13 September 2014

'The government loves grandparents - why wouldn't they? We provide £7 billion of free childcare' said Jean Stogdon. 

She was the co-founder, in 2001, with Lord Young of Darlington (the sociologist Michael Young), of the national charity Grandparents Plus.

Last year she received an OBE for her work in this field.  She has spent many years promoting the cause of grandparents and the roles they can play in children's lives.  When a family is split apart by separation or divorce, it is very often the grandparents who form the next line of support.

"When we started Grandparents Plus and I visited all the big charities, they said, 'But grandparents don't live anywhere near each other these days'.  Well, we've blown that out of the water.  They may not always live nearby, but they travel.  I know grandparents who make long journeys, several times a week, to provide childcare."

Jean brought to Grandparents Plus a 20-year career in local authority childcare and 18 years of living at home as a guardian ad litem (a guardian appointed by a court to represent the interests of infants).

One of her first actions was to make a research visit to the US.  They were ten years ahead of us in kinship care she discovered.  In 1957, Michael Young had focused upon that word in his classic sociological study Family and Kinship in East London. "And we brought the word back."

No government, Jean believes, is going to change the law to give grandparents the rights we'd like.  So her mission is to give power to grandparents - on the ground.  She is talking to Esther Rantzen about the possibility of a TV programme on the role of grandparents, and she's putting her belief into practice in her own U3A, Barnet, where she has organised a group called Grandparents Talking.

With the complexities of living today - mixed marriages, religious and cultural differences, acrimonious divorces, parents separating, children moving to other countries - family live is harder.  So we bring our stuff.  We talk about these things, says Jean.

A friend runs a similar group in Putney, SW London.  Jean would like to see more such groups being formed by U3As, so that grandparents can become better informed about the political and legal aspects of the grandparental role, and can see themselves in a larger context, as a powerful and essential section of society.

She would be glad to advise anyone who wishes to start such a group.  Contact her at jean.stogdon@waitrose.com.  See: http://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/consultation-responses

From an article in the U3A (University of the Third Age) national magazine (http://www.u3a.org.uk/)

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