To understand the opioid epidemic in America, it is crucial to understand the structures of families who are affected, and how they must adapt to non-traditional family dynamics as a result of addiction. Research and interventions often focus on the individual living with addiction or a substance use concern as a means to provide treatment services. Growing research and the attention of child welfare agencies, mental health providers, and state and local officials are shedding light on the complexity of addiction as it relates to family units. The lives of individuals who are addicted, their children, and other relatives are often uprooted and refocused around the opioid addiction and the repercussions of that disease.
As the number of individuals affected by opioids increases, so does the number of children affected. These effects can be a result of physical abuse, ignoring children’s needs, or exposing them to unsupervised or harmful situations. Children are often displaced from their homes if their parents are unable to care for them due to addiction, incarceration, or if they are no longer alive. As a result, grandparents are often accountable for raising their grandchildren, and in situations that are frequently sudden and precarious. While the stress of these situations can be overwhelming, many grandparents wouldn’t want their grandchildren with anyone else.
According to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, about 100,000 grandparents are currently raising their grandchildren in Ohio. The United States Census reported that nationwide 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren. Grandparents often assume their role as a caretaker without preparation or warning, and often in the midst of another familial crisis. In this case, they may be assuming the responsibility of a caretaker while simultaneously dealing with the trauma of their own child’s addiction. These complications can make for an onerous transition for the entire family.
The American Society on Aging found that one in five grandparents raising grandchildren lives below the poverty line, and one in four has a disability. These grandparents are forced to navigate uncharted territory as they adopt new financial responsibilities, and stress from grandchildren who are often struggling with emotional trauma and separation anxiety from their parents.
A study published in Children and Youth Services Review was conducted to understand the impact of stress on grandparents raising grandchildren. The study involved 214 grandparent caregivers and 86 other kin caregivers. The researchers summarized that grandparent caregivers faced unique challenges due to guilt, birth parent concerns, and generational gaps. It revealed that grandparent caregivers experienced and higher level of parenting stress compared to other kin caregivers, partly due to their advanced age and lower overall health. Grandparent caregivers also related that financial strain, child behavior concerns, navigating service systems and schools, and problematic relationships with birth parents all contributed to their stress.
Families seeking resources can visit Grandfamilies.org, a national legal resource in support of grand-families both in and out of the child welfare system.
Lee, E., Clarkson-Hendrix, M., & Lee, Y. (2016). Parenting stress of grandparents and other kin as informal kinship caregivers: A mixed methods study. https://www.albany.edu/chsr/Publications/Leeetal2016%20parenting%20stress.pdf
Lent, Jaia Peterson. “Grandparents Are Raising the Children of the Opioid Crisis.” Grandparents Are Raising the Children of the Opioid Crisis | American Society on Aging, www.asaging.org/blog/grandparents-are-raising-children-opioid-crisis.
Public Children Services Association of Ohio. (2019). PCSAO – Factbook. Retrieved May 31, 2019, from http://www.pcsao.org/factbook
US Census Bureau. (2019). The opioid crisis and grandparents raising grandchildren. Retrieved May 31, 2019, from https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/04/opioid-crisis-grandparents-raising-grandchildren.html