Opioids fuel growth in ‘grandfamilies’

How to help grandparents raising grandkids in an opioid crisis
By Tara García Mathewson


Photo credit: Tara García Mathewson

Boston — Robin Eschman has raised or helped raise two biological children, seven children who came to her through long-term relationships, and 11 grandchildren. She’s in her 50s and lives with her partner, Debra Weathers, in the Atlanta metro area. At one point, there were 10 kids in the house at the same time. The family bought food in bulk, made great use of bunk beds, and fielded an entire baseball team.

When she took in her first grandchildren about 17 years ago, Ms. Eschman thought the kids would only be with her for a limited time. She says she held onto that hope for years before coming to grips with the fact that her children were not going to be able to parent.

“To realize this is the rest of your life — I wouldn’t change it and put any of the children in foster care, but I wish I had let myself realize it from the get-go, that this was what we were going to be doing,” Eschman says. Her instinct was to expect the best-case scenario, that her children would eventually be able to take charge of their kids.

“You do live in a bit of a fantasy world. You see ‘Oh, they got clean for a while or stayed out of jail for a while,’ and then bam, they’re back to doing whatever.”

Nationwide, the opioid epidemic has contributed to an increase in the number of parents who turn over caregiving responsibility to their relatives as they grapple with addiction to prescription drugs. More than 2 million people in the United States were thought to be struggling with an addiction to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012, according to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. The number of accidental overdose deaths from prescription painkillers has more than quadrupled since 1999.

When grandparents take responsibility for raising their grandchildren, keeping them out of the foster system, they not only save the government money – an estimated $4 billion annually – they improve the likelihood these children will succeed.

Click here to read the full story, published by the Christian Science Monitor and The Hechinger Report.