Free Help for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
Grandparents raising grandchildren is an issue near and dear to the hearts of Attorney Dave Saba and his wife, Brenda. In March 2009, Dave, then age 59, and Brenda were planning to build their dream home in South Carolina and retire when Dave turned 65. Then their lives took an unexpected turn when the mother and father of their two grandsons, ages 5 and 18 months, were no longer capable of taking care of their children.
“Our lives changed overnight,” Brenda recalled. “We adore our two grandsons and couldn’t bear the thought of them being raised in foster homes. So we stepped up, took custody of them and brought them into our home.”
With the prevalence of substance abuse in Northeastern Pennsylvania, more and more grandparents are finding themselves raising their grandchildren. Brenda estimates that 20 percent of all custody cases in Luzerne County now involve grandparents trying to get custody of their grandchildren. It is a huge issue that poses many challenges, not only for the grandparents and grandchildren, but also the social service agencies, courts and government agencies that are ill-equipped to deal with it.
For instance, many older grandparents who are living on Social Security and/or retirement benefits can’t claim their grandchildren as dependents for tax purposes. A lot of the grandchildren are eligible for medical assistance, but very few mental health providers accept it, so the grandchildren can’t get the counseling they need. Custody and support laws are set up to deal with divorces, not grandparents seeking support or custody of their grandchildren. And that says nothing of the physical and emotional toll on the grandparents.
“Dave and I are both in reasonably good shape, but as any parent knows, it’s exhausting raising young kids,” said Brenda. “There’s a reason God gives children to young people.”
Brenda now serves as the grandparents’ representative on the Northeastern Pennsylvania Intergenerational Coalition, which includes representatives of all social service agencies that deal with grandparents raising grandchildren. She also participates in support groups in Wilkes-Barre and Dallas. For the past two years, she has helped organize a conference for grandparents raising grandchildren and representatives of social service agencies. In 2013, she said, 230 people attended and about 70 percent of them were grandparents raising grandchildren. She will be co-chairing the 2014 conference on Oct. 24 at the Mohegan Sun Casino.
Recently, Brenda and two other grandparents raising grandchildren were invited by state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski to testify during an informational session before the Pennsylvania House Children & Youth Committee. As a result, Rep. Pashinski is proposing legislation that will set up a pilot “navigator” program in Luzerne County to help grandparents locate and access the services and resources they need. She has also met with state Senator Lisa Baker, who has agreed to attend the October conference.