A couple’s fight to look after their granddaughter
“In the beginning when we first approached a solicitor to try and have something in writing that we would still be allowed to see our granddaughter I don’t think we looked at the possibility that there weren’t grandparents rights. ”
But Katrina and Lee Parker, from Colchester, Essex, soon discovered that they did not have the automatic right to take over their care of their granddaughter after social services removed her from her mother.
It was a saga that began back in February 2012 and did not resolve itself until August this year.
At one point the Parkers were within two days of losing their granddaughter India forever. She was to be adopted and a family was waiting to take her.
That they did eventually win means they can – to a limited extent – now speak to us about the process they went through.
However, there are many elements they cannot discuss and that we are legally obliged not to report because the proceedings took place in a family court.
And there is a certain risk even now of the Parkers talking about their case. They must not refer to anything said in court and they must not refer to any court documents.
Yet they felt they have duty to speak out about what happened to them – about the secrecy of the family courts but also about how they allege were treated as grandparents by social services.
Because, and they are probably right, they do not believe society understand how the system works.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding in society that grandparents somehow have rights,” Katrina Parker said.
The Parkers anger is largely though aimed at Essex Social Services. In February last year, India was taken into care after her mother could no longer look after the baby.
The couple claim they were not told Essex social services had been granted a care order nor, they say, were they told how they could fight to look after her.
What is disturbing about this case is that the Parkers were initially – and wrongly it turns out – excluded from even applying to the family court to take part in the care proceedings and to prevent the adoption.
They were saved by a judge who gave them the right to appeal. We are not allowed to know why the judge granted that appeal.
And they have – in their interview with us – accused social services of attempting to discredit them at every turn.
“They said they set up various meetings which we hadn’t attended and when we asked another social worker to look into that what actually happened was that they had set up these meetings which we hadn’t attended and we hadn’t attended them because they hadn’t actually invited us,” Lee Parker told us.
Katrina added: “We were portrayed as people that were very obstructive, very secretive, that we had something to hide, that there was something going on and that we weren’t letting them in.” None of which, she said, was true.
Yet even after the Parkers had won their appeal to take part in the proceedings – to apply to become India’s guardians – it took nearly a year before it was resolved. Indeed, at one point they were told by their barrister there was no hope they would win.
“The barrister came out and said you need to go home and tell your family and your children that it is over, that you have lost,” Mrs Parker said.
Why? We will never know because we are not allowed to see the court documents. Nor do the Parkers know. Indeed, even to this day they do not know what it was that eventually swung it their way.
It is a fact the Parkers have seven children – five of them still home. That may have influenced social services. Who knows?
Special guardian status
I asked them to consider it from Essex Social Services’ perspective. They had a daughter who could not look after her baby and they have a large family.
“It would be negligent not to take into account,” Mrs Parker said. “But not to move on and ask the question, where we capable, would she be happy, that was wrong.”
In August they were finally given special guardian status and they began the process of bringing India home. But that in itself was not simple. She had been living all this time with foster carers who loved her very much. “I felt like I was taking her from them,” Mrs Parker said.
“And there was the adoptive family who had obviously been told to hang on and wait. That she was worth waiting for. The adoption photos were taken well before the proceedings were over.
“You think, they might have missed out on another child because of what they were being told.”
An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “This case involved very complex and finely balanced decisions which took account of a range of professional advice. As the case progressed Essex County Council was able to change its position to support these grandparents but at all times the final decision was one to be taken by the courts”
And now they do have India and she is the sweetest and seemingly happiest two-year-old. Mr and Mrs Parker can barely bring themselves to contemplate the idea that that they might have lost her.
Although, at the end of the interview Katrina Parker said that every day she looks at her and takes stock. “I look at her and think how lucky we are, how blessed.”
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