Happy Valley is a crime drama that has gripped the nation for its exciting plot lines and sensational finale. However, it is another element of the show that has caught our attention, and that is the depiction of grandparent carers. The lead character in the show is Catherine, who is a Police Sergeant and main carer of her Grandson Ryan. Following the death of Ryan’s mother, Catherine’s daughter, Catherine takes on the responsibility of caring for Ryan. His father Tommy Lee Royce is later imprisoned for various offences, one of them being a vicious assault of Catherine. She mentions in the second series that there are court orders in place to prevent Tommy Lee from contacting her or Ryan. The series highlights a diverse family dynamic, with Catherine’s sister also residing with them and supporting Claire in caring for Ryan.

Whilst on average, grandparents in the UK provide 10 or less hours of childcare a week. More than 162,000 children in England and Wales live in ­‘kinship care’ households. This is where the child’s main carer is a family member who is not their parent. This could be grandparents and great aunts, such as in Happy Valley, or cousins, older siblings, etc. Family members will often take on the role of primary carer for a child when the parents are unwilling or uncapable of caring for their child, or on the death of a parent, as in Happy Valley.

What legal considerations are there for grandparent carers?

Parental Responsibility- this enables a carer to make decisions (along with others who hold parental responsibility) on behalf of a child in their care, for example what school they are to attend and what medical treatment they should have. Whilst the mother of a child automatically has parental responsibility, and fathers obtain it through either being on the birth certificate or marriage, other carers must apply to the court for an order of parental responsibility or a live with order which will give the holder parental responsibility for the length of the order.

Child Arrangement Order– these are orders of the court that establish who the child lives with and who they spend time with. A Grandparent or relative can apply for a child arrangements order, which will state that the child lives with them, and potentially spends time with others. They cannot use their parental responsibility to the exclusion of others with parental responsibility. A kinship carer would in most circumstances require permission of the court at the same time as applying for a ‘lives with’ order.

Special Guardianship Order– Special Guardianship Orders allow a carer to use their parental responsibility to the exclusion of another party with parental responsibility. This type of order is usually used in cases where the children were placed in the care of the kinship carers as a result of the parents being unable to care for the children, or where one parent is uncooperative or disruptive to the child’s upbringing. The level of investigation by social services prior to this order being made is more onerous than a CAFCASS investigation prior to a child arrangements order being made.

If you are facing issues over child care arrangements as a grandparent or family member, then please contact one of the Family team who will be able to help.