Grandparents forced to raise grandchildren as opioid crisis worsens

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NEW RIVER VALLEY, Va. (WDBJ) -- Some grandparents are taking on a bigger role than just spoiling their grandchildren -- they're becoming primary caregivers.

Family therapy professionals call them Grandfamilies, formed by circumstances where biological parents can't take care of their kids.

As an opioid crisis forces more children out of parents' custody, more grandparents are stepping in to help.

Those grandparents are facing a daunting task of taking care of young children, when many of them weren't prepared to raise another generation. Groups in many areas are now giving support.

"For many grandparents, they haven't been in sync with raising children for many years," said Tina King, the executive director of the New River Valley Agency On Aging in Virginia.

Whether it's how to deal with behavior issues or legalities in the courtroom, the New River Valley Agency on Aging is there to help Grandfamilies.

"The grandparents are grandparents and great grandparents and they range from younger grandparents their 40s to, I think our oldest is in her 80s," King said.

When the support group started about 10 years ago, about 17 percent of children in the area school system were being raised by their grandparents. A substance abuse assistance grant helped start the group.

"It allows the opportunity to bring in folks that have the resources that can help educate them on where they can turn," King said.

Not all of the families are impacted by the growing opioid crisis, but many are. Megan Dolbin-MacNab with the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Virginia Tech works with families who are affected.

"What we're seeing is more and more children needing homes and needing care because of the opioid epidemic. The foster care system often can't absorb all of those children and so grandparents become a really important safety net for providing homes," Dolbin-MacNab said.

For those grandparents who step in, it becomes an uphill battle to build the broken family back together, find resources and funds.

"All the sudden, you're needing to pay for a child and maybe you're living on a fixed income, or you have limited financial means and so financial stress is often a big one," Dolbin-MacNab said.

The New River Valley Agency on Aging plans to start its support group again this first of next year.

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