We often represent grandparents who selflessly put themselves forward to care for a grandchild. However, the commitment should not be underestimated and you should seek legal advice as early as possible in the process to ensure that you fully understand what is being asked of you.
As solicitors we often hear from families and the public at large that social workers want to remove children and separate families. In fact, the opposite is the case. Social workers try to work with parents to keep families together and if this is not possible, they look at who else within the wider family may be able to care for the child. This would allow a child to remain within their birth family instead of being placed in local authority foster care.
When looking at the wider family, social workers will often first look at the grandparents but also look at aunts, uncles, cousins etc. If you are asked to be assessed to care for your grandchild, it is important that you engage with the assessment as openly and honestly as possible. The assessment will often involve police checks and a search for any historic social services involvement with your own children.
If the assessment is positive your grandchild/ grandchildren could be placed with you with their parent’s agreement or under a court order. If both parents agree this is often called a family placement or a family agreement. It is very important that you seek legal advice and establish if you should seek a court order in these circumstances. Because you will not have any legal rights over your grandchild and will have to continue to have to gain the parents’ consent to make decisions.
Alternatively, if the local authority issue court proceedings in respect of your grandchild/ grandchildren they may be placed with you under a court order. This court order could give you parental responsibility, which is a list of legal rights and responsibilities which allows you to make day to day decisions regarding your grandchild. Or it could be a court order whereby the local authority shares parental responsibility with the parents and you are entrusted to care for your grandchild whilst further assessments are undertaken. Again, it is very important that you seek legal advice, for you to understand the support that is available to you financially and practically.
Finally, if the assessment is negative it is important that you speak to a solicitor to find out if you can challenge the assessment.
Legal aid can be available in the above circumstances and we are happy to explain this further in a free initial consultation.
Please contact: Julian Flewitt or Alexandra Speight