Grandparents across the Mid-Ohio Valley are now often found in parent-teacher conferences, supplying all meals and clothing, and providing discipline instead of soft cookies for their grandchildren.
The opioid epidemic is one factor in a rising number of children being raised not by their parents, but other family members.
“Most grandparents who have their grandkids though are doing so outside of our agency,” explained Alice Stewart, assistant director of Washington County Children Services. “Which is a positive because they’re stepping up when they know there is a problem before it comes the route of Children Services.”
Though the individual stories differ in the details, the toll on grandparents becoming parents again is similar.
“My daughter chose drugs over her children and she just left them with me,” said Jill Flinn, 43, of Marietta.
Flinn is raising a 2-year-old, 4-year-old and 5-year-old now, and she’s far from the only one in that position.
“I’ve had them all since they were babies, and really had to be both mom and dad for them,” said Susan Haught, 63, of Vincent, about her grandchildren. “It’s why my flower beds (are overgrown). I never thought I’d have to go back to work at the age of 60. Some days it’s just … God, I want to run away, but you can’t do that.”
Haught has juggled three now-teenage grandsons for the last 17 years.
In Little Hocking, there’s yet another story from a custodial grandparent.
“We’ve had Kendra since she was two and a half years old, she’s 11 now,” said Jean Hoyt, 63, of Little Hocking. “We got her through a lot of (her parents’) bad choices where she wasn’t their priority.”
And Joyce Howard, 52, of Stanleyville, has raised with her husband Steve their grandson Tyler, now in sixth grade, since he was 1 year old.
“I figured it would be the safest place for him,” she said. “I’m afraid if we didn’t step up where he would be today.”
Stewart said of the open Children Services cases with kinship care, only six children in the county are being raised by grandparents on the agency’s caseload of the 30 children in kinship care.
She added that 26 of the total remain in the custody of the agency.
“And to us kinship is used in the broadest definition. Children are placed with those who have a relationship with the child,” Stewart explained. “It could be a babysitter, a friend of the family or a coach, it does not have to be a blood relative.”
This is different from the Washington County Job and Family Services definition of kinship, which to qualify for aid requires blood relation.
And while the Howards and the Hoyts were financially equipped to take on their grandchildren, that’s not often the case for many taking on kinship care in Washington County.
“I was worried I would lose the house after Randy died,” said Haught, who got behind on taxes after her husband passed away a few years ago and she lacked training past a high school education to secure a well-paying job.
Ensuring food, clothing and shelter for her charges has also led to financial stress for Flinn.
“I lost my job,” she said. “I would probably be a paralegal right now but I couldn’t afford child care and who has time to study with three children under 6 (years old)?”
There are some services available to family members who take on the responsibility of raising their kin, through medical cards and food assistance supplemented by agencies like JFS and Children Services.
But those kinship incentive programs and the discounted childcare options can fall short of the needs and hold stipulations based on federal poverty levels, too.
“I only got help one time from those,” said Haught. “But when I really needed the aid it came through my church family. It was a gentleman from church that helped me straighten out my house and someone anonymous who paid my property taxes. And my daughter has been a huge help with straightening out my bills.”
Besides the financial strain though, there’s still the emotional toll grandparents have to handle as they raise their grandchildren.
“In the last couple of years as she’s gotten older she’s asked why did mom and dad not want me?” described Hoyt.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect.
Experiencing a divorce or separation from parents, or having a parent with a mental and/or substance use disorder, is high on the list of ACEs which can negatively affect children.
“But people respond differently to trauma,” said Megan Miller, principal at Beverly-Center Elementary. “So looking for a one-size-fits-all program for children isn’t feasible. There are genetic factors at…
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