Grandparents face more restrictions than rights when it comes to protecting their grandchildren

3 On Your Side Investigates - Grandparents: More Restrictions than Rights

Grandparents: More restrictions than rights

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Most grandparents would take the responsibility of protecting their grandchildren, even from their own children, if they believe they are in danger.

Many are surprised and shocked to learn that even with arrests, and in some cases, prison sentences, they still have to fight for the safety of those children in the courts, which offers no guarantees and can be costly both financially and emotionally.

3 On Your Side Investigates Grandparents: More Restrictions Than Rights in this special report.
Al and Sheila Mosley have adopted five of their grandchildren. (Source: WLBT)
Al and Sheila Mosley have adopted five of their grandchildren. (Source: WLBT)

Shirley Vample of Vicksburg has adopted 6 of her grandchildren. It started with a phone call in 2015 from one of her daughters about her five-year-old grandson.

“She said Mama we’ve got a problem. And I said what that is? DHS is at Alice’s house.”

The child was found in the middle of the street with no clothing.

“That’s when I stepped in”, Vample said.

Vample says it was a process to make sure the adoption went through and it was not easy but more than worth it. Another daughter moved in to help out. Together they took classes, went through training and had to get licensed for her grandchildren to stay.

“After two years or three years they said I could adopt the kids”, Vample explained.

Vample says the adoption, that was finalized just a few weeks ago, has allowed them to move forward without worrying about the children being removed.

Vample told us, "I don’t have to worry about them being alone, staying in an empty house alone, by themselves, without eating or anything like that cause I will be there for them. No matter what."

Vample thought it would be open and shut. But it is not.

Crystal Welch, Supervising Attorney and Professor with Mississippi College School of Law’s Family and Children’s Law Center, has worked with parents and grandparents. She explains why the process can be long, frustrating and financially draining.

"A lot of people will say that grandparents do not have any rights, but they do. They just don’t have any automatic rights to parent that child”, Welch said.

Even when there are criminal acts and arrests, some grandparents still have to fight, like Latoya Atkins-Elam and her husband. She says two years ago they learned their daughter had gone through a traumatic situation.

Latoya Atkins-Elam and her husband have adopted their granddaughter. (Source: WLBT)
Latoya Atkins-Elam and her husband have adopted their granddaughter. (Source: WLBT)

"My daughter was homeless at the time, pretty much moving from house to house with our grandbaby and finally decided to call her Dad and say, hey Dad we need somewhere to stay.”

They would find out just how much their daughter had been through. She told them she had been raped by her stepfather.

"Fourteen it started, 16 she got pregnant. Probably around the age of 18 she finally decided to break her silence and she ran away from home with the child and that’s when she was from house to house”, Atkins-Elam said.

The stepfather, Wendolyn Lee, a self proclaimed civil rights leader was caught and arrested in New Orleans after he skipped out on his bond and disappeared for more than a year in February 2018. He is charged with rape and statutory rape. Lee fought Atkins-Elam and her husband for custody of the child.

"This should be a clear cut situation. He’s in jail, he’s behind bars, he has no bond, he’s getting ready to be convicted of something that is a heinous crime that he committed. It should be clear cut so there were times I would get frustrated.”

Welch says court rulings are case specific. She recently handled a case in which the father is in prison. The grandparent was finally allowed to adopt the child.

Welch said, “So what you have, there is essentially a quasi adoption where the natural mother’s parental rights are terminated, she’s crossed off the birth certificate and her name is now replaced with the grandmother. The natural father’s parental rights remain in tact.”

Al and Sheila Mosley have adopted five of their grandchildren.

Al and Sheila Mosley say they had to hire an attorney for their youngest grandson during the adoption process. (Source: WLBT)
Al and Sheila Mosley say they had to hire an attorney for their youngest grandson during the adoption process. (Source: WLBT)

Sheila Mosley said, “Our son made some bad decisions, got in with the wrong crowd and DHS was threatening to take his children away from him and we did not want them to go into foster care.”

Their son wanted his children placed with his parents. The Mosley's said that made it easier, but there were still some hurdles. They were required to hire an attorney to represent their youngest grandson.

Al Mosley said, “Now you get another expense and that doesn’t add to the child, that actually takes away from him. That’s money we couldn’t spend on taking care of his needs. We had to spend on the court system.”

Mosley says they were shocked.

"Not only shocked at first it really angered me. We certainly at our age didn't do it for us. We did it because we want that child to receive as much love and direction that he can to do the best that he can in life”, Mosley explained.

Grandparents are also encouraged to call Child Protection Services if they fear for a child's safety and well being.

Tonya Rogillio a deputy Commissioner with Child Protection Services says grandparents should not fear getting their kids in trouble or having their grandchildren placed in state custody.

"Actually by state statute when a child comes into custody we are required to explore family first. We are required to look for a family member who is appropriate, willing and able to take that child”, said Rogillio.

The kids have done well with their grandparents. Taigen Mosley who is now 20 has been with her grandparents since she was in 4th grade.

Taigen said, “They have stuck with me through it all and they have been helping me and it has been a wild ride. It’s been fun. They are amazing parents.”

The Mosley's and every grandparent we talked with all give the same advice.

Sheila Mosley said, “The first thing is forgive. Make sure that you’re working out of love and not a revenge attitude.”

Al Mosley told us, “Fight for your rights to love that child and be apart of their life as much as you possibly can.”

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