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How Old Is Too Old To Parent

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, November 06, 2007 1:58 PM EST
Category: None
Tags: Daycare Abuse

Mildred and Morris Brasovankin heading to court / Photo courtesy Philadelphia Inquirer

Morris and Mildred Brasovankin just want to continue caring for their five-year-old grandson, Steven, until his 54-year-old father, their son, gets his life together.  Their son had temporarily lost custody and the little boy’s mother abandoned Steven soon after he was born. 

Morris and Mildred stepped in as the main child care providers for their sweet, round-faced grandchild. But in this latest round robin, Family Court Judge Ann Butchart has decided the elderly couple cannot continue to parent their grandson. 

Instead he will stay with foster parents and the Brasovankins will be allowed supervised one-hour weekly visits. 

What did they do wrong?  Why would the state grab the little boy out of pre-school one day right out from under the couple?   At ages 89 and 86, the state said the Brasovankins are too old to keep up with their 5-year-old grandson. 

Grandparents are increasingly stepping in when parents cannot care for their children.   But in June, a judge ordered the Department of Health Services to put Morris and Mildred’s grandson in foster care. “We are heartbroken,” Mildred told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “He was the joy of our lives.”  

"He was stolen," Mildred says.  “There’s no such thing as too old,” noting that family ties are what matters.  “There’s no reason for him to be with strangers,” she says. 

The case had riveted national attention on the question of age discrimination in child rearing and whether a younger, yet unfamiliar couple, would be better suited to meet a young boys needs. 

Steven Brasovankin / Photo courtesy Philadelphia Inquirer
Mildred and Morris are still active, live in their own home they’ve owned for 50 years.  When their grandson was born three months premature to a woman addicted to crack, the Brasovankins stepped in to help.

Their son eventually got temporary custody but Mildred and Morris felt the baby should be put up for adoption through Jewish Family Services. 

Mildred even became friendly with the foster mother who had Steven for two years and wanted to adopt him. That’s when the Brasovankin’s son decided to step in and regain custody of Steven. He lived with his father for the next three years, breaking the hearts of both the Brasovankins and the prospective adoptive family. 

But when the Brasovankin’s son became agitated at the hospital, where the little boy was taken after an accident—Steven was once again taken from his father.  Once again, the elderly grandparents took over the parenting role for Steven.    

Individual counties run Philadelphia Department of Human Services and initially decided to leave Steven with the grandparents.  That decision was overruled by a recommendation of the guardian appointed by the court.

Philadelphia Family court responds through a spokesperson that “The court looks for the placement option that best meets the child’s range of physical and psychological needs,” refusing to comment on a specific case. 

During a recent visit, Steven asked Morris, “"Pop-pop, are you going to take me home in your car?"

"Soon," Morris told him gently.

When Steven’s foster parents went on vacation, they didn’t take the little boy with them.  The state placed him with yet another family.  "It's more strangers," she said. "What are you doing to this child? You are traumatizing him even more,” says Mildred.

On September 11th- when the case went before Family Court Judge Ann Butchart and she decided Steven should stay in foster care.  She went one step further – imposing a gag order,  severing their right to even talk about the legal proceedings.

Why?  Once again, the Philadelphia Inquirer, which has been following this case, consulted with a family-law attorney Lynne Gold-Bikin.

"I'm always suspicious when a judge issues a gag order, especially when the case involves something as outrageous as keeping grandparents from seeing their grandchild," said Gold-Bikin, herself a doting grandmother of 10 who'd "go crazy if someone told me I could have only one hour of supervised time per week with my grandchildren."

The Brasovankins have already told their story to a national audience of the ABC morning program, “Good Morning America.” Parenting contributor Anne Pleshette Murphy says the Brasovankins have provided consistent care giving and there is no evidence their case has not been competent.

“I think taking this child out of this home is going to be more traumatic than anything he could experience being raised by this elderly couple," she said.

Child advocates believe a stable home life, even with elderly grandparents, is preferable over living with strangers. 

“The Philadelphia case should have been a no-brainer,” says Richard Wexler, director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, tells IB News, “The point is you give the love and stability of the people they know best for as long as possible, and that’s the grandparents,” he says.  “Give them the help they need to care for this child as long as they live.

Yes, it is traumatic when they die,” he says, “but the older the child the better he can cope with trauma. Now they’ve guaranteed the equivalent of trauma.” Wexler is not sure why the child was taken from his father the second time simply because he has financial problems.

Mildred and Morris aren’t quitting. They have an attorney and they contacted the original foster mother who they felt should have been able to adopt the baby.

Lucy Ruben says, "When he came to me, he was like half dead. I saved his life, and it was a joy to have him. I enjoyed every minute with him. I loved him. I love him." 

Lucy Ruben vowed she couldn’t bear going through the experience of losing Steven again. At her husband and son’s urging, the family wants Steven back, but only if they can keep him for good.

AARP’s website reports that six million children are living in households headed by grandparents or other family members.  The organizations web site offers links to local program, policies in each state regarding custody and organizations that can help.

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