed Taoiseach Enda Kenny has also been informed about the case but that it is now a matter of “Tusla investigating Tusla”.

“Tusla said they are investigating but they are just investigating themselves. Where is the justice in that? They have too much power.”

Asked by TheJournal.ie about the situation, Tusla which said it could not comment on individual cases.

In a statement the agency said: “… each prospective foster carer must be approved by the local Foster Care Committee.”

These committees are made up of independent individuals, for example public health nurses, care leavers, etc., and Tusla staff. Foster Care Committee guidance sets out guidance on the criteria for approving prospective carers.
In relation to age, the guidance recommends that there is no more than a forty year age gap between prospective carers and the children to be placed with them.
However, the guidance makes clear that exceptions can be made where it is in the child’s best interests, for example where there is an established attachment between the child and carer.
In making foster care placements, Tusla matches each child with a foster carer who is best suited to meet the child’s identified needs.
In some cases, this may be a relative, in others it is with a general foster carer.
Where a child is in a general foster care placement, part of the role of the general foster carer is to support the child in maintaining his/her relationship with his/her biological family.”

The grandparents say they are willing for any custody arrangement to be reviewed every six months, and they hope, one day, the child’s parents would be in a better place to care for their grandchild in the future.

http://www.thejournal.ie/grandparents-age-foster-care-2778265-May2016/