Grandparents Day approaches this weekend and this year, it must surely take on a greater significance?
We are in the middle of a pandemic, and the country is facing stricter restrictions on who we can meet and where we can go. This all adds to the pressures on families, particularly where families are separated and particularly adds to the pressure on extended families, that separation can bring.
Many grandparents are again supporting parents with childcare as they go back to work. As long as there are no more than 6 people in the bubble, this continues to be a much needed support network for everyone.
However where there has been a family breakdown keeping in contact can be even more challenging.
The law does not give automatic rights to see your grandchildren.
As a first step, it’s always worth trying to reach agreements with the parent(s) who the child lives with, either through informal steps, or mediation, or correspondence.
Court proceedings under s.8 of the Children Act 1989
Only people with parental responsibility can make an application for a Child Arrangements Order. If you don’t hold parental responsibility (for example under a child arrangements order or special guardianship order – SGO), you will firstly need to apply for permission to make an application. In order to decide this application, the court will look at:
- Your connection with the child.
- The nature of your application.
- Whether the application might be potentially harmful to the child’s well-being in any way.
The court will consider all the child’s circumstances and must only make an order where they consider it better for the child than making no order at all. This is often known as the ‘no order principle’.
If you are considering making an application, it would be wise to seek some early legal advice, so that our specialist team can advise you of the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and also consider possible alternative routes that you may not have considered.
Grandchildren and care proceedings and child protection
If you are a grandparent and your grandchild has been taken into care, you need to take advice as quickly as possible if you are considering putting yourself forward to care, or where the child has been placed with you.
At the first hearing, the Court will expect the parents to confirm if there is anyone they wish to put forward to be considered as alternative carers if the child cannot be returned to one or both parents. The sooner those assessments can take place, the better.
But, don’t rely on being put forward by the parents. If you know that your grandchild has been taken into care, you need to speak with the social worker straightaway, so that they can start their enquiries.
Under the law, the Local Authority have an obligation to look at extended family before they consider alternatives such as foster care or adoption. However, there is also a court timetable and care proceedings are supposed to be concluded within 26 weeks. Currently there are delays due to the pandemic, but this needs to be regarded as the exception not the rule, so the sooner the local authority can consider what you can offer for your grandchild, the better.
Very often, if a child has been placed with extended family, or where the local authority is considering doing so, the local authority will agree to fund a consultation with a specialist solicitor, so that we can advise you about the different orders and arrangements that might be available, and about the pros and cons of each. If this has not been offered to you, do ask.
Our lawyers are specialists in these areas and can offer detailed advice on both private law and public law matters. Please contact us on 01235 425500 to explore how we can assist.
Ruth Hawkins, Partner