Terry Doran has a joke for you, “If you’re a grandparent raising your grandkid, who’s going to teach the kid how to drive? You at the age of 86? Or will you let the 16-year-old figure it out on their own?!”
Caroline and Terry Doran, of South Toledo, never thought they would be raising a grandchild while in their 60s. “Parenting a grandchild is really difficult at our age,“ Caroline Doran said. “We don’t have the energy, physical ability and income we had when we raised our children. It’s really tough for all involved, especially since the family has been destroyed by circumstances brought on by the biological parent. The focus can’t be on who’s to blame, instead it becomes how to save this traumatized child.”
A variety of circumstances
There are many reasons why children find themselves living with a grandparent – mental health issues, neglect, long-term illness, death, incarceration, domestic violence, deployment and substance abuse, especially the opioid crisis.
“According to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO), 50 percent of children taken into agency custody or the custody of a relative in 2015 had experienced parental drug use. This data point emphasizes how the opioid epidemic in Ohio has impacted children and their extended families,” said Arcelia Armstrong, LSW for the Area Office on Aging. “One of the people we counsel has told me she’s afraid to watch the news, because that next dead body could very well be her daughter.”
The circumstances that surround grandparents taking custody of grandchildren vary, but the needs of the children really do not. “Every aspect of your life changes. You have to adjust to this new reality,” said Caroline Doran. “This is not where Terry and I thought we would be at this stage of life. It was totally overwhelming and socially isolating at the beginning. Now that we’ve had our granddaughter for several years, we’re finding that it’s becoming more manageable. My passion now is to find other grandparents in this situation and connect them with support and resources.”
Programs and help available
The Kinship Navigator Program at the Area Office on Aging offers a wide variety of help for these grandparents. Tina Gaston, program leader, said, “When we first meet a client, we do an intake assessment detailing the needs of the caregiver and of the child. Then we’ll customize a welcome packet and provide resources to that grandparent. Every person gets our 64-page Parenting Smarts Resource Guide. The Guide outlines where to go to find help or support groups, as well as assistance with expenses, educating the child, understanding legal issues, finding medical services and recreation outlets.”
Tina’s team makes regular follow up calls to their clients ensuring that they are taking advantage of all of the help that is out there for them. “Did you know that 233,699 kids in Ohio live with a grandparent or other relatives,” asked Arcelia Armstrong of the Area Office On Aging. “That’s 8.9 percent of the children in the state of Ohio!”
Felicia Otte Boyde of the Wood County Educational Service Center, states that often the “biggest concern of the grandparent is the fact that they have no legal guardianship or custody over the grandchild.” This makes it very difficult for them to access social services. “When we work with someone new, we spend a lot of time teaching them either how to gain custody or how to find the financial assistance they qualify for. Grandparents on a fixed income were not expecting the cost of raising a child again.”
One grandparent we interviewed who requested anonymity, has a similar story. “My son and his girlfriend were active drug users. Consequently, the baby was born addicted. I had not anticipated any of this when the role of caregiving fell into my lap after my son’s death from an overdose. Honestly, in the beginning, I didn’t want anything to do with my son or his girlfriend. I had distanced myself from their craziness. When the baby came along and I was in my 50s I had to ask myself if I wanted to do this again.
When I thought of my retirement, I pictured myself leaving the house any time I wanted. Going where I wanted, when I wanted. I wasn’t thinking diapers, bottles and how do I register my grandson for school.” As with many other grandparents in her situation, this grandmother said, “Lucas County Children Services (LCCS) helped immensely. I was assigned a caseworker who visits us once a month and guides me to the services we need.”
“We have 42 caseworkers who are trained to be hands-on,” said Amy Galvan from LCCS. “They visit 99 percent of the families we care for each month, which is great since the federal mandate is a 95 percent visitation rate. Currently we have 780 kids under our care. Out of that group 96 children are living with kin, while LCCS is providing the services for the family.”
Donna Seed, LCCS, agrees, “Children do better when they live with their families of origin. There’s less change and trauma for the child. We have a new ‘30 Days to Family’ program that will search for familial ties for a child in need. Our goal is to keep the child safe in their parents’ home, if we can’t do that, we want them in a kinship situation.”
The Northwest Regional Training Center offers free workshops on a variety of subjects throughout the year. Effective Single Parenting, Foster Family Survival Training and Understanding Trauma’s Effects and Building a Safe Place are among the trainings offered. The summer calendar can be found online at: https://www.co.lucas.oh.us/DocumentCenter/View/59298/Summer-2019-Caregiver-Training-Calendar.
Resources abound for grandparents who are in charge of rearing a grandchild. The Area Office of Aging, Lucas County Children Services, Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services as well as the West Toledo Branch Library are excellent places to begin.
Andrea Francis manager of the West Toledo Branch Library said: “The library is a natural fit for people to gather to learn. “In addition to our regular workshops, we have a Grandparents Club which is a social group for grandparents raising their grandkids. They’re able to get together and share how they’re feeling— whether they are feeling overwhelmed and isolated or they are celebrating a child’s recent success. We even have a Family Play Date once a month where kids can meet other kids who are experiencing the same thing.”
“We found help through the Kinship Navigator Program, Cedar Creek Church, the Lucas County Children Services Board, and the West Toledo Branch of the Toledo Library,” Caroline Doran continues. “What I’ve found in speaking to other grandparents is that every child wants to be with their parent. Ideally the biological parent will heal and get the children back. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time. It’s a very bittersweet journey.”
“Good things go with this situation as well,” Terry Doran explains. “My granddaughter is a joy to watch. We have fun together. What I miss most though is that as a grandparent raising a grandchild, Caroline and I have been robbed of the opportunity to be a grandparent.”
The anonymous grandmother agrees that there are benefits to rearing a grandchild. “When I go to bed at night, I know he’s safe and secure in the room next door. I appreciate the chance to provide him with a safe place to grow and to have a normal, stable productive life.”
Help is Out There
If you find yourself raising your grandchildren, standing in as a parent, know you can turn to these resources for support. Don’t remain isolated and overwhelmed. There are many others out there in a similar situation, learn from them and give them the opportunity to learn from you.
West Toledo Branch Library
A 4-Part Series of Classes for
Grandparents Raising Grandkids and
Grandparents’ Club Social group.
1320 W Sylvania Ave, Toledo
Lucas County Department
of Job and Family Services
3210 Monroe St., Toledo
Area Office on Aging
Kinship Navigator Program
2155 Arlington Ave, Toledo
Boomers Resource Network
Lake Erie Region,
PO Box 1095, Holland
705 Adams St., Toledo