How can we help grandparents raising grandchildren?


First Posted: 7/29/2014

When parents are unable to raise their children due to addiction, grandparents are often the ones who step in. Raising a second generation can be fulfilling and sometimes necessary, but members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church’s Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group know that it can also be financially and emotionally challenging.

Members of the group who have appreciated the support and information offered at meetings held every second Wednesday are now ready to address legislative issues that would change a broken system which sometimes places children in limbo while lengthy proceedings determine whether they can be permanently placed or adopted.

Although a federal statute permits termination of parental rights within a 12-15 month period, members of the group said the state and county are slow to comply with this mandate.

Members of the group also voiced concerns regarding the Family Group Decision Making program, which provides goals for absentee parents, but without long-term monitoring, consistent follow up or stated consequences of failing to work toward goals.

These and other concerns brought Brenda Saba before the Pennsylvania State legislature in June, speaking on behalf of the NEPA Intergenerational Coalition and 81,000 grandparents raising grandchildren within the state.

“This hearing was imperative in that it allowed legislators to see first-hand the experiences and frustrations of those in the trenches,” she said.

Saba embraces her role of raising her grandson, Tanner, and hopes to adopt him. She also enjoys the opportunity to assist other grandparents with similar challenges. But, it is not what she had anticipated as she moves toward retirement age.

“We thought that our later years would bring us the opportunity to build our dream house,” said Saba, “but instead we are busy raising our grandson.”

Saba emphasized that, given the circumstances, she wouldn’t have it any other way. But, she also admits to sometimes feeling angry, especially because the very system charged with protecting the children it serves seems to favor biological parents over grandparents, who have the best interest of their grandchildren.

Many grandparents are especially frustrated when seeking access to mental health care.

“We need access to the mental health community to assist these kids with dealing with the trauma of loss and the grief that accompanies losing their parents,” said Saba. “We don’t want to repeat this cycle.”

Members of the group said although many grandchildren were covered by medical assistance, many quality mental health care providers did not accept it, while others had waiting lists as long as six weeks.

“No child in an emotional crisis can wait six weeks to get help,” said one member, whose granddaughter suffers from separation anxiety, “so we are paying out-of-pocket for the help our granddaughter needs.”

State representative Eddie Day Pashinski seems to have an understanding of these issues. He is seeking to draft legislation which will eliminate grandchildren languishing in the system because of a “loophole” when grandparents are more than willing to take permanent custody or even to adopt.

He has also proposed a “Navigation System” which will assist grandparents in accessing legal, medical and other supportive services available to them.

Also proposed is a mechanism for respite that would allow grandparents time for themselves, to do things as simple as going to the movies or getting a bite to eat.

“Parents usually rely on grandparents to babysit or provide other forms of support,” said Frank Mariano, facilitator of the group, “but when you’re a grandparent raising a grandchild, there is often limited support.”

The group seems to reflect grandparents’ tenacity and courage in seeking the best for the grandchildren they are raising.

At 70 years old, one member is determined to find answers in regard to questions concerning medical authority, and how to assist grandchildren in obtaining a drivers’ permit.

Every grandparent participating in the group admits to not hesitating when stepping in to assist. Driven by a sense of family and responsibility, they often meet resistance from both the system and the biological parents whom they are trying to help.

Looking to the future, Pashinski hopes legislation will reflect current reality in regard to the issue.

Often grandparents attempting to obtain custody of grandchildren incur costs of $15,000 to $20,000, an amount cost prohibitive to many.

“The time has come when legislation regarding custody, kinship and grandparenting issues need to reflect today’s needs,” said Pashinski. “I encourage those with concerns regarding the issue to contact their state and federal representatives.”

Mariano anticipates the group will grow and continue to support its members in regard to both pragmatic and legal issues.

The group meets from 6 to 7:30 p.m. the second Wednesday of every month at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Route 118, Dallas, and welcomes all grandparents, regardless of religious beliefs or geography.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Groups are available throughout the area, including Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Tunkhannock, Pittston and Scranton. General information on those groups is available by contacting Howard Grossman, Pittston Memorial Library, at 570-654-9565.

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