Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Grandparents And Adoption Rights

There is a good old fashioned donnybrook going on over in Scotland over a case of adoption. This is another one of those 'perfect' storms created by social services when it comes to determining the best interests of any given children.

According to the CNA article, the fact the prospective adoptive couple is two gay men is the over riding issue. The conservative press outlets are having a field day with this issue. The reality is something entirely different, and that's the rights of grandparents with regards to their own grand children. Peter Harris, in the London Daily Mail targets the right issue:

Grandparents have no rights, or standing, in respect of grandchildren in England and Wales (they do in Scotland). Frequently they are ignored, or dismissed as potential carers, by social services.

Of course not all grandparents are suitable, or willing, to provide full time care for grandchildren. But many are - and will undergo financial loss by giving up work - when asked to take on the responsibility of providing a loving and secure family home for a grandchild.

The professionals who are concerned with children in crisis have to take difficult and complex decisions in a highly emotional field. Such decisions will echo down the years for a child, often well into adulthood.

One would expect them to be well informed about both research findings and the law. Regrettably this is all too often not the case.

Research on kinship care' (care of children by family members) by Hunt, Farmer, Sinclair, Aldgate, Buchanan and Broad does not seem to be well known by the social work profession. While the research is not yet definitive, it nevertheless clearly demonstrates that children being looked after by family members tend to be better adjusted and more secure than those in foster placements.

In other words, there are real advantages for children. If social workers are aware of this research some appear to ignore it.

In a study for the Department of Health in 2001 Joan Hunt pointed out that in comparison to the resources devoted to residential care and adoption, kinship care is the poor relation. Not much has changed since 2001.

The policy clearly set out in the Children Act 1989 is that wherever possible, and unless it is contrary to a child’s best interests, a child should be kept within its natural family, and social services have a duty to provide support to children in need in order to achieve this.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 goes even further in spelling out the intention of Parliament, and the duty of social services, about adoption decisions. An adoption agency (social services coming to a decision about adoption) must consider the relationship which a child has with relatives, and their willingness and ability to care for him.

It goes on to prohibit a court or adoption agency from making a decision that a child should be adopted, unless it considers that to do so would be better for the child than not to do so.
With such clear legal pointers in place it is devastating for grandparents (and the child) when social workers ignore them and work to their own agenda.

Lynn Chesterman, the Chief Executive of the Grandparents’ Association, and I have both, when talking to audiences of social workers, undertaken the following exercise.

We asked our audiences to say whether they would ask a family member, in particular a grandparent, to look after their children if they became incapable of doing so themselves. Almost universally they raised their hands in assent.

When asked whether they would prefer social services to do so – guess how many of their hands went up!

Since grandparents have no legal standing it is extremely difficult for them to challenge decisions, and social services always holds the whip hand.

It is not uncommon for grandparents to learn that a grandchild is to be adopted just before the hearing takes place. They (and the child) have no right to maintain contact even, though if the court gives permission they can make an application.

Often this only becomes available when the proceedings have gone on for some time, and the child has been placed with prospective adopters - who will be reluctant to allow contact for fear that this will disrupt the placement.

What is urgently needed, in the view of the Grandparents’ Association, is legal recognition for grandparents so that they have a right to intervene, and to be considered as carers or prospective adopters.

We would also like social workers to be better trained and informed on relationships within the extended family, in particular the grandparent - grandchild relationship which is so valuable to children.

Grandparents are a resource for children to draw upon. They support the children by love and care (60 per cent of child care in the UK is given by grandparents), often acting as confidants for the older child.

At difficult times for the child, such as divorce, they give stability and continuity. Many also contribute in more material ways too, with financial help with school uniforms, the cost of school trips and school fees as well.

Allowing obstacles to remain in the way of this special relationship is doing a disservice to grandparents and to children.

The grandparents in question have received a cash inflow from a business group opposed to gay adoption and now have the financial resources to fight this adoption. Good for them, but in the meantime I hope they understand they should be fighting for the rights of grandparents, not attempting to take away the legal right for gays to adopt in England.

The general assumption from most press outlets is that this was some kind of arbitrary decision on the part of social services to foster a political agenda. I'm not so sure. In my experience most social services people do make an effort to keep children with in the biological family. Unless, and this may be the case here, there is some reason to question whether the grandparents will allow their own child to sway them to return the grandchildren back to the natural parent.

This has apparently happened in this case and is why the police were called in to intervene. The daughter is a recovering heroin addict and lost custody of her children over the drug use and attendant issues. It is not in the children's best interests if the grandparents can be manipulated into returning the children back to their unstable mother.

As to the gay adoption, the same ole, same ole arguments are being cited. One article I read even admitted it might be OK to foster them to a lesbian couple, but not two gay men. There are two assumptions underlying this. The first is that men can't parent as well as women, and the second is that the opposition to gay rights is really directed at gay men. Both of these are in essence about gender stereotyping.

In the meantime, the question of the rights of grand parents and other relatives in the adoption scheme needs to be hammered out. Diverting this question to one about gay adoption serves no useful purpose. Now that this particular pair of grandparents has the legal recourse to fight this decision I hope they don't lose sight of this fact.

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