Raising a grandchild under a Special Guardianship Order
My name is Marilyn and I live with my long-term partner, elder son and ten-year-old granddaughter L. I will never forget that special moment when my younger son B's partner D told me she was expecting his child. As D and B have long-term mental health issues my first reaction though one of joy was tinged with foreboding and concern. But I had no idea what was to come.D's pregnancy turned out to be a fraught and difficult time. Nevertheless, D took the utmost care of herself and her baby during her pregnancy; her diet was almost totally organic and she gave up tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and even medication, which contributed to us now having a lovely, robust granddaughter!
Although I always agreed that L could not be safely raised by her parents, I wanted to give D a chance. However, D was badly affected by the premature Caesarean birth and her own mental health difficulties so she didn't engage with L after the birth. Meanwhile, B, while loving, had a serious alcohol addiction at the time, and subsequently, after conquering this, he became addicted to drugs when L was two years old.
L was born in 2009 but it proved to be a long and difficult journey towards my partner and I being allowed to become her kinship carers and eventually being granted a Special Guardianship Order (SGO), giving us overriding parental responsibility and the right to raise our granddaughter until she reaches 18.Originally, it was D's psychiatric social worker who told me to expect a call from Children's Services. Frustratingly, this call never came. It seemed that from the outset they had dismissed us as potential kinship carers. Following a daunting Child Protection Meeting when it was decided that D should have 24-hour supervision with her baby, I requested a viability assessment to allow me to care for my granddaughter. However, this was overly hasty and was made negative because they assumed I was too close to my son, L's father to prioritise her needs. This is when my fight really began with innumerable meetings, several court hearings at which I was made Party to Proceedings, a kinship fostering assessment, heavily influenced by the viability, from an apparently independent assessor. The judge finally granted us a new assessment this time by a completely independent assessor.
During that year we faithfully attended contact sessions to see my granddaughter, supervised by a highly critical supervisor who sent in negative reports. We received these via our solicitor three months later in the court bundle so we couldn't address the issues raised at the time. One of the problems was they regarded bonding as being in our control but at which we were failing; we were only allowed to see her once or twice a week.
Once our very thorough assessment was going well, I plucked up courage to email the social worker and complain about the intrusive and critical supervisor. And from then on, we no longer had him and our subsequent contact workers were friendly and empathic while remaining neutral.
Finally, a week before Christmas 2010, L came to live with us under a kinship foster care arrangement after we received two positive assessment reports. She was 16 months old and had spent most of her life with foster carers who didn't want to let her go! L settled with us beautifully as she got to know us well by then. Subsequently, there was an SGO panel meeting where three members were for us and three against – but all knew that the judge would have the final say. During this time, our granddaughter had monthly contact sessions with her parents supervised by us, overseen by one of the professionals and all passed as fine.Finally, our SGO was granted by the judge amid glowing appraisals of us – saying that L was lucky and blessed! We were the same people who had previously failed, demonstrating that professionals can be too hasty to dismiss the wider family. L couldn't have gained a more loving home and family while knowing who her parents are. This is something which, with the best will in the world, cannot be achieved in a closed adoption.
L is my pride and joy – my love for her is the same as for my own children. I love watching her grow and I have learnt a lot from her and from my role as a Special Guardian. She decided to call me Mum from early on and this was her decision which I respect. To those who think it wrong, I will say every child deserves to be as normal as possible. We have good family and friends support. We are lucky in so many ways.Of course, we do have some problems – for example we have had to abandon contact with her parents due to their difficult mental health and failure to prioritise her needs. We keep her dad away from the house due to his addictions. I try to support him but my priority always is my lovely granddaughter who is in the transitional year to secondary school now, doing well at school and incredibly artistic. She is certainly keeping us young and on our toes, and we aim to remain healthy and fit so we can be here for her for many years from now.