Who would you want to bring up your children if you weren’t around? Some readers might not have thought much about it. But for many others this will be a question that has deeply affected you personally or someone close to you.
There are very good reasons for trying to keep children with grandparents or other family members if the worst should happen. Our charity, Grandparents Plus, is campaigning for more support for grandparents and other family members to Keep Families Together and to stop children being needlessly taken into care or put up for adoption.
It is estimated that 300,000 children in the UK aren’t able to live with their parents. Most of them are living with grandparents, older siblings or other family members. This could be because parents have died or because of parental drug or alcohol misuse, illness, domestic violence, disability, imprisonment, abuse or neglect of children or a combination of these factors.
Grandparents Plus has launched an interactive video entitled “Who would you choose for me?” to highlight the issue. It features a girl who cannot live with her parents and must either be raised by her grandparents or placed with an adoptive family. The viewer gets the chance to decide how her story should end.
Policy makers and service providers all too often fail to recognize the contribution of grandparents and other family carers in raising children. In many cases they don’t get the support they need. In other cases they are obstructed from raising their grandchildren because of age discrimination by children’s services.
Grandparents Plus aims to fight this injustice through our Keep Families Together campaign. Our research shows that when deciding where children should be placed local authorities often give greater weight to the ‘permanency’ of adoption instead of recognising the love, stability and family links that grandparents and other family carers can provide. Families are being torn apart because adoption is seen as the default option.
Some grandparents are afraid of getting support from social services because they fear their grandchild will be taken away. One grandparent, a former district nurse, told us: “I didn’t want [social services] to be involved because I worked with them for 30 years and they often make the wrong decision.”
In other cases grandparents have had to spend thousands of pounds on legal costs to prevent their children being adopted. You can read more about these cases in our new report Too Old to Care?
We recognize the value of adoption for many children. But placement with family and friends is usually preferable because of the continuity of family relationships and sense of identity – as well as love and stability - that they can provide for a child. High rates of placement breakdown for adoption (from 10-50 per cent) reflect the fact that it is just not that easy to “transplant” a child from one family to another.
Grandparents and other family carers make a massive contribution to society by giving children a secure future and save the country billions by keeping them out of care. But they need more support from local and national government. They should be recognised as carers, protected from welfare cuts, given a national allowance and access to respite care.
State interference can be catastrophic when children are taken away from families unnecessarily. It is far more sensible for children’s services to work in partnership with the wider family to support those who are willing to step in to care for children. We all need to ask ourselves: “What future would I want for my child?”
Back our campaign to support family and friends carers: Keep Families Together.
- Real stories of grandparent carers: Tony and Christine (video)
- Metropolitan Mum: reaction to "Who would you choose for me?"
- Virtual Granny: reaction to "Who would you choose for me?"
- Third Sector praise for the Keep Families Together campaign