If parents can't look after a child, surely granny and granddad are next best thing
A heartbroken couple in their sixties are pleading with child and family agency Tusla to return their grandchild to them after the agency placed the boy into foster care.
The little boy, who was happy, loved and well cared for, was taken away because the grandparents have been deemed too old to look after him. According to Tusla, it is "not preferable to place a child in a home where there is a 40-year gap or more".
But it is the older generation in Ireland that has made it possible for many in the younger one to go out to work and keep roofs over their heads.
Without this vital support, our society would be so much the poorer and many careers would come to an abrupt halt given the massive cost of childcare.
My blood boils as I write this column. What better people to have look after your child than their grandparents? The only people who will ever love your child as much as you do are their grandparents.
These good people stood up and took on the care of their young grandson when the boy's parents were not in a position to care for him themselves.
They have been left bereft after their 'pride and joy' was taken from them and placed in foster care in a different county.
The child had been living with his grandmother and grandfather for more than four years but they have now been told they will never be approved as foster carers because they are too old.
In an effort to prove to Tusla that the child was being well cared for and that they were fit and able to care for him, the grandparents obtained full medical reports and even went to parenting courses.
They also asked a consultant paediatrician from a large hospital, who treated the child for bedwetting, to write a letter in their favour.
The consultant wrote a letter stating: "I would be strongly opposed to any attempt to move (the child) from its present placement. (The child's) interests come first and this child is clearly doing well."
The consultant finished by stating that moving the boy from this environment would be detrimental to his welfare.
The principal of the boy's primary school also testified to the child being "very happy".
But it all fell on deaf ears as age was considered to be the most important issue in this case.
According to Tusla, fostering standards specify 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.
Tusla told the grandparents that while the relationship with their grandson should be preserved and promoted as a grandparent relationship, "you will not be approved as foster carers".
But it just doesn't make sense. Why, if the carers are in good health and the child is thriving, would you break up a happy home and shatter the lives of the grandparents and the child?
The decision to take their grandson away has left the grandparents utterly broken-hearted. The grandfather said that they can't sleep with worry and stress. One can only imagine what that is doing to their health and well-being.
My mother is in her seventies and is fitter and healthier than I am. Focusing solely on age is missing the point. Caring for a child has to do with love, devotion and protection.
Of course, there is a worry that the grandparents may become ill or find it difficult to manage the boy when he is a teenager, but that could happen to parents or guardians of any age.
The grandparents say they are willing for the custody agreement to be reviewed every six months if needs be. If they are offering to be reviewed and have their health and the happiness of their grandson checked every six months, then surely they should be given the chance to look after him for as long as possible.
The little boy's life has been difficult enough with his own parents not being able to look after him, so why on earth would you take him away from a loving environment with family members and put him in a foster home with strangers?
Another concern listed by Tusla was that the family owns a farm and it was concerned about farm machinery safety. But surely that's a concern on any farm across the country? Besides, as anyone with children knows, there is danger everywhere, not just on a farm.
Besides, Tusla even admitted that the grandparents had "made efforts to improve outside safety issues".
So here you have this kind-hearted couple who adore their grandson, have raised him for the past four years, have gone out of their way to prove that they are fit to care for him and have shown that the child is thriving and happy . . . but it's still not enough.
If these grandparents feel they can manage caring for their beloved grandson, shouldn't they be allowed to try?
And who knows, perhaps the boy's mother, who suffers with mental health difficulties, will be in a position to parent her son herself in the future.
In the meantime, surely she should have the peace of mind to know he is with two people who adore him and love him like their own.