Grandparents take on new role amid heroin epidemic

TOLEDO (13abc Action News) - It's become another by product of the heroin epidemic in our community.

Not only has this powerful epidemic taken lives, destroyed families and ruined relationships. It has now put some grandparents in a role they never imagined.

These are people looking to live their golden years. Trips, spoiling grand kids and eventually sending them back to mom and dad but that's not the case because these grandparents are now mom and dad.

For PJ Sallie she's no longer known as Mee-Maw.

"Mee-Maw was what they always called me as Grandma and Mommy is what they call me now. So it's Mee-Maw Mommy. But if that's what they need to do to be happy, that's OK," said Sallie.

That's because she's now Mom to her two grand kids. One of them is 8-years-old and one is 7-years-old. The 8-year-old's mom is in rehab. The 7-year-old's mom lost her battle. Her mother, Christina, died at 24-years-old this May from a heroin overdoes.

“I knew definitely at the beginning of this year, in January, I knew she was going to die. I just knew. Don't ask me how I knew," said Sallie.

"This is absolutely the worst epidemic that I've seen in my time," said Robin Reese, the Executive Director of Lucas County Children Services.

Sallie's story is becoming far too common at Lucas County Children Services where right now they have around 1000 kids in their care. That’s 300-400 more from this time 5 years ago.

Whenever a child is taken, for whatever reason, Children Services prefers to place the child with family but heroin issues force them to place kids with grandparents at a rate they've never seen.

"With heroin and treatment taking so long and it being so difficult to get off we are asking the relatives can you be in this for the long haul. This may not be 6-12 months. This may be for the rest of the child's life," said Shelia Gibbs, with Lucas County Children Services.

The challenges for these new parents can be daunting. Not only must they address emotional issues but practical issues. Do they have enough beds for the kids, car seats or even a vehicle big enough to take 3-4 children?

Joy Gibbs started raising her first grandchild in 1997. Her family has avoided heroin but other drugs have put her in the parental role.

“I got the first one in 97. It was still cocaine and alcohol was a problem," said Gibbs.

Gibbs has found some help. For example a fresh fruit and vegetable program through the Area Office on Aging's Kinship Navigator. Gibbs has found it important to take care of the kids and herself as she offers this advice.

“For the people to take good care of themselves. Eat right. Try to get enough sleep. Do things for yourself," said Gibbs.

“Most 7 and 8-year-olds, they don't know the things these two know. They haven't experienced the things these two have and I want to give them that childhood. I want to give them a fun, happy childhood. That's hard," said Sallie.

So that's why Sallie jumped into this new role. Her role in rebuilding the family.

“Do I want to do it? Heck no. I don't want to at all. I want to be on the beach. I want to enjoy that time. I want to be with my friends and hanging out and doing all that," said Sallie. “For me to choose my beach condo in Florida over my grandchildren's best welfare there is no decision there."

Another major support issue for these grandparents is follow through. Lots of people say they'll help right away in the first month. But in month 6, 7 or 8 the need is still there.

So if you know someone in that situation here are some things you could do to help: Maybe bring that family a meal once in a while, a gas card, a gift card for back to school clothes or simply offer a ride for one of the kids to practice.

That kind of stuff could go a long way to helping that grandparent adapt to their role.

If those families need a vehicle or a larger vehicle, there’s currently no program where a grandparent or a family member could get a larger vehicle or get one period.

They might then need to utilize TARTA or buses to get the kids where they need to go.