Around the country, opioid use is on the rise, and kids are often the unseen victims.
When parents are swept away by drug abuse, children are left behind, pushing tens of thousands into the foster care system. It is grandparents who are stepping into the breach, up to fill the taking on the role of parents to their grandchildren when their own children are unable to parent.
It is grandparents who are stepping into the breach, up to fill the taking on the role of parents to their grandchildren when their own children are unable to parent.
In Ohio, according to the Wall Street Journal, the number of kids being placed with family members or in foster homes has grown 19 percent since 2010 — growth that is largely attributed to the epidemic. In West Virginia, that number has grown 24 percent since 2012.
In Lucas County, Ohio (where Toledo is located), the rate has gone up 20 percent this year as officials scramble to recruit foster families. Right now, approximately 2.5 million children are being raised in these “grandfamilies.”
Of course, grandparents didn’t plan to be raising little children later in life. Unfortunately, they now find themselves trying to balance things like saving for their own retirement and saving to pay college tuition fees for their grandchildren.
Paula and Jim Meisberger of Indiana recently adopted their three grandchildren after a parent’s heroin addiction left the little ones in need of a stable home.
“For my husband’s 35th anniversary at the company, everyone asked him if he was going to retire… He said ‘No, I have a newborn.’”
“For my husband’s 35th anniversary at the company, everyone asked him if he was going to retire,” Paula Musberger said of her husband, a 56 year-old UPS driver. “He said ‘No, I have a newborn.’” .
“Don’t get me wrong, I love the kids with all my heart and soul, but this should be our time,” she said. “I would love to be able to spoil them and send them home.”
This week, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) held a hearing on this subject before the Senate Aging Committee titled “Grandparents to the Rescue: Raising Grandchildren in the Opioid Crisis and Beyond.”
Approximately 2.5 million children are currently being raised in these “grandfamilies.”
“In this crisis, as in past crises, grandparents are coming to the rescue”
“In this crisis, as in past crises, grandparents are coming to the rescue,” Collins said. “Today’s hearing recognized the grandparents raising grandkids and explored what can be done to assist them as they take on this unanticipated challenge motivated by their love of their grandchildren.”
This also means new challenges. These grandparents are changing their lives and, as Casey said, “presenting new challenges for older Americans and Congress must focus on.”
While the hearing focused on government support, it’s important to remember the roles that private organizations and communities play.
In the Opportunity Lives original series, “Comeback,” we looked at the way people can work together to transform lives and the communities in which they live. Episode six, “Expect a Miracle,” focuses on a drug-riddled area of San Antonio. “Addiction does not discriminate,” Jubal Garcia said. “It has no respect of people, of families, of cultures, of social status, of economic status. Addiction is everywhere.”
However, there is also help. Garcia’s organization, Outcry, offers programs ranging from 90 days to six months and all of them are free.
“Outcry isn’t a rehab, Outcry isn’t a facility, Outcry isn’t a center. Outcry is a home. You’re not a client, you’re family. That’s why you can always come back.”
“These people, all they have been doing is being told that they won’t make it,” Garcia said. “Outcry isn’t a rehab, Outcry isn’t a facility, Outcry isn’t a center. Outcry is a home. You’re not a client, you’re family. That’s why you can always come back.”
Clients can share hope and love, especially through testimony. “I get to see men and women that walk in with absolutely zero hope in life, that truly believe they’re going to die drug addicts, that truly believe their life is over,” Garcia said. “One of the first things they experience here is love.”
When it comes to it, this is about us working to heal each other. “I still believe,” said Garcia, “that we have the capacity within our own nation to heal ourselves.”
As policymakers, including Sen. Collins and Casey, and others wrestle with how best to approach these incredibly heartbreaking and difficult issues, it is important that they allow for non-profits, faith-based initiatives and every day Americans to customize treatment and recognize that a one size fits all approach for recovery seldom works.
Amelia Hamilton is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @ameliahammy.