U.S. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, chair of the Senate Aging Committee, is co-sponsoring a bill to create a federal task force that would gather and disseminate information to help seniors who are raising their grandchildren.

AUGUSTA — One of the many fallouts from the opioid epidemic is that thousands of children are winding up in the care of grandparents, including many in Maine.

With parents in prison, strung out or dead, these youngsters are among the 2.7 million nationally who count on grandparents to raise them, sometimes on limited incomes or struggling with their own health issues.

“These births are taking a toll on a population of caring people who would — if they could — simply love their grandchildren, spoil them and send them home to be raised and nurtured by their parents,” Bette Hoxie, executive director of Adoptive & Foster Families of Maine and the Kinship Program in Orono told a U.S. Senate hearing recently.

Rep. Karl Ward, R-Dedham, said that during last fall’s campaign he met at least a dozen grandparents “who were at some stage of being involved in the raising of their grandchildren.”

“In nearly all of these instances, the parents of the grandchildren involved were no longer capable of caring for their children and the grandparents had stepped in, usually because of drug abuse by either one or both of the parents,” Ward said.

Though the Legislature recently killed Ward’s proposal to create a state study commission to see what could be done to lend them a hand, Maine’s senior senator is pushing for something similar on the federal level.

Republican U.S. Sen Susan Collins, chair of the Senate Aging Committee, is co-sponsoring a bill with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., to create a federal task force that would gather and disseminate information to help seniors who are trying to navigate everything from school enrollments for grandchildren to securing mental health coverage for them.

Collins said the measure “would help ensure that grandparents who have taken on this caretaker role have access to the resources they need.”

The number of Maine children being raised by relatives with no parent present is more than 5,000, census figures show.

Census figures also show that from 2010 to 2015, the number of grandparents raising grandchildren in the state went up by 24 percent, an arrangement that can be tough on older Mainers.

“At a time in life when most seniors are looking forward to enjoying more leisure time, these grandparents have found themselves as parents once again,” Ward said. “They are waking up in the middle of the night to feed babies and planning afternoons around soccer practice, rather than playing golf or volunteering.”

“Raising a second family also involves cost that they never anticipated as they budgeted for what were supposed to be their golden years. They are tapping into retirement savings, going back to work or staying in the workforce longer just to make ends meet,” Ward said.

Census data shows that 18 percent of grandparents raising grandchildren live in poverty and 22 percent of them are disabled.

Casey said a “focused federal effort” to provide key information is designed in part to tell older Americans who have stepped into the role of primary caregiver for a child “that you are not alone and that we have your back.”

The proposal is especially important now that many grandparents “are stepping in to care for their grandchildren during trying economic times or difficult family circumstances,” Joyce Rogers, a senior vice president of AARP, wrote to Collins recently in a letter the senator’s office released.

“Grandparents are often a stabilizing force for these children,” Rogers said, and some need help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also weighed in recently to endorse the proposal, called the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act.

“As the opioid epidemic continues to negatively affect children, it is critical to support family members helping children affected by parental substance use,” its president, Fernando Stein, wrote to Casey and Collins.

Ward said that taking another look at the legal rights of grandparents would be a good idea.

He said the legal challenges they sometimes face are daunting.

“The process of obtaining custody is complex, lengthy and costly. Without a proper legal arrangement, routine tasks such as enrolling kids in school or obtaining medical care can be trying for grandparents raising their grandchildren,” Ward said.

“Over and over again, I heard the stories of heartbroken grandparents who, upon the parent trying to re-enter their child’s life, sometimes years later, found that they were virtually powerless to have a say in their grandchild’s life. Their rights seemed to be subordinate and insignificant,” he said.

The Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is considering the proposal. So far, the measure hasn’t attracted any co-sponsors other than Collins and Casey.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: