REAL LIFE: Fighting for the rights of grandparents to see their grandchildren

It's a sad truth that grandparents have no legal right to see their grandchildren.

Tuesday, 9th January 2018, 8:47 am
Ken Ebbens campaigns for grandparents' rights and is heavily involved in health and social care locally Picture by Habibur Rahman

It’s a sad truth that grandparents have no legal right to see their grandchildren.

Across the country, millions of grandparents are estranged from their grandchildren and miss out on watching them grow up.

Ken Ebbens is one of those affected by a traumatic estrangement.

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Ken Ebbens and his wife Valerie Picture by Ian Hargreaves

He now campaigns for grandparents’ rights and runs a support group to help other people in the same situation.

Ken, 62, from Landport, Portsmouth, has three grandchildren but only one, Chloe Fowler, 10, he is lucky enough to see all the time.

‘For me it’s probably the best relationship I have got with anybody,’ he says.

‘It’s magical. She’s turning into a teenager now. She sings in our choir. We do an awful lot with her and she’s fabulous.

Ken Ebbens and his granddaughter Chloe Fowler on a family holiday in north Devon

‘She’s the oldest grandchild but she sadly doesn’t see her cousins because of a family bust-up, which I feel is such a shame for her.’

Ken and his wife fell out with the parents of their other two youngest grandchildren eight years ago and no longer have contact with them.

‘It was devastating at the time,’ he says. ‘But someone referred me to a lady from the Grandparents’ Association who helped me try to get my head straight.

‘My way of coping was thinking that the grandchildren didn’t exist.’

Ken Ebbens and his wife Valerie Picture by Ian Hargreaves

Ken got involved with the Bristol Grandparents Support Group and he now runs the Hampshire branch.

He has since gone on to meet many grandparents who are suffering estrangement from their beloved grandchildren.

As well as being emotionally devastating it can have an impact on the adults’ mental health.

‘About a million children are estranged from their grandparents,’ Ken adds.

Ken Ebbens and his granddaughter Chloe Fowler on a family holiday in north Devon

‘I’ve had five influential people in my life. One of them was my grandmother. She died in 1986 but she was always there as that loving, safe, non-judgmental lady.

‘But this isn’t about grandparents’ rights really – it’s to do with the grandchild’s rights. The mother should always be the first port of call for the child and the father should be the second but there’s a group after that.

‘We are one of that cohort of people.’

Ken says grandparents play a vital role in a child’s life.

‘The biggest tip that I got was from my nan when my kids were born. She was never judgmental, she was just helpful.

‘If you are able to maintain the relationship with the grandparents then you will benefit.

‘I make time to take Chloe to school and pick her up one day a week.

‘There are some lousy grandparents out there. There are people who should never be grandparents and there are people who want to be grandparents but can’t.’

Grandparents Support Group meets in Portsmouth once a month and people are offered support and advice on their individual situations.

Ken says he hears of very sad stories.

‘People come along and often they have a conversation and that’s all that they need,’ he adds.

‘One lady looked after her grandson for nine years and sadly the dad accused her of harassment and had her put in prison overnight. He then disappeared and moved out of her life. That’s her only grandchild.

‘She took the brave decision a year ago to move forward and put it behind her. She’s now got a new relationship and other children have come into her life, which is a consolation.

‘We try to give help and advice and not tell people what to do. We try to give people options and suggestions. There’s no such thing as a right answer.

‘The worst thing for people is to think “It’s just me, I’m on my own and nobody understands”.

‘People feel isolated. They feel lonely. It’s about grandparents realising they aren’t on their own.’

Ken has decided to focus on supporting other people, rather than continuing to fight for access to his grandchildren.

‘I don’t want to pursue it now,’ he says. ‘My wife does, but I don’t because then it becomes about me, not them. If the child chooses to come and see you, you can very slowly build a relationship. But it has to be at the instigation of the child.

‘Once you take legal action, there’s no going back. I would rather walk away otherwise it just wrecks you emotionally. Chloe has given me a focus. It’s a different and unique relationship. I don’t know any grandparent who doesn’t say the same. She gives me an extra purpose in life.

‘It opens up a whole new life for grandparents who have got a lot to offer. A lot of the time they are on their own.

‘In every single example I have heard in the past eight years, there has never been an issue between the grandparent and the grandchild. It’s the people in the middle.

‘I feel very blessed to have access to one grandchild.’

Ken Ebbens runs the Hampshire Grandparents Support Group which meets on the second Tuesday of every month at the Mountbatten Centre, Portsmouth, from 12.45pm until 2.45pm.

He explains that although grandparents have no legal right to their grandchildren, family courts do recognise the important role that they play in their lives.

Taking legal action can provide access, depending on the individual circumstances.

Ken took part in a visit to the Houses of Parliament last year to lobby for more rights for grandparents, alongside campaigner Esther Rantzen. But the campaign was put on hold when a petition was cancelled ahead of last year’s general election. The group hopes this can now be raised in parliament once again.

‘Esther Rantzen was fabulous,’ says Ken. ‘She was everything you would hope from someone who has an influence. She was sincere. For her, it’s about loneliness.

‘For a lot of grandparents, it’s not just what they have got to give, it’s what they get as well. It’s a fact of life.’

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt has joined a chorus of MPs across the country campaigning for grandparents’ rights.