Support group tells lawmaker about challenges of raising grandchildren

December 20, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Ellie Murto, left, of the Washington County Department of Social Services, speaks Tuesday during a meeting of the Washington County Commission on Aging's Grandparent/Relative Support Group. Listening are, left to right, support group member Penelope Sheppard; Ruth Brown, a family caregiver and grandparents/relatives specialist with the commission on aging; and State Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — About 129,000 Maryland children are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, and two of them live with James and Gloria Coyle of Maugansville.

The couple has adopted their granddaughters, ages 12 and 10, and have been raising them for eight years, James Coyle said Tuesday after a special meeting of the Washington County Commission on Aging’s Grandparent/Relative Support Group.

About a dozen people attended the meeting, along with State Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, at Christ’s Reformed Church in Hagerstown.

“In the past few months several of these situations have come to my attention” with grandparents and other custodians wanting to know what resources are available, Shank said after the meeting.

“I think the common theme is communication” between government agencies and the people needing services, he said.

The group wanted to give Shank “a grassroots-level look at what grandparents have to deal with,” James Coyle said.

Grandparents raising their children’s children are sometimes on “shaky ground” regarding custody, he said.

They might find themselves in temporary care of a child whose parents, for a variety of reasons, cannot care for them. And that can turn into a permanent situation, he said.

If a grandparent does not have legal custody, and the parents’ rights have not been terminated, the parents can take a child back to an unsafe environment, he said.

“It can be disruptive to the stable environment of children,” James Coyle said.

In Minnesota, a person who has been the primary caregiver of a child for one year gains “defacto parent” status, which can give them greater legal standing, he said.

That was one area where Shank said there could be some type of statutory remedy to explore.  

Another major issue is financial, Gloria Coyle said.

“I have seen grandparents that have their grandchildren and are on fixed incomes,” she said.

One woman, who asked that her name not be used, said she is in that situation, except she has legal custody of children to whom she is not related.

“I’m not getting anything” in the way of subsidies for raising her goddaughter’s children, the woman said. “It takes a lot of money to do it, and we’re on a very limited income.”

The situation for grandparents or other relatives raising children is different from foster parents in one significant respect, Shank said.

“They (foster parents) get a subsidy, whereas grandparents raising their grandchildren, it’s very difficult for them to get support,” he said.

Creating a program to subsidize grandparents raising children would be expensive, but there are existing state programs under which qualifying grandparents could receive assistance, Shank said.

Ruth Brown, a family caregiver and grandparents/relatives specialist with the commission on aging, said her office can provide information about available resources.

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