Why join a support group?

I asked people what motivates them to come to non contact support groups and these are some of the replies.

  • DESPAIR!! The support is an added bonus. My reason is to try to find some common sense in what is happening to us all - not just legally but in the horrifying way in which this next generation is callously sweeping away history and the reasons and means by which civilization itself has evolved and survived. I am also very angry that we are not being allowed to partake in enjoy the fruits of our labours and even sacrifices.
  • I attend the Support group because I am with people who have similar experiences and I have no family in or near Bristol with whom I can discuss how I feel. I also get a great deal of information at the Grandparents' Support group.
  • I want to be able to share my story.
  • I want to know I am not on my own.
  • I can phone Jane and talk when I feel low.
  • Its good to know that it is not my fault.
  • My experience might be able to help someone else.
  • It keeps me up to date with any progress.
  • I don't have to hide what has happened, my friends don't understand.

I don't want to join a group that will make me feel worse than I do already!

If that's your cry, read on!

When you decide to join a support group for grandparents who have little or no contact with their grandchildren, something must have happened in your life for you to be looking for other like-minded people who are suffering as you are. There's no need to make excuses about why you may be tearful or angry or have feelings of hopelessness. Everyone there just knows exactly how it is.

What you can try to regain contact

Communication is vital, so you might consider writing a letter to your grandchild's mum/dad,just explaining how much you miss them an would like to be part of their lives. That you would like to have a supportive role.

It should also be pointed out to the parent that keeping in touch with the wider family and community will help the child develop:

  • An understanding of his/her family roots
  • A secure sense of personal identity
  • Strong links to their family and culture
  • An understanding of family structure and meaning, across generations
  • If the parent is unresponsive you could see what is available in the way of mediation services locally, and if mediation is a possibility, suggest this to the parent. The last resort is an application to the court, of course, for permission to apply for a Child Arrangement Order, followed by a substantive contact application. But, this is a last resort.

In any event, you should send brief letters and greetings cards to the child with modest presents (eg gift/book tokens) and the occasional photograph to keep them 'alive' in the child's mind. It is important always in any discussion of the question to emphasize the child's loss, both present and future, rather than complaining that the grandparents are being prevented from seeing their grandchild.

If Social Services are refusing contact

The arguments to be put to social workers are much the same. However, it is important to stress the benefit that a child will get out of continuing to have contact with grandparents as a means of retaining valuable family links. Simply knowing that grandparents love the child and want to remain in touch will increase the child's sense of self-esteem. Grandparents can provide continuity and an understanding of family and origins when parents are unable to do this. Contact with grandparents can provide a child living away from home with a sense of stability and belonging which can be vital to the child's well-being. Generally, grandparents can be important to a child as confidants, but in particular when there is a change of social worker whom the child may find it difficult to confide in, until a feeling of confidence and trust in the new social worker has been gained.

Local Authority's duty

It is the duty of a local authority looking after a child to promote contact between the child and any relative connected with him (Paragraph 15(1)(c) of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989). It is also an important human right of the child to maintain family relationships, both under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which is part of our law by virtue of the Human Rights Act 1998), and under Articles 7 and 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child.

Some hints and tips for applying to the court for contact.

To apply for permission to make an application for contact:

1. Go to your Family Proceedings Court, which is part of your local court. It usually has a separate entrance.
2. Ask the duty clerk for the form that asks for the permission. The clerk might be willing to help you fill it in, so it?s worth asking.

You don't need a solicitor to fill in this first application form, but one might be helpful for the next one. Before applying for contact.

When you receive permission to apply for contact, the clerk at the Family Proceedings Court will tell you how to proceed. It's important to think about how much contact is reasonable for you to ask for and whether this is practical and sensible for all parties. To help work this out, you should write down your answers to the questions below because the court/magistrate needs to have facts (see below) about these items before they'll make a decision. Writing down your answers and discussing them with your partner (if you have one) and/or one of the parents (if they're supporting your application) will ensure that you're clear in your own mind about what you want. What are your answers to these questions?

  • Why has contact been refused to you?
  • When did you last see your grandchildren?
  • How much contact did you have before it was stopped?
  • Have there been court orders in the past?
  • Are there any applications pending?
  • Have there been any allegations of violence or abuse?

What are 'facts'?

Facts are events and other things that, because they can be shown to have happened or to exist, cannot be disputed. Examples include: the date of a missed appointment that was written your diary, the name of the school your grandchild goes to, the date when their tonsils were taken out, what you had for breakfast.

Facts are not: opinions, plans, conversations that have not been recorded and witnessed, guessed-at dates, approximate times and places.

Some facts can be disputed, and these are what the court has to decide on after looking at the supporting evidence. When it decides what the truth is, it will then decide what is best for your grandchild, based on the facts before it. If you tell the court what you think is a fact, you'll need supporting evidence. Here are some examples of the supporting evidence often used in these applications:

  • letter from your GP saying that you are fit enough to look after your grandchild
  • letters from neighbours who have seen that your grandchild has been happy when they've been with you
  • letter from your grandchild?s school to say that they were sick, missed school, came late, arrived in dirty clothes, etc.

What sort of contact is reasonable to ask for?

It's very important that you think about your future and the future of your grandchild. Your seeking contact may be dependent on your age and that of the grandchild, for instance, you may feel that it would be better to wait for contact until they're older.

One key issue that worries grandparents is that the parents who have custody of their grandchildren will make the children?s life hell if they're forced to visit their grandparents. In this situation, you could decide that telephone contact would be safer for your grandchild.

Local authority involvement

Are social services involved with the family in any way? They're good to have on your side as they have to consider family members as potential carers, even on a temporary basis. You might have to go to see a social worker to ask for advice.

Who else could help?

The law: Get help with legal issues via the court, the clerks in the court are good contacts.

Welfare: Contact the local authority that covers where your grandchild lives. The social care department can help you with questions regarding their welfare.

Education: Contact your grandchild's school. If this is impossible, try the local authority?s education welfare services.

Medical: If possible, ask the GP who would be involved with your grandchild, should they come to be with you, if they can be taken on by the practice and, if they can, get a letter from the GP to verify this.

Going to court

Everyone who goes to court finds it a daunting experience, here are some tips that might help you prepare:

  • What you wear can make a difference. Tidy and formal but not too formal is about right. A suit and tie for men, covered arms and nothing low cut for woman is some of the advice given.
  • Visit the court before your application is heard, in order to get your bearings.
  • Make sure you have all your documents clearly organised. Bring a note pad and pen.
  • On the day, arrive at least 30 minutes early to give yourself plenty of time to find the courtroom (if you haven't already visited it). If you have any problems finding the right one, ask the staff at the court.
  • Always ask for advice

If you don't know where your grandchild/grandchildren are some ideas.

Some ideas for finding missing persons.

  • If you suspect the missing person is in any form of danger, or is very young, contact the police.
  • Check phone books or online phone lists to see if the person is listed.
  • Are they still using their mobile phone, old or new?
  • Are they still using their e-mail address?
  • Contact the Salvation Army Family tracing service.
  • Check electoral rolls in the area you suspect the person may have moved to.
  • If it is a child, they should be registered in a school; if you have joint parental responsibility, the school in the area you suspect the child is in, should tell you if they are on the register, you would probably then need to go to the police to proceed further.
  • Are there any joint accounts (credit cards / bank accounts) that the person may be using and having mail redirected to them.
  • If it is a child that is missing, you can contact the child protection team (social services) in target areas that you think they may have gone to.
  • They should register at Health centres, Doctors and Dentists.
  • Does the missing person or child have strong ties to the church, an organisation or clubs?
  • Could they be on a council or a housing trust list in a target area?
  • Use family links to try and get information about the missing person.
  • Ask family friends if they have any information.
  • Do they have overseas connections, which they could have used and gone abroad?
  • Does the person have a medical condition that may require specialist help in a specific area of the country?
  • You could use a private investigator to try to find the person. (cost a major factor)
  • Can you use internet methods to trace them.Are they still putting comments on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks? If they have blocked you from contacting them, can you get someone else to contact them to see if all is fine?
  • Contact other organisations such as Families needs fathers, etc for their advice.
  • Place adverts in local papers in target areas for information.

Making an Memory Box

If the lines of communication have broken down and you feel that items such as cards and presents are not actually getting to your grandchild then setting up a memory box is a good way of keeping a record of all the things you have sent. It is also a very good way of recording family events such as weddings, specials birthdays ,anniversaries etc. Every time you send a card, letter or parcel photocopy them or take a photo , to put in the box.

Your memory box can be whatever you want it to be and can contain anything that you feel is relevant, to your grandchild and a way of them being able to see that you were always thinking about them. You may want to write poems or stories for them, its up to you.

Just a couple of tips when sending things, send postcards, as they can be seen openly by anyone, and sending cards by internet companies such as www.moonpig.com is a good idea as you can personalise them and they can be sent direct so the card will not show your postmark.

Setting up a Blog

All the young people today use the internet at school and at home, so it is a good place to start to try and make contact. Setting up a blog is easy and very effective you can write things on it ,put photos on it and other family members can also write on it. All you need to do is to go onto the internet and type in www.blogger.com which will open a page for you called Blogger and you follow the on screen instructions. My son has set up a blog for his daughter which all the family can post on .The idea of course is that your grandchild will at some stage type their names into google, as they all do, and up pops their blog. When you are writing on it be careful, keep it newsy stuff about the family and what you have been doing, don't fall into the trap of venting your feelings on it, because not only can your grandchild see it, it is possible so will the resident parent. Whatever we may feel you don?t want to say anything that could be detrimental to your grandchild in any way.