Stories can help us make sense of the world. They can take us to different places and times. They offer escape when we need to leave our own place and time behind for an hour or two. Stories can also make us think about situations we might experience ourselves, and make us wonder why something happened.
There are often situations in stories to which legal rules apply. The legal rules are often left out of a story – authors might think that readers aren’t interested in the legal reason that something has happened. On the other hand, for someone who finds themselves in that situation, knowing what the rules are, knowing why something could or did happen might be helpful. Our blog project ‘Reading My Rights’ will look at some popular books explain some of the legal rules that are working behind the scenes in the stories – and what would happen in Wales in ‘in real life’.
The Nearest Faraway Place
The Nearest Faraway Place by Hayley Long in 2017, won the Tir na n-Og prize in 2018. It tells the story of brothers Griff and Dylan who must move to Aberystwyth to live with a distant relative and her husband. It’s a great read, covering grief, the relationship between brothers, and ultimately hope as Griff and Dylan navigate through the terrible situations they find themselves in and start to see what the future might look like.
We’re not going to give the story away (no spoilers here!), but it’s no secret that one of the key plot twists of the Nearest Faraway Place happens early on in the book. Griff and Dylan’s parents die in a car crash as the family is coming home from a holiday. Although the family is British (and the boys’ mum is Welsh) they have been living abroad for many years and are living in America when the accident happens. With no family in the USA, what will happen to Griff and Dylan?
Who looks after you if your parents die?
It’s a sad and frightening thought that your parents might die. Where would you go? Who would look after you? This issue is tackled in the Nearest Faraway Place. We’ll look at the legal position which leads to Griff and Dylan moving to Aberystwyth to live with their mum’s cousin, Dee, and her husband Owen and the laws which would protect any child in Wales in a similar position.
Children and young people under the age of 18 have specific rights designed to ensure that they are properly looked after and can develop to their full potential. These rights are also designed to make sure children and young people are not ignored, badly treated or exploited by adults. They are set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In Wales, the UNCRC has been formally adopted as Welsh law in the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. The Welsh Government must now have ‘due regard’ to the UNCRC whenever it makes any decision or makes any new law.
Laws that are made by the UK Parliament and apply in Wales don’t have to take the UNCRC into account in the same way. The UK has signed the UNCRC – it just hasn’t incorporated it into law in the same way that Wales has.
Some of the UNCRC Rights that are relevant to Griff and Dylan’s situation in The Nearest Faraway Place are
- The right to a name, a nationality and to family ties (Article 8 UNCRC)
- The right to say what you think should happen when adults are making decisions about you, and to have your opinions taken into account (Article 12 UNCRC)
- The right to be properly cared for and protected from violence abuse or neglect by the people looking after you (Article 19 UNCRC)
Moving to Wales
As UK citizens, Griff and Dylan had no legal right to stay in the USA once their parents had died. They would have needed permission (visas) to be in the USA and this would have been associated with their parents’ visas to live and work in the USA.
The British Consulate, the organisation which looks after UK nationals abroad, worked with the US Government to make arrangements for Griff and Dylan to come back to the UK, but that doesn’t solve the problem of who will look after them.
Being looked after
If Griff and Dylan’s parents had made a will, they could have said who they wanted to look after the boys if they (the parents) both died. That person (or people) would become what’s known as a ‘Testamentary Guardian’. Although it isn’t clear from the book, it looks as if this didn’t happen, and there had to be investigations about who the boys would live with. These investigations led to Dee, their mum’s cousin in Aberystwyth, who is willing and happy to look after the boys.
Depending on how the arrangement has been set up, Dee may be an ‘Informal Kinship Carer’ for Griff and Dylan, or a ‘Kinship Foster Carer’. If there has been no involvement by Social/Children’s Services in setting up the arrangement, it will be an informal arrangement. If Social/Children’s Services have been involved, the arrangement is more likely to be Kinship Foster Care. As there had to be investigations into who would look after the boys, it is quite likely that Children’s Services would have been involved – and early on when the boys have just arrived in Aberystwyth, with Alison, from the British Consulate, there is mention made of a Family Liaison Officer in Aberystwyth who will stay in touch ‘for the next year at least’.
If the arrangement is Kinship Foster Care, Dee and Owen will get support from the Local Authority to help them look after the boys. Money from Griff and Dylan’s parents might also be available to help look after them.
If Griff and Dylan’s parents left a will, their money would be distributed according to the will. If not, any money and property owned by the parents would be divided up according to something called the ‘intestacy rules’. Under these rules, all the property and money that belonged to Griff and Dylan’s parents would go to the children. Because Griff and Dylan are under 18, the money would be put into a ‘trust’ and be looked after by adult trustees until they reach the age of 18. Money in the trust could be used to help look after the boys while they live with Dee and Owen.
One of the key issues for Griff and Dylan will be who has ‘parental responsibility’ for them. Parental responsibility is the term used for the authority that parents have to make decisions on behalf of their children. Parental responsibility doesn’t automatically transfer to the person looking after a child day to day, so it may be that at some point, a court order will have been made giving Dee (and possibly her husband Owen) parental responsibility. Otherwise, decisions about where the boys would go to school, or any medical treatment they might need, might not be able to be taken. This would have a huge impact on their lives in Aberystwyth.
Were Griff and Dylan’s rights respected?
By the end of the book, Griff and Dylan are in a much better situation than they are after the accident, settled in school and building friendships in Aberystwyth. There’s a positive outcome, and it seems that there have been no legal complications arising from their situation, but were their rights always respected?
Article 12 UNCRC includes a key right to express your views and opinions when a decision is to be made about you. When Griff and Dylan first move to Aberystwyth, it doesn’t look as if this right has been respected. The boys have been kept out of the arrangements – no one seems to ask them what they think about the plan to move to Wales. It’s presented to them as a ‘done deal’. Later on though, when an opportunity to live somewhere else is offered, Griff can make the decision himself.
By identifying family members that the boys can live with, their right to family ties is preserved, and the connection between Dee and the boys’ mother seems to help them as they adjust to life in Wales, linking back to Article 8 UNCRC. Equally, although not with their parents, the boys have no complaints about Dee and Owen and how they are looked after by them. The arrangements that have been put in place mean that they are being properly cared for under Article 19 UNCRC.
It’s reassuring to see how Griff and Dylan are cared for, and how arrangements are put in place to make sure they can move on in their lives. While Griff and Dylan are lucky to have Dee, it’s not always so straightforward. There are also situations where your parents may not be able to look after you, or are not looking after you properly, for other reasons. Just as a legal framework protected Griff and Dylan, there’s a legal framework to protect you in these other situations – you can read more about it on our pages about being looked after.
Watch out for our other blogs in the Reading My Rights series!