Elderly couple told their grandchild was put into foster care because of their age

Child protection authorities cited grandparents' age in justifying removal of child from their care

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An elderly couple has appealed for their grandchild to be returned to their care after it was placed with a foster family.

The child had lived for a number of years with its grandparents, who are in their 60s, but was moved to another home mainly because of their age.

The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) explained to the couple why they had not been approved as relative foster carers in a letter first reported by TheJournal.ie.

The child protection organisation said it was concerned about the 60-year-age gap between them, especially if the child was to remain in their care until it was 18.

“Fostering standards specifies that carers should be of an age that ensures there is a reasonable expectation that they can provide adequate care for the foster child in the future,” the agency wrote.

“It is recommended that there be no more than a 40-year age gap between foster carers and a foster child for whom they are caring.”

Tusla also cited issues with home hygiene, farm safety, the grandmother's own health needs and the couple’s ability to communicate with its social work department.

In a note provided to the agency, seen by Newstalk, the child’s local GP said he had “not seen any evidence of physical, emotional or sexual abuse” during the child's visits.

“[The child] has always appeared happy and well cared for,” the doctor said.

Another doctor in the area testified that the child had been “afforded a huge degree of stability” living with its grandparents.

The child was also called “a very happy and enthusiastic pupil” by its teacher.

The couple, who had attended parenting courses, said they were left devastated by the decision to remove the child from their care. "We have been robbed of our greatest treasure," they said in a letter to Tusla.

'Best interests'

However, Tusla told the grandparents that it was “unreasonable to consider” that they would have “the same physical and emotional energies required to parent a teenager to the levels required of you in accordance with fostering standards”.

The agency told Newstalk that its policy was not to comment on individual cases.

“In making foster care placements, Tusla matches each child with a foster carer who is best suited to meet the child’s identified needs,” it said.

“In some cases, this may be a relative, in others it is with a general foster carer.  

“Where a child is in a general foster care placement, part of the role of the general foster carer is to support the child in maintaining his/her relationship with his/her biological family.

“Each prospective foster carer must be approved by the local foster care committee.  These committees are made up of independent individuals, for example public health nurses, care leavers, etc, and Tusla staff.  

"Foster care committee guidance sets out guidance on the criteria for approving prospective carers.  

"In relation to age, the guidance recommends that there is no more than a 40-year age gap between prospective carers and the children to be placed with them.

"However, the guidance makes clear that exceptions can be made where it is in the child’s best interests, for example where there is an established attachment between the child and carer."

Tusla added: "A decision to remove a child from a placement is only made if, after a careful consideration of all of the circumstances, it is determined that all of the individual child’s social, physical and behavioural needs cannot be met in the current placement." 

Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath this morning called on Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to seek clarification from Tusla about the case.

He called the agency's treatment of the family "absolutely outrageous".

"This family and this child need swift intervention that is guided by common sense and compassion not by an incomprehensible adherence to bureaucratic box-ticking exercises on Tusla’s part," he said.