Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Of Grandparents, Fathers, Family and the Future.

David Norgrove has just published recommendations on Justice and the Family that are generating some debate.  The most controversial elements of his report are that " father's should have no legal right to shared time with their children following separation" despite the law demanding that they make maintenance payments, and his dismissive attitude towards the value of grandparents in their grandchildren's lives to the point where he also decrees that they too have no legal rights, that they may be potentially damaging to grandchildren during divorces if they take sides and that they must seek expensive processes through a Family Court if they want access to their grandchildren when it is denied.

Much has been written about the desperate need for a male role model in the lives of boys being raised by single Mums and how this would prevent the spread of gang culture so prevalent in some parts of the country.  I'm no social worker and wouldn't know if this is so, but I do know that girls too need contact with their fathers as well as their mothers and I speak from the experience of raising a grandchild and watching that child grow happily into her relationship with her father as they spend quality time with each other every other week.

Every child deserves the right of easy access to both of their parents if it is possible.  Of course one has to add the caveat that the safety of the child is paramount and it is sometimes in their best interests that parental access is denied but that can be true of mothers as well as fathers and the law should not differentiate, as David Norgrove is proposing, between them on any basis other than safety .  Shared access should be the starting point of any law protecting children's and parent's rights.

This brings me to David Norgrove's attitude to the  value of grandparents in all of this. He has dismissed us as 'potentially damaging' and left us with the need to pursue expensive litigation through the courts should we want access to grandchildren if it is denied us. Grandparents he says' should have no rights in law'

He has completely ignored the valuable role many grandparents play in the lives of their grandchildren, a role that impacts significantly upon the economics of this country and that nurtures children and the values of family life on a large scale.

Approximately 150,000 children are being raised in Britain today by their grandparents. If those children were in care the cost to the state would be about £5.5billion annually. The majority of grandparents who have taken on this parenting role get absolutely no support or help whatever from the state and neither do they ask for it.  This despite the fact that many are pensioners on straightened means and about 10% have failing health or suffer serious chronic health conditions.

There is a further issue here about which I have first hand knowledge and that is that about 50% of those children being raised by grandparents are disabled or suffering from serious ongoing health conditions.  I'll save the stories of our struggles to get fair access to healthcare and education for our grandchild and how we have had, on occasion, to resort to using our retirement fund to buy such care when the NHS or education system has failed us, as it regularly does, for another blog post sometime.

Meantime however , it seems to me that grandparents are saving the state £billions by shouldering the responsibility of parenthood a second time around and that it's little enough to ask that in return the state should acknowledge our valuable contribution and grant us proper legal rights.

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