It is time to give Bubbe and Zeide their due

Grandparents should become more, not less, involved in children’s lives

By Deborah Levy, October 22, 2009

In a recent case, the courts decided that, notwithstanding a child having lived with his grandmother for more than two years, he should now live with his father, newly released from prison.

The decision raises important questions about the role of grandparents in the lives of children. With child neglect on the increase — whether because of poor parenting, family breakdown, recession and reduced family finances — what place do grandparents have in today’s society?

Grandparents frequently play a significant role in caring for young children while their parents are at work. Earlier this year, there was debate about whether grandparents should be remunerated as foster parents.

Despite the charity Grandparents Plus claiming that four in five teenagers say grandparents are the most important people outside immediate family, the reality is that most children are too busy to have regular contact with their grandparents, particularly as they get older.

Statistics provided by the Department for Children, Schools and Families show an increase in the number of adopted children and those looked after by adults, other than their parents. It is estimated that there are over 200,000 grandparents in the UK who are caring for their grandchildren full-time.

Statistics are not available on the number of Jewish children who are adopted. Both Norwood and the British Association for Adoption and Fostering believe the percentage to be low as there is sufficient support from other family members. This is an encouraging notion and its message should certainly be reinforced. In the meantime, the actual situation should perhaps be investigated as modern society increasingly sidelines grandparents.

While the 1989 Children Act prioritises and reinforces the importance of kinship (family) placements, research has found that, in the majority of cases, kinship care is not given the priority it deserves. On divorce, children frequently become estranged from their grandparents. If grandparents apply to the court for contact, they need the court’s permission. Consequently they have no greater legal standing than a stranger.

Grandparents are the link with one’s own history and tradition. I have heard many Holocaust stories from my 88-year-old mother. However vital book-learning is, it is no substitute for personal experience.

Bubbe and Zeide also offer a sense of belonging and identification with one’s roots and can often act as impartial judges, bridging the gap between parents and their children. So how can we reverse the decline of grandparental influence? My teenage daughters cite instances of some grandparents communicating via Facebook or texting.

Family policy is to be a major political issue in the forthcoming general election and, unless grandparents gain the legal recognition they deserve, generations may lose out on one of life’s most valuable dimensions.

Deborah Levy is head of the matrimonial department at WGS Solicitors

Last updated: 5:28pm, December 10 2009


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