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When grandchildren are in care

Hannah Jolliffe / 15 September 2015

Many grandparents help to care for their grandchildren when things get tough for them at home. But what happens when grandchildren are taken into care? We look at how to remain a stable part of their lives.

Grandchildren with grandparents
Grandparents can provide a loving, stable relationship for children in care

What it means when a child is 'in care'

The Children’s Services works with families facing difficulties to ensure children are receiving the sort of care it is ‘reasonable to expect’ from a parent. If they aren’t, and this lack of care is causing the child significant harm, they may put a full care order in place. This means that the local authority has parental responsibility for the children.

Different types of care

  • The majority of children in care will be placed in foster care.
  • Around 9% are placed in children's homes and occasionally in secure facilities for young offenders.
  • Other types of care include adoption and kinship care - where the child is cared for by other relatives.

Often, kinship care involves grandparents stepping in to care for the children, but as Lynn Chesterman of the Grandparents’ Association explains, this isn’t always possible. “Before a child goes into care there’s always been some kind of trauma. It may be that the child has suffered some kind of abuse or a parent has gone off the rails, but unfortunately, grandparents can’t always step in and take care of the children.”

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The importance of grandparents when children go into care

The Who Cares Trust explains that the care system is under strain - there aren't enough foster carers and money is tight. Sadly, this can lead to decisions being made that are in the interest of the system rather than the child and some children have to move multiple times during their life in care.

Maintaining contact with grandparents can play an important role in children’s lives – offering them a stable and loving figure who consistently puts their needs first.

"Sadly, it is all too common that when families break down or children are taken into care, grandparents sometimes lose access to their grandchildren and it can be devastating for all concerned,” says Fiona Plowman, a family project worker at The Children’s Society.

“We’d advise grandparents that when they do have access to their grandchildren they should avoid showing their emotion, whether that’s sadness or anger towards other family members. It’s important that the child does not think the change is bad, but just different, and that in spite of it they are still safe and loved.”

How grandparents can keep in contact

Remember that contact with a grandparent is part of a child’s right to family life. If it is proving difficult, The Grandparents Association offers the following advice:

  • Try quoting government guidance: ‘Grandparents and other relatives can provide a sense of family history and continuity where the child cannot live with his/her birth parents’.
  • Communicate with the Children’s Services department responsible for your grandchildren’s care to make sure they know about you and acknowledge your request for contact.
  • Also be in contact with the children’s guardian as soon as you are aware that your grandchild has been taken in to care.
  • Ideally this should happen before your grandchild is placed into care as this is the time when they can say who they want to see, and their requests will become part of their care plan.
  • An Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) is appointed at the time of the care order to review the local authority’s care plan. You can speak to the IRO about contact with your grandchild.

When parents refuse contact

If your grandchild is accommodated by the local authority as part of a voluntary arrangement (and not under a care order), their parents retain parental responsibility and can decide who they can and cannot see.

If the parents stop you from seeing your grandchildren you can arrange a meeting with the responsible social worker. Explain why having contact with you will benefit and support your grandchild’s wellbeing.

Try to keep communicating with the parents and do your best to stay on good terms, even if it’s difficult. If relationships have become very strained then family mediation can be a helpful way to reach an outcome that everyone agrees to.

Find out more about what rights grandparents have to see their grandchildren

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