Ask the GAL: Grandparents can be savior for children removed from parents' care

September 5, 2012 

Q: What role do grandparents play when their grandchildren are in dependency?

A: Thank heaven for grandparents and great-grandparents, for many of them shoulder the burden of raising their grandchildren.

Specific statistics of how many local grandparents are raising their grandchildren because of child abuse or neglect are not available. But in Manatee County, there were 179 children under court supervision in July living in relative or nonrelative care.

The Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says that, based on data from 2009 through 2011, about 164,000 children in Florida are living in "kinship care" settings where no parent is present, which is 4 percent of the children statewide and 43 percent of all children in foster care.

Data shows that kinship caregivers are more likely to be poorer, single, older, less-educated and unemployed than families where at least one parent is present.

Awnecdotal information from guardian ad litems indicates a fairly large number of children in dependency are being cared for by grandparents. That, in most cases, is the best outcome for the children. They are able to be with people they know and love and who want the best for them.

When children are living with grandparents instead of foster care, the parents find it easier to visit their children, the placements are more stable, the placement is less expensive than foster care, and it is easier for children to adjust when they are able to be reunified with their parents.

Guardian ad litem volunteer John McAward represents four children who are living with their maternal grandparents. The grandparents are in their 60s, retired but working odd jobs. They had to sell their retirement home and buy a bigger house to accommodate the four grandchildren. They receive relative caregiver funds to help with the children's expenses, but the money covers only basic maintenance.

The children's father is in jail, and their mom is working on a drug addiction and trying to stay in contact with her children. The children have had to change schools but are making a very positive adjustment to their new circumstances. These grandparents have been a very positive influence on their grandchildren.

In another example, the children are living with a maternal great-grandmother because the

grandmother could not clear the necessary background screen due to her own drug abuse.

There is also a case where three siblings with two fathers are divided between two sets of grandparents.

While the adjustment for the children may be easier than sending them to foster care, the adjustment for the grandparents may involve emotional and financial stress. Their own health and social life will undergo major change.

Q: Where can grandparents go for help and support during their unexpected responsibility?

A: There are many resources for grandparents. On line you can search on www.aarp.org for "grandparent support." In Bradenton, call the Congregational United Church of Christ at 941-345-1200, ext. 109, for their monthly "Grandparents as Parents" meeting. Visit www.grandsplace.org or Generations United at www.gu.org for help.

Meanwhile, John Sakelaris, a representative of the Guardian ad Litem group for Manatee County, will be at Starbucks, 102 Manatee Ave. E, from 10-11 a.m. Friday to answer questions and recruit volunteers wanting to join the group. Guardian ad litems are appointed by the court to speak for, and advocate services for, under-age children who are living in shelters and need assistance.

Pam Hindman, director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the 12th Judicial Circuit, writes this weekly column for the Herald. Email Pam at askthegal@12gal.org, or write to her at Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.

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