The grandparents of a three-year-old girl say she has been removed from their care and put up for adoption because social workers deemed them to be too old to look after her. The girl had been living with the couple for six months after her mother was hospitalised for depression.
The couple, aged 58 and 70, say they were originally told by Southend Council in Essex to give up their granddaughter for fostering, but claim that she has now been put up for adoption against their wishes, The Telegraph has reported. The girl’s grandfather girl said:
“We looked after her well and she was quite happy. She knows us well and has spent a lot of time with us.
“A week later a social worker came round saying she’d come to pick up her clothes because they were taking her into foster care. We didn’t know what was going on, but they had applied for a court order with a view to adoption.
“They asked my daughter to sign the form in hospital. It meant they could get a court order to take her. I think she was just resigned to it all and signed it.”
The couple tried to fight the adoption proceedings in court, but could not afford the £15,000 price tag for legal representation.
“She’s a beautiful little girl and we’re absolutely gutted. She won’t be adopted until the autumn so we are trying to get the decision reversed, she should be with the family she knows,” her grandfather said.
His wife added: “I dont feel old at all. I work two days a week. It’s just awful they could take her away from us.
“She is being well looked after by her foster parents, but she is always so happy to see us and last time she said ‘I love you nanny’. That really got to me.”
Southend Council have refused to comment on the specifics of the case, but Anne Jones, Southend councillor responsible for children and learning has denied that the couple were refused custody because of their age. She said:
“While we cannot comment upon individual cases, we should highlight that age is not the deciding factor in our assessments of prospective carers.
“We have a duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children in our care and to act decisively in the child’s best interests.
“This often involves intervening in complex family issues and taking tough decisions on behalf of the child. We work with partner agencies and consider all evidence available to us as to the history and capability of prospective carers and their suitability to raise children.
“Though placing children in the care of relatives is our preference in all cases, we can only do so when this is consistent with the welfare of a child. In all our work, our ultimate aim is to provide a caring, stable and permanent home for all children in our care.”
However, Karina Chetwynd, of John Copland and Son in Sheerness, Kent, who is now offering the couple legal support, waiving her fees for the initial stages of the court proceedings, warned that grandparents are at a disadvantage in family courts.
She said: “The grandparents had no legal representation. It shows what can happen to grandparents and needs to be put out there.” Commenting on the case, UKIP’s deputy chairman Suzanne Evans told Breitbart London:
“This government pretends it believes in the fundamental building block of society, the family, yet oversees a system that deliberately pulls families apart.
“The secrecy of decision making in these cases, the fact that grandparents cannot get legal aid to state their case in court, and the presumption that social workers and the state know best make our current system one to be feared rather than applauded.
“Most sinister of all in this case is that the mother, a woman who was mentally ill, was encouraged to sign away her child, without there being any legal representation. Such a signature would not be acceptable in any other walk of life or law, so how can it be acceptable here?”
This is not the first time that councils have been criticised for intervening unnecessarily in family life. In 2013, Essex County Council forcibly sedated a pregnant woman and removed her baby by caesarean section, to be given up for adoption against the wishes of the mother.
John Henning MP, who campaigns for greater transparency in family courts called the case “the worst case of human-rights abuse I’ve ever seen. She wasn’t treated as a human being.” Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said it was “the stuff of nightmares.”
The case enabled other parents to speak out about their experiences, highlighting the routine mistreatment of disabled people, mostly women, by social services, who often assume the women to be incapable of raising their own children without first allowing them to try.
25 year old Megan Coote, who has mild learning difficulties, was forced to flee to Spain with her mother just seven days before the birth of her own child, as social services had informed her that she would not be able to keep the child, thanks to concerns over the social development of the child. Her father, Dale Coote, stayed behind in the UK to campaign for a residence order which granted him and his wife parental responsibilities over his granddaughter. Only then did Megan return with her baby.
Mr Coote now helps other parents with disabilities who fear their young children will be removed against their wishes. “”It’s just heartbreaking,” he said. “There’s no help out there. They don’t have advocates. There’s no one there after they’ve taken the children away. They don’t know where the children are. To take that [bond] away is horrendous. It does happen. It’s happening more and more.”