Relationship with grandparents should be enshrined in law as a child’s right
4 min read
Ahead of his Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday 2nd May, Nigel Huddleston MP calls for the Government to amend the Children’s Act to include grandparents in the existing provisions for child welfare.
Divorce and family breakdown take an emotional toll on all those involved, but the family dynamic that is often overlooked is that between grandparents and their grandchildren.
The issue of grandchildren being denied access to their grandparents was first brought to my attention by Dame Esther Rantzen, who is patron of the Bristol Grandparents Support Group. She shared with me heart-breaking stories from scores of families who have suffered breakdown in some form and which has led to the grandparents and grandchildren being denied the opportunity to have a relationship with each other.
Estrangement of grandchildren from their grandparents can come about in a number of ways but the cause is often unrelated to the child being affected. They are the innocent victims in family breakdown, with their loss of a relationship with their grandparents often the result of a disagreement over which they had no control and were not involved in.
After I raised the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions in November 2017, I received correspondence from families all over the country, including in my own constituency, sharing their experiences.
I’ve heard from grandchildren left sad and confused after the sudden disappearance of their grandparents, wondering both if their grandparents simply didn’t love them anymore and if they knew how much they were loved by their grandchild. As one said: “I feel a sense of deep loss, guilt and regret. I truly hope that my grandparents still knew of our love for them, and that we were powerless to do anything.”
I have deliberately worded the motion of the debate to focus primarily on how the denial of access can undermine the rights of a child and I believe having the ability to foster a relationship with grandparents should be enshrined in law as a child’s right. Specifically, I am calling for the Government to amend the Children’s Act to include grandparents in the existing provisions for child welfare. This is not without precedent as in France, children have a right to contact with their extended family.
Under the current system, grandparents are able to seek contact with their grandchildren through the courts in the form of a Child Arrangement Order (CAO). But it is not an easy process to go through and carries a significant emotional, administrative and financial burden. Before they can even apply for a CAO grandparents are required to first seek leave of the court to do so and I have heard from grandparents who were successful in obtaining a CAO, only for their child to simply ignore it.
Many grandparents who have contacted me describe being cut off from their grandchildren as a form of ‘living bereavement’, and speak of their feelings of shame and guilt. Some feel they must have somehow failed as parents for the relationship to have deteriorated to such an extent, while others feel guilty about the emotional trauma the estrangement must be causing their grandchild. As one couple said: “three little girls must be wondering what happened to their grandpa and granny, and think we do not love them anymore”.
I’ve also sadly heard stories of grandparents being so distraught that they have considered taking their own lives, with one saying “the only thing that stops me is that my daughter will have a change of heart and let me be a part of my grandson’s life”. I was shocked to hear from another grandmother that 7 members of her local grandparents support group have committed suicide.
It is clear that the present system is not working and I hope that by having this debate I can raise awareness of the anguish being felt by grandchildren and grandparents across the country, and ultimately encourage the Minister to reform the system.
Nigel Huddleston is Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire.
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