According to the child's 58-year-old grandmother and 70-year-old grandfather, they have been looking after their granddaughter for the last six months since her mother was admitted to hospital to be treated for depression. Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has now put the child up for adoption and the elderly couple claim they were told it is because they are too old, reports the Daily Mail.
However the council has denied that age is a deciding factor when assessing prospective carers.
"We looked after her well and she was quite happy," said the young girl's grandfather. "She knows us well and has spent a lot of time with us. A week later a social worker came around saying she'd come to pick up her clothes because they were taking her into foster care. We didn't know what was going on, but they'd applied for a court order with a view to adoption. They asked my daughter to sign the form in hospital. It meant they could get a court order to take her. I think she was just resigned to it all and signed it."
"I don't feel old at all," added the grandmother. "I work two days a week. It's just awful they could take her away from us. She is being well looked after by her foster parents, but she is always so happy to see us and last time she said 'I love you nanny.' That really got to me."
Solicitor Karina Chetwynd, from John Copland and Son in Sheerness, Kent, is now representing the grandparents to fight the council's decision to place the child for adoption — waiving her fees for the initial court proceedings because the couple cannot afford to pay.
"The grandparents had absolutely no legal representation and get no money for legal aid," said Chetwynd. "Even when they went along to the hearing, they had no idea how far along the proceedings had gone. These are not people with criminal records — these are just bog standard people whose daughter happens to have become ill. It shows what can happen in these situations and how hard it is to fight the local authority. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. The couple are emotionally traumatised and are just simply fighting for a child they will care about and love."
Clearly there has to be more to the case than age. It's desperate times indeed if social workers are basing a decision about a young child's future purely on the age of her carers. And if age was the main concern isn't it possible that the grandmother, at 58, could easily live another 30-plus years if she's in good health?
Ultimately what's important here is the well-being and happiness of the little girl whose mother is unable to provide a secure, healthy upbringing for her. The mistakes social workers have made in the past rarely escape the attention of the U.K. media. Let's hope that in this case they get it right.
"Though placing children in the care of relatives is our preference in all cases, we can only do so when this is consistent with the welfare of a child," said Councillor Anne Jones, who is responsible for children and learning at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. "In all our work, our ultimate aim is to provide a caring, stable and permanent home for all children in our care."
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