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U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan visits with grandparents raising grandchildren due to the opioid crisis

  • U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan visited the River Center in Peterborough on Monday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan visited the River Center in Peterborough on Monday to meet with community resource providers and grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan visited the River Center in Peterborough on Monday to meet with community resource providers and grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, April 15, 2019 2:33PM

U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan met with grandparents raising their grandchildren and support providers in Peterborough on Monday, to gain a sense of the areas of highest priority for them.

Hassan, along with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced a bi-partisan bill last week aimed at increasing supports for guardians taking care of relatives. It’s a growing issue, as more and more families are impacted by the opioid crises, Hassan said, while meeting with representatives from local community resource centers as well as families at the River Center in Peterborough Monday morning.

“Because of the opioid epidemic here, we are seeing a level of impact on kids we’re going to be dealing with for a long time,” Hassan said.

The bill, termed the “Help Grandfamilies Prevent Child Abuse Act” would amend the existing Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act to provide better support for children being raised by family members both within and outside of the foster care system.

Hassan asked residents what supports would have made the transition from grandparent to guardian smoother for them.

Marlo Britton of Keene, who has custody of her 5-year-old granddaughter, said she stepped in during an emergency situation in which both of her granddaughter’s parents were arrested on the same night on drug-related charges. Her granddaughter was not initially placed with her through the state’s Division for Children, Youth and Families, she said, saying it was a struggle to gain access to support programs like Medicaid, which would have been provided to her granddaughter if she’d been a regular foster child.

“There are donut holes in this system,” Britton said.

Rosemary Nugent of Antrim, who has permanent guardianship of her 10-year-old grandson, agreed. Her grandson was placed with her through DCYF involvement, she said, and she and her husband were “one of the lucky ones” who haven’t had to fight for benefits like health insurance for her grandson.

Nugent, who is a substitute teacher at her grandson’s elementary school, said she’s also like to see additional funding for programs within the school system, including trauma training for teachers.

Margaret Nelson, the director of the River Center, said other states are allowing family resource centers to open offices in public schools so that the families have direct access to assistance for navigating programs. A few years ago, the Mascenic Regional School District applied for funds to have a similar set up in its schools, Nelson said. The River Center was willing to provide the services, but the funding never materialized, she said.

Hassan said she’s spoken with school officials across the state who have reported anecdotally there are a rising number of behavioral problems, starting at a young age, that require more one-to-one paraprofessionals for behavioral issues, rather than educational ones.

While it’s not clear these issues are caused solely by students coming from families impacted by opioid or other drug abuse, it’s likely a factor, Hassan said. When speaking with ambulance personnel in Manchester, she said, she was told a story of a call where when the ambulance arrived, the patient’s 11-year-old daughter was attempting to resuscitate her, and it was the second time she’d been in that situation.

“We have never, as a state, that I know of, had a situation where we’ve had such wide-spread trauma,” Hassan said.

Wendy Hill of the River Center, who is a co-facilitator of a local support group for grandparents raising grandchildren, said there are members of her group who are dealing with children who have those behavioral issues due to trauma. It runs a wide gamut, she said, from showing defiance, aggression or destructive behavior and withdrawal.

“It can be pretty extreme,” she said.

And the services to treat them are lacking, she said.

“We have a problem finding trauma-trained therapists,” Hill said.

Britton said paying for treatment was also a problem, as it was difficult to find a trauma therapist for her granddaughter who accepts Medicaid.

Hassan agreed there is a workforce shortage in regards to treating and preventing drug addiction and addressing the trauma it causes families, particularly in the pediatric area.

“It’s hard to build that workforce quickly,” she said.

Hassan said it would be a focus to continue to fund opioid prevention and treatment at higher levels and that prevention and intervention would be part of that effort.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.