Nchr_symposium_2010_deuchars_lecture

 

 

James Deuchars lecture at the NCHR's Symposium in Gothenburg, Sweden, August 21, 2010 .

 

 

 

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.  I am pleased to be with you today to tell you about our Grandparents Apart Groups and The Charter for Grandchildren which we helped created.

 

 

 

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We are all grandparents who know the devastation of losing contact with our grandchildren, often through no fault of our own.  We needed emotional support that was previously not available in Scotland.

 

Family members had great patience with us as it was all we could talk about but we needed to talk to someone who has been through it themselves as the mind is so confused with emotion it is hard to think straight.

 

Our helpline encourages grandparents to think more clearly and helps them avoid following the many false trails that we have grasped at in the past because we were so desperate to ease our pain and the pain of our grandchildren knowing they would be missing us as well.

 

 

 

We have fought hard to highlight the problem and the effect this has on children.  We fought to change the attitudes of authorities and although we are not lawyers or social workers we fought with justice on our side.

 

 

 

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Our group started because of our own situation.  We were a happy family, going along with the usual petty family problems until the death of our daughter.  A new baby that had just been born and a two year old were without a mother so we were now suddenly in a parent role as Dad had to keep working. This event was life changing as you would expect.

 

 

 

3 years after the death of our daughter our son-in-law met somebody else through the national support group for the bereaved. He wanted to make a new life with her, many miles away.  When the time came for our son-in-law and grandchildren to move away they wouldn’t or couldn’t understand the effect this would have on the children, the youngest in particular, as she was leaving her gran who had been the only ‘mum’ she had known.

 

 

 

The day came when they were leaving and because the children were so upset our hearts were broken.  They cried and called for us to not let them go but we could do nothing to help them.

 

 

 

 

 

We then knew how little grandparents were recognised by authorities and how easily our grandchildren could be wrenched from our lives

 

We looked around for someone to help us and them, for information or support. We found no real help.

 

 

 

We did contact a local solicitor who had to contact another as the children now lived in England.  At court, before we went in front of the judge we were asked by a court official if we would be willing to attend a mediation session to see if we could come to an agreement without courtroom.  We were happy to try and all had a long discussion. With the help of the court official we reached agreement.  It was a bit shaky initially, but lasted quite well.

 

 

 

Because the agreement was reached by mediation it was flexible, with any necessary changes possible when agreed by all.  Had we gone before the judge, any decision could not have been changed without further court appearances, so it was to everyone’s benefit to resolve the situation and most importantly, in the best interests of the children.

 

 

 

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When we discover that as grandparents we have no right to contact with our own grandchildren we are devastated, but our overriding concern is for the children who in turn have no right to a relationship with us.  Every person who contacts us feels the same pain, devastation and injustice.

 

 

 

We have heard arguments from lawyers who say grandparents do have rights. They say we have the right to raise an action for contact.  Having to spend thousands of pounds to go through the court system to prove that you are worthy to contact your own grandchildren is an insult to good living grandparents that have often done no wrong.  Contact can be stopped simply because the children’s parents have separated or have had a silly argument with the grandparent’s which blows out of all proportion and is usually nothing to do with the children, simply a conflict of personalities between adults.

 

 

 

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Research done by Professor Peter K. Smith and Linda Drew of Goldsmith College, Oxford found that 82% of grandparents (especially grandmothers) who suffer from depression, nervous problems or have suicidal tendencies are able to link the cause of their illness to them being rejected by their families.

 

 

 

Almost all grandmothers who have been denied contact with their grandchildren felt that they are somehow to blame for their family acting so cruelly.  They don't understand what can have gone so wrong.

 

 

 

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We felt that grandchildren were losing out on the protection and care of their grandparents, so we set about writing to our Justice Minister about this injustice and continued to lobby all MSPs in Scotland and MPs in England.

 

Highlighting the issues and problems and showing how common this heartache was becoming had became our life’s work.

 

 

 

We had meetings with the Scottish Executive to put forward our case.   The information we provided and the facts of our cases, that such a thing could happen today amazed some people in the Executive at our meetings.

 

 

 

Above all we want to fill the gap in the law that exists in the protection of children. The gap is that the child’s best interests are not always being served by Social Services, the courts and professionals across the board. Too often even in the home where children can be alienated, abused, used as weapons or blackmail, where child abuse is on the increase and children’s rights can be zero.

 

Grandparents without some sort of rights are not able to protect the children and speak up about abuse without the fear of excommunication from their young lives.  If we don’t have contact we cannot help.

 

 

 

At the meetings we gave them our collated information and our suggestions to help reduce the problems.  They were extremely surprised by what we told them actually happened in practice when families separate or fall out.

 

 

 

 

 

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We sent a questionnaire to our members and contacts so that we could supply statistics to our government and although we were not surprised by the results the government were.

 

 

 

76% of replies had dealt with Social Services and almost half of those had experience of made up meetings and falsified reports, over half felt they had been ignored in relation to their grandchildren’s welfare.

 

 

 

47% of replies had experienced what they see as an injustice from the courts.

 

 

 

72% have had court orders granted, yet over half have had problems

 

with enforcement.

 

 

 

27% of replies feel they have had a court order granted against them for no real reason.

 

 

 

61% of the replies find our current court system too slow. 

 

 

 

76% that had sought advice over half of those felt the advice given was wrong or bad.

 

 

 

Almost 80% saw suffering to the children because of Alienation/ brainwashing and blackmail (mental cruelty). 

 

 

 

93% of replies see Mandatory Mediation as a solution

 

       

 

92% of replies have experience of one person having ultimate control over a whole family. 

 

 

 

98% of replies think it would be better if disputes could be dealt with outside of courts.

 

 

 

96% of replies want a change in the law to ensure attempts at family unity have the best chance of success.

 

 

 

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We suggested centres for Family education, Mediation and Contact totally geared towards the family, with Mandatory Mediation. Without the Mandatory aspect it will be very difficult to make Mediation work.  Agreement is not mandatory, the effort should be.

 

 

 

“Alienation” would become a thing of the pastas children would be mixing with the wider family and will know the truth anyway, for themselves. They would have the right to decide who they maintain contact with, without brainwashing.

 

 

 

“Mandatory Mediation” with acounsellor would encourage families to resolve their differences together rather than attending voluntarily.  Making adults think of the welfare of their children rather than just their own selfishness, would ease any bitterness.

 

 

 

“Contact for grandparents”, if there is no legitimate reason for grandparents to be denied contact, the grandparents should not be refused contact, because it upsets the parent or their new partner. No one wants to separate the children from their mother unless the children are in danger, least of all grandparents who love the children and want what’s best for them..

 

 

 

“Family Education” New partners must realise that children have family ties to non-resident parents and extended family.Young mothers need all the help they can get and should be encouraged to accept the help available and need to know how the children are damaged by needless bitterness in family arguments.

 

 

 

“Grandparents” in a lot of cases need to learn to let go of their children, if they let them go as children they will return as friendsmore eager to accept advice that is not forced down their throat. A young mum would be delighted with the help and advice from the grandparents that is not patronising and with the attitude that grandparents know better.

 

 

 

 “Family harmony” needs to be worked at by every member of the family if it is to work, maybe if children are brought up without alienation and being torn apart by arguments and court cases, we would have better citizens in future.  When children see adults compromising they will learn to do the same.  Children live what they learn”.

 

 

 

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Our guidance is building bridges is easier than bulldozing.  Be friendly. 

 

 

 

Grandparents may have to learn to take a bit of a back seat and present an attitude of friendship rather than criticism.  Be prepared to help when required, but step back when not.

 

 

 

Learn the principle of co-operation, not manipulation.  Learn what is expected of each of you in these roles, how not to step over the line.

 

 

 

Be prepared to talk about the problems you are experiencing and listen to how other people cope, learn from others.

 

 

 

Be patient, results may not happen overnight, but with effort they will.

 

 

 

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We spent long hours gathering information to give to the Executive.  We did many TV and radio spots and countless newspaper articles and press releases highlighting the problem and what we were trying to do to help.  We even hosted a radio programme for three afternoons on local radio, playing some music and telling the public about the issues involved.

 

 

 

Along the way we also realised that many grandparents are looking after their grandchildren, formally or informally and are struggling financially because they are afraid to speak up to ask for help for fear that the children could be taken away from them and placed in care, as is sadly too often the case.  We had to help them too.

 

 

 

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Our group was then invited to attend a consultation meeting for preparation to revise Family Laws in Scotland in April 2005.  We could not miss this chance. This was a totally new experience for us.  We were just ordinary grans and granddads, we had never done anything like this before and we were very nervous, but we could not pass up this opportunity we had to contribute, we had to do what we could to help families, help children.

 

 

 

The remit of the Stakeholder Group was to assist in producing a “Parenting Agreement” to help separating couples focus on their children and a “Grandparent’s Charter” to help anyone dealing with children to know how important their wider family is to them.

 

These were both to be non-legal documents to accompany the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006. We put forward our proposals for a better way forward.

 

 

 

Also involved in the group were representatives of Families Need Fathers, Couple Counselling Scotland, Family Mediation Scotland, Scottish Marriage Care, Scottish Women’s Aid, Parenting Across Scotland, Stepfamily Scotland, Social Services, Children in Scotland, Family Law Association, Association of Directors of Social Work.  All supported the opinion that grandparents were of great value to their grandchildren, but supported the Executive’s stance that no legal backing should be given to that value.

 

 

 

After only a few meetings of the Stakeholder Group it was obvious to all that our main priority was the children and the Grandparent’s Charter was soon renamed ‘The Charter for Grandchildren’.  Most appropriate.

 

 

 

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At one of the Stakeholder Group meetings a presentation was given by children’s charity Children 1st.  The presentation was about how they help families in trouble to sort out their own issues, with the child as the central character.  The process is not unlike our suggestions for how we wanted conciliation to work in a Family Centre situation.

 

 

 

An appointed advocate spends time with the child to find out what the child wants and how they feel.  Then opinions and facts are sought from wider family, schools and any other adult involved in the child’s life.  Usually within around six weeks a family conference is held to decide on a way forward that can suit everyone involved, but that focuses on the best interests of the child.

 

 

 

The success rate is over 90% and agreements are kept because there is less animosity, blame and friction with this process.

 

 

 

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The future we hope for will be promotion of mediation and education about what is in the child’s best interest.  This hopefully will help in the majority of cases as parents often don’t realise that what they do has such an impact on their children.  They don’t mean to harm them or disadvantage them; they just get caught up in their own hurt and unhappiness.

 

 

 

The “Charter for Grandchildren” says that children can expect to know their grandparents.  However, it doesn’t protect children who, for example have been looked after by their grandparents informally (like our own situation) and are suddenly and forcibly removed from the adults they have bonded with to return to their parent(s) who can be a relative stranger to them.  This change can scar the child for life if not done with care.  Grandchildren need the legal right to have their grandparents’ protection when necessary.

 

 

 

We are depending on education and discussion.

 

 

 

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Along with others, Grandparents Apart put a lot of hard work into “The Charter for Grandchildren” demanding to be heard about the gaps in the family law concerning their grandchildren. Why?  Because we really do have the best interests of our grandchildren at heart, if it was not for love of them why would we bother? The majority of grandparents love to have their grandchildren visit but love to see them go home again within a happy family environment. 

 

 

 

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The Charter for Grandchildren gives no more rights to grandparents than they have at present but the children will have official guidance to support the view that grandparents are regarded more in their lives.

 

 

 

The Charter, when followed ensures that professionals must use the army of willing grandparents or provide an explanation why that is not suitable, in the best interests of the children. The acceptance of The Charter for Grandchildren will send a message to parents that grandparents are important in children’s lives and will encourage more harmony in the family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our role today, as well as supporting families is to make sure the Charter for Grandchildren is being used for guidance and to encourage its use.  We must also promote early mediation to help resolve problems in families before disagreements get to the point of no return.

 

 

 

Because of the rise in drug addicted parents there is now a huge shortage of carers for children taken into care. The recognition of the role grandparents can play in children’s lives as carers will open up a huge army of willing helpers and for the first time proper financial assistance will be available.

 

 

 

By following The Charter for Grandchildren the benefit to the children is, being kept in as near a home environment as possible, instead of being separated and fostered out to different homes. That is a huge trauma to a child, removed completely from those that they know and love.

 

 

 

It is well known that children who go through the care system are very often non-achievers and end up joining gangs as a replacement for the family they have been robbed of when they were young, ending up on the wrong side of the law.

 

 

 

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The Charter for Grandchildren has now been adopted by the full Glasgow City Council. It is social services who are reluctant to accept it as it would mean change for them and a slight loss of their omnipotent status.

 

 

 

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