POWER TO THE GRANDPARENTS; at Long Last, 'Kinship' Laws That Will Help to Keep Families Together; Power to Grandparent Carers

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Byline: Alan Roden Scottish Political Editor

SCOTS grandparents are set to get sweeping new legal rights to bring up their grandchildren.

First Minister Alex Salmond has vowed to introduce powers that will put relatives at the front of the custody queue if children face being fostered or taken into care.

The move comes three years after the Scottish Daily Mail revealed how social workers decided to rehome two children with a gay couple after their mother's parents were judged 'too old'.

In the wake of that scandal, plans have been drawn up to introduce court orders that will give 'kinship carers' - family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles - a 'clear responsibility for all the day-to-day decisions about caring for the child and their upbringing'.

Under the proposals, councils will have to help relatives apply for custody, which could 'provide a new route to permanence for kinship carers that reflects the close bonds between the child and the carer'.

The court orders would be used when a child cannot live with their birth parents. In about a quarter of cases, the situation arises because of bereavement, while addiction problems, neglect and prison sentences are other common reasons.

At present, grandparents who look after a grandchild often find they have no parental responsibilities and rights in law, creating daily difficulties about decisions.

With informal arrangements, whereby family members have stepped in during times of need, it is even harder to access support from local authorities.

Scottish ministers believe a new legal order will provide 'a missing option which could positively help families to act to avoid a child coming into care, or to help a child leave formal care, with the necessary support to provide a safe and stable longterm care environment'.

As a result, it will 'give the carer clear responsibility for all aspects of caring for the child and for taking the decisions to do with their upbringing; and offer an alternative to formal care and provide a right to request an assessment of need by the carer and a right to appropriate financial and non-financial support'.

Last night, the move was welcomed by campaigners.

James Deuchars of Grandparents Apart UK said: 'We want grandparents to be considered first.

'It's not always possible that grandparents can help but they should be considered first. …