GREENFIELD — Lorie, one of the grandmothers who came to Greenfield Community College on Monday night was worried about an upcoming court date. She is raising her daughter’s three children, and knows her daughter, a drug addict, relapsed several weeks ago.
Her daughter wanted the children back, and Lorie was increasingly worried about navigating the court process to keep the kids in a stable environment.
She wished there was a court advocate to help grandparents navigate the process.
“You don’t know you need the services until your kids are out all night doing drugs,” she said.
The Attorney General’s office and the Commission on the Status of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren held a town hall meeting for grandparents like Lorie, where the commission presented information and grandparents were allowed to voice concerns about state services and resources for grandparents who are formally and informally raising their grandchildren.
Members of the commission who spoke said the number of grandparents and other kinship care arrangements has risen as the opioid epidemic has spread throughout the state.
According to data presented during the town hall, in Massachusetts there were over 10,000 grandparents raising grandchildren with no parent present in the home in 2015, up from about 8,800 in 2010, a 17 percent increase.
The commission also presented data from an information survey of its known support group leaders. The leaders said roughly 80 percent of grandparent care arrangements in the state involve substance and drug abuse by at least one parent.
Grandparents at the event praised the support groups, where there is often child care provided and they can learn from peers about what’s available and what works, instead of navigating the state’s several agencies that offer services alone.
Bette Jenks runs several support groups in Athol and Orange and also works at Valuing our Children as a Patch coordinator. She said there are many services available now, but there is more room to grow.
“The list of things that need to be done is endless,” Jenks said.
The support groups are often the best resources, especially when the grandparent doesn’t own or know how to operate a computer.
Many of the grandparents who spoke had concerns about red tape with some state agencies. In informal or probate court arrangements where the grandparent may not have official custody, and has not gone through the Department of Children and Families, they are unable to access certain services.
The commission heard grievances and compliments on the resources available. Many grandparents had concerns about MassHealth, financial resources, mental health services for children, child care, affordable housing and legal aid.
This town hall is part of a statewide series of listening tours the commission has started to learn where to direct time and legislative efforts. Commission members said they had heard a lot of similar grievances at other stops across the state.
“Now we know what we don’t know. We’re getting there, we’re making progress,” commission member Skip Stuck said.
You can reach Miranda Davis at 413-772-0261 ext. 280