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The opioid crisis is making grandparents parents again

Grandparents are struggling to raise grandchildren on their own.

The opioid epidemic, which President Donald Trump recently declared a national public health emergency, is drawing attention to a very specific type of American family.

Across the country, grandparents, extended family, and close friends are raising children whose parents are struggling with addiction. There’s actually a name for this kind of child care: it’s called “kinship care” and it describes how more than 2.5 million children are being raised in the United States. While opioid abuse might be a recent cause, kinship care has always been common. Since it often occurs informally, many people might be surprised to learn it has a dedicated name recognized by local, state, and federal authorities.

In September, we visited a support group for kinship caregivers to hear how they struggle to find support and services in a child welfare system that is often fragmented and confusing.

Instead of living with a stranger, relative caregivers tend to provide a safer and more stable home for children in need. Nonetheless, kinship caregivers who have chosen not to become licensed foster parents can struggle to find the support and services they need to raise a child. Unlike most nonrelative foster parents, kinship caregivers might lack legal custody of a child, which can be limiting when it comes to enrolling a child in school, making caregiving decisions, or accessing medical services that children of addicted parents often need.

Vera Vursta speaks at a support group for kinship caregivers.

Advocates for kinship care fill the void created by the lack of a dedicated social services system, but the need is still great. Many kinship caregivers are seeking support on their own and in a few places they meet at support groups to share stories and swap caregiving advice. In New York State, a monthly support group for relatives raising children meets in Rockland County. To learn more about kinship care and hear directly from caregivers, watch the video above.

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