Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

Many grandparents would say that grandchildren are the most precious gift on earth if only second to their own children. They get to have fun with them and spoil them, sugar them up and then send them home for their parents to deal with. That used to be the case with most families but times have changed and so have grandparents’ roles. All too many grandparents are now raising their grandchild or grandchildren due to a myriad of issues.

The opioid epidemic and the drug culture has reshaped the family dynamics resulting in grandparents having to step up and take control of their grandchildren’s lives.  This new phenomenon is called Grandfamilies. It is so prevalent in our society that even Congress has taken action. 

The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act, was introduced in May 2017 by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA).  The bill has been endorsed by more than 40 older adult and child advocacy groups, among them AARP, American Academy of Pediatrics and the newly formed Generations United, which is helping elevate voices of African American and Native American Grandfamilies.  President Donald Trump has recently signed this new Senate bill into law. 

The law establishes a Federal Advisory Council.  Its purpose is to promote, coordinate and disseminate information about resources and best practices to help relative caregivers meet the health, educational, nutritional and other needs of the children in their care as well as maintain their own physical and mental health and emotional well-being.  In a study released by Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, Community Research Partners last year found that there were about 40,000 households in Ohio where grandparents are raising grandchildren. Grandparent caregivers often struggle because many live on a fixed income. More than 2.6 million children in the U.S. live in Grandfamilies.

This issue is not mutually exclusive to Ohio residents. Closer to home, the Crawford Center in Franklin has established a Grandparent and  Kinship Support Group due to the growing number of local families having to raise their grandchildren.  This group, which was started last January and facilitated by Reesa Boyce, supports any caregivers who are raising or helping to raise their grandchildren. They can meet and discuss issues they face, having been thrown into the realm of being a parent once again. It is a safe environment to discuss the issues that have arisen due to this new role. The fact that this was not planned for and therefore, many retirees have had to go back to work to be able to afford to raise a second family at a time when they should be enjoying retirement, is among the abundance of topics discussed. Anger and resentment are intertwined with love and hope. Grandparents are angry at their children for not being able to raise their own child and yet with addiction there is hope of rehabilitation and possible reunification.  This is not the case with all grandparents as some have decided to adopt their grandchild making it a lifelong commitment. Still others have merged or blended their families together due to financial difficulties or parental illness. Co-raising grandchildren with your own adult child brings to life a whole new set of rules. One day you are wearing your grandparent hat and the next day you replace it with your parent hat. 

A merry-go-round of emotions ensues for all involved in this new Grandfamilies phenomenon. Simple things like letting your grandchild help bake a cake or assist with dinner becomes a battle since it just needs to get done. There is little time for fun and games since there is always laundry or other chores to attend to. Tasks that were once fun for parent and child turn into a battle when you are a grandparent and expect compliance but you often get none. Children are angry and wonder why they are not living with their parents like most of their friends. 

At the Crawford Center grandparents and other caretakers look for solutions or ideas that could make life more manageable.  Since the inception of the program several families have joined the group, some of them foster parents dealing with issues that are similar to those grandparent caretakers are facing.  Although Boyced has left the helm she has handed the reins over to a very capable and caring colleague. Sheila Jenkins is the new facilitator. She brings to the group a plethora of resources. Jenkins is involved in forming a new program called “No Wrong Door” in which resources are offered to victims and their families who have succumbed to the opioid crises, mental health issues or anything that is a mental or emotional barrier to parents being able to raise their own children. Meetings at the Crawford Center are not just for senior citizens. Anyone of any age who is taking care of a child that is not their biological child is welcome to join the group. 

One of the grandparents in the group who has adopted his granddaughter speaks about the trials and tribulations he has been through with his son, the child’s father. Addicted to drugs and having been in and out of rehab and arrested numerous times, he has finally given up on the hope that his son will ever get clean.  

“It is heartbreaking to watch your child succumb to drugs,” he said. “No father wants to disown his child but sometimes you just have to say enough is enough.” He would like to see more grandparents join the group and looks forward to having get togethers at parks and other public places where the adults and the children can interact with people who share their experiences. 

If you or someone you know ,who is a caretaker of a child that is not their biological child, is in need of emotional support they can come to the Crawford Center at 108 Wayah Rd and sign up for the Grandparent and Kinship Support Group. The group meets every second and fourth Thursday of each month at 10 a.m. For more information, call (828)349-2058.