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'Ageist' assumptions split families

Families are being split up because social services make ageist assumptions about grandparents' ability to raise their young grandchildren, according to a new report.

Social workers and local authority panels give greater weight to the "permanency" of adoption, rather than the love, stability and family links that grandparents and other family carers can provide, according to family charity Grandparents Plus.

The report, called Too Old To Care?, says many older grandparents are fearful of their grandchildren being taken away - which prevents them seeking help.

There are an estimated 25,000 grandparents over the age of 65 raising 30,000 grandchildren in the UK, often because of challenging circumstances including parental alcohol and drug misuse, abuse or neglect, imprisonment, bereavement, disability or illness, the report says.

If the children they are caring for were in independent foster care it would cost £1.4 billion in care costs alone each year, it adds.

The report shows how older grandparents face prolonged legal battles, lack of support and financial hardship as they fight to care for their grandchildren. And it also says that adoption is not necessarily a permanent alternative for children, with rates of placement breakdown of between 10% and 50%.

One grandmother who has been raising her eight-year-old grandson since he was born, said of the local authority: "When they come near us from time to time it's very scary because obviously we don't want him to be taken away."

Sam Smethers, chief executive of Grandparents Plus, said: "We found a range of problems - from ageist assumptions that they're 'too old to care', through to poor quality assessments and care plans.

"Yet we know that older people do make good parents for children. They have a wealth of experience and can provide children with love, a sense of identity and belonging and crucially maintain relationships with the wider family."

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "It is unacceptable for grandparents wanting to take on the care of their grandchildren to be excluded simply because of their age. The law is clear on this. If grandparents are fit and healthy then the local authority should consider them alongside other suitable relatives before thinking about other options like adoption."

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