The "too old to adopt their granddaughter" myth

24 July 2015
What was claimed

A judge refused to allow a child to live with her grandparents, instead of being adopted, because they were too old.

Our verdict

This isn't correct. Age was mentioned in passing in the judge's written decision, but not as the main reason for it.

"The grandparents of a three-year-old girl have been blocked from adopting her because they are 'too old'"

Daily Mail, 21 July 2015

"On first glance its disgusting they shouldn't be able to care for child. Second glance is their something in past that's not be disclosed in story"

Comment below Daily Mail story

Discussion 'below the line' isn't something we regularly cite, to say the least. But in this case, the reader's comment has hit the nail on the head. The decision about this child was not, according to the judge who made it, about age.

The case was about whether a three-year-old girl should be adopted. Her mother, who has mental health problems, didn't actually oppose this, but the child's maternal grandparents did and applied to take care of the child themselves. This was rejected in favour of adoption.

Of the grandparents, the judge said that there was evidence that their parenting skills were not good; that there had been conflict between them and the child's mother; that the grandmother had a depressive illness; and mentioned their ages (70 and 58). The judgment then says:

"The main concern however it seems to me is the fact that this family would be in my judgment completely unable to cope with the triangular relationship of C, M and the grandparents.

Mr G expressed in evidence that he hoped that his daughter was going to recover her mental health, that she had had some recent treatment that over the next four years might lead to her mental health recovering. I very much hope that that is the case and it may well be right, but he was very clear that he was going to continue his relationship with his daughter and indeed he is to be commended for that. He said he saw her yesterday. I just cannot envisage how the triangular relationship can possibly work.

Dr Martinez in her report expresses the concern that mother is unable to bring up C because she is likely to expose C to extreme behaviours—'scary situations' is the word she uses—and she is referring to the incident in January when M in front of C self-harmed, cutting herself, and C was clearly in a scary situation witnessing her mother bleeding.

That is exactly the type of situation which Dr Martinez envisages recurring and which puts C at the risk of significant harm if she were to be placed with her mother. If I were to envisage C being placed with her grandparents it seems to me that it is only a matter of time before C is put in that situation again.

This is because of the conflict which the grandparents will experience in their meetings with their daughter, who they will not be able to turn away and in the conflict that is likely ultimately to create and which C is inevitably going to experience. Their personal circumstances are not ideal but ultimately it is that relationship which it seems to me makes it impossible for their application to succeed."

The judge also referred to the disruption caused to the plans for adoption that were already underway, in dismissing the grandparents' application.

Most outlets airing the idea that this was because of how old the grandparents were reported it as an allegation by them, rather than as a fact. It's understandable that, in talking to the press, they would focus on the comments about age, instead of any of the other things the judge said about them.

As a family law blogger puts it:

"I don't fault the grandparents at all for this—Courts can be confusing and scary places, and Judges use language and concepts that aren't commonplace for ordinary people. Add to that, that of course this was an emotionally charged hearing and it is little surprise that the grandparents left not completely understanding all the reasons why the Judge said no to them, and that they got the wrong end of the stick.

Nor do I blame the journalist—if the judgment had borne out what the grandparents said, that a Court had ordered that the child be adopted purely because the grandparents were too old, that would be a miscarriage of justice and a scandal worth reporting."

This story seems to have been first reported by the Echo, a local newspaper covering Essex, on 21 July. But it wasn't until most of the national media had repeated it that a press release, directing journalists' attention to the text of the decision made on 17 June, was released around close of business on the 23rd.

You can read the judgment in its entirety here.

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