Amarah's Corner: A celebration and tribute, 2019

Let us celebrate this year, 2019, and give tribute to the grandparents of children left behind due to opiate addiction, overdose and death of the parents. Addiction has come in many forms, heroin, methamphetamine, alcohol and others. It has led the living, sober grandparents to care for the children of the addict.

In the state of Colorado there are at least 35,000 grandparents doing full time care of their grandchildren due to the opioid epidemic. There is a total of 67,500 children. Out of the children 40 percent of them have been with the grandparents for five years.

Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to census figures. Their ranks are increasing. The number of grandparents raising grandchildren is up 7 percent from 2009.

Raising grandchildren can take a toll on grandparents: higher-than-normal rates of depression, sleeplessness, emotional problems, and chronic health problems like hypertension and diabetes; feelings of exhaustion, loneliness, and isolation; a sense of having too little privacy, and too little time to spend with their spouses, friends, and other family members. There’s a disproportionately high rate of poverty among grandparents raising grandchildren, and more than 40 percent report having economic or social-service needs—for themselves or, more often, their grandchildren—that are unmet.

The grandparents might be struggling with complicated feelings about their own child’s shortcomings as a parent, too, which stirs up an unsettling mixture of disappointment, embarrassment, anger, and resentment. They might be grieving for a child who either died or simply walked away, and for the vision they once had of a simple, ordinary, fun-with-the-grandkids kind of grandparenthood.

Still, there are unexpected rewards. Some grandparents say they feel younger because of being involved again in the day-to-day lives of children, running to after-school activities, or reading Harry Potter and teen magazines to keep current. They also have a renewed sense of purpose, at just the time of life when their age-mates report feeling less and less necessary. The kids can benefit, too; according to some studies, children raised by their grandparents have fewer behavioral problems than those who end up in foster care with non-relatives, though perhaps there was something that set apart those kids and families in the first place.

This has all been said by Robin Marantz Henig, June 1, 2018.  The government has been keeping track of the statistics. This has been a growing epidemic with opiate, methamphetamine and alcohol addictions. These grandparents have stepped up to the plate and have put these grandchildren first and this, we need to celebrate. It has taken a lot off of society. We do not have enough foster homes or caregivers otherwise to be able to care for these children.

Donna Butts is executive director of Generations United, and has written about legislative actions:

On Monday, July 9, President Trump signed into law The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act, first introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in May 2017. The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act has received support from 40 older adult and child advocacy groups including AARP, American Academy of Pediatrics and my group, Generations United, which aims to improve the lives of kids and older adults.

What does the new law mean for the more than 2.5 million grandparents who’ve stepped up to raise children when their parents are unable to do so?

First, it will establish a Federal Advisory Council to support grandparents and other relatives raising children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be the lead agency coordinating the work of the council. Its charge is to identify, 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.

The council will also develop a process so the public can provide comments and recommendations.

To document its progress, the council will issue a report to Congress in the first six months and again in two years on best practices, resources and other information for grandfamilies — as well as gaps in services to meet the families’ needs.

The number of grandfamilies in America has been growing and this is expected to continue. Some of this is due to the population increase of older adults, but a lot has to do with poverty, substance abuse (especially during the current opioid epidemic), the death of a grandchild’s parent and extended military deployment.

Sometimes great-grandparent caregivers — find themselves forced to cut into their own retirement finances and defer their dreams so they can prioritize the dreams of their grandchildren.

Federal employees representing various agencies and departments whose work impacts grandfamilies will comprise a portion of the members of the council. This includes agencies like Administration for Community Living, Administration for Children and Families, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mental Health and Substance Use.

Sen. Collins and Sen. Casey, along with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who introduced the companion bill in the House, are to be congratulated for championing, grandfamilies.

They understand that grandfamilies, and all families, deserve our respect and support to do what families do best — raise healthy, contributing children.

This year, 2019, let’s ask ourselves how we might help these grandparents and support the work that they do.  Thank you, Grandfamilies, for everything you have done for the future generation.

Barbara Troy, MD

Chair, Amarah’s Hope For Kids Like Me