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Grandparents raising grandchildren

Workshop series offers help for those considering it

ATHOL — When she felt her daughter’s own problems interfered with her ability to parent, Lori Fortin found herself doing something she never thought she would need to do — she went to court and sought custody of her grandchildren.

Her struggles to navigate court processes and paperwork inspired Fortin to help organize a three-part series of workshops for grandparents who are considering gaining custody of their grandchildren. The second in the series was held this week.

State Rep. Denise Andrews’ legislative aide Brian Eno said that earlier this year, an ad hoc group of community organizations and local attorneys began meeting after identifying there are hundreds of grandparents in the North Quabbin region.

According to 2010 U.S. Census American Communities Survey, over 200 grandparents in Orange and Athol, the two largest towns in the North Quabbin region, are responsible for raising their grandchildren.

But Eno said many grandparents do not have the resources to hire attorneys who will help them navigate the necessary legal procedures to gain custody.

He said the series developed as an effort to improve legal services and self-advocacy skills for grandparents and caregivers of all ages.

“We have had cases come through our office of potential kinship caregivers willing to step up, but they did not know their rights or how to navigate court procedures. When it is in the best interest of the child, we should make every effort to ensure families stay together,” said Eno.

Franklin County Bar Association Executive Director Chris Baronas said her organization “is happy to provide legal information to grandparents who are working hard to take care of their grandchildren.”

Fortin attended the first workshop in January that provided about 20 participants with basic information on procedures for pursuing guardianship and when to seek legal advice.

She said presenters were informative and respectful. “It’s a hard issue to talk about and admit your child can’t raise their own children,” said Fortin.

Baronas said the FCBA’s Lawyer Referral Service helps clients find the right lawyer to hire to meet their legal needs. In addition, the group has some funding through the Massachusetts Bar Foundation to provide free legal advice to low-income clients.

Other workshop sponsors include the North Quabbin Grandparents Support Group, Community Legal Aid, Valuing Our Children, MOC Community Partnerships for Children, and Quabbin Mediation.

The final workshop, will be held at Athol Town Hall from 6 to 8 p.m. on April 8, and will cover benefits available to grandparents who are seeking guardianship of their grandchildren.

The workshops are free and open to the public. Child care is available.

For more information about the workshops, contact Bette Jenks of North Quabbin Patch at 978-249-5070.

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