Grandparents who parent: Relatives increasingly take on role as primary caregivers

  • (From left) Chris, Landon, Bonnie and Shane Wade, all of Antrim, take a family photo last summer. Chris and Bonnie are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren Shane, 9, and Landon, 7. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/22/2017 11:15:12 PM

When Shane Wade won a medal for coming in first place in a recent wrestling match, it was his grandparents Chris and Bonnie who were there to cheer him on.

“I was so proud,” Bonnie said of that moment. “And I took credit for that, we took credit for that.”

Chris and Bonnie Wade, who live in Antrim, are the ones who take Shane to practice and who bundle up and brave the cold at 6 a.m. to make sure he makes it to his wrestling matches.

They are the primary caretakers for Shane, 9, and his cousin Landon, 7, who have lived with each other long enough to call themselves brothers.

The Wades became the primary caregivers of their two daughters’ boys at different times and for different reasons — Shane’s mother doesn’t have the patience to provide adequate care, they say; and Landon’s mother struggles with a heroin addiction, they say.

“We didn’t ask for this journey,” Bonnie said. “This is not a journey I thought I would take.”

At this stage in their life, Chris said he thought he would be nearing retirement, but those ideas have been pushed off. Instead, they’re waking up early every morning to make sure Shane and Landon are ready for school, carting them to extracurricular activities, and helping the boys with their homework.

Placement on the rise

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 6,000 kids across the Granite State were in the care of their grandparents in 2015. Nationwide, it reports there were 2.882 million kids being cared for by their grandparents, which was up from 2.871 million in 2011.

Gail Snow — who is an administrator with the state’s Bureaus of Child Protection and Juvenile Justice Services within the Division of Children, Youth and Families — said the division removes kids from their parents in some abuse and neglect cases.

“We only remove children when it would not be safe for them to remain in their home,” Snow said.

Often, she said, those instance are linked to substance issues, although not always.

“As a division, when we remove a child...we look toward relatives to provide care, and grandparents are often the people who step up,” Snow said, adding that family members are most likely to be invested in caretaking and be willing to make strong, long-term commitments to their care. She said foster families also take over in some instances.

Snow said the amount of out-of-care youth placed with relatives has been steadily increasing in recent years.

She said once the kids are in the care of their relatives, the amount of resources available vary at a state level depend on whether it’s an open case or not.

The Wades are part of a support group organized out of The Grapevine in Antrim, which links fellow grandparents who are caring for their grandkids.

Aside from that group, the Wades say they feel like there is very little support for people in their situation.

“Everybody forgets that these children are recovering themselves,” Bonnie said. “Everybody forgets them in this opioid epidemic. They’re the lost ones in this.”

The Wades said Landon has autism and is also struggling with recovery from physical abuse that he may have been subject to before he was under their care. They said they have put in about 30 calls to health care providers across the state to help Landon work through his issues. So far, they’ve only received one call back and it’s still unclear if that professional can help.

Help on its way?

In an attempt to fight for kids and relatives in similar situations as their own, the Wades are now working to help move HB 629 and SB 148 through Congress. HB 629 would be to give grandparents, or the main caretakers of kids, more footing in court if and when a parent is interested in providing full care again. SB 148 would establish a state commission to study the a variety of issues that all types of grandfamilies face.

As it stands now when a parent wants to assume care for their child again, the relatives have to prove to the state that they should continue to be the main care provider, not the other way around.

The Wades said that Shane’s mom calls occasionally to check in. They said Shane and his mom have a relationship, although he is slowly but surely withdrawing from it.

Landon’s relationship with his mom is more complicated, they say. She is an addict and has been in and out of rehab and detox twice in 2016. They say when Landon was living with his mom, he witnessed her and her boyfriend buying and taking drugs.

As of Feb. 10, Landon’s mom had gone through a court-ordered rehab and had been in detox for 28 days. That put her at more than 60 days clean. And although the number is promising, the Wades’ trust in her ability to take care of Landon has eroded.

“We’re raising them. To them, we’re their parents,” Bonnie said. “To them, we’re mom and dad. We get up in the middle of the night with their nightmares and when they’re sick holding their hands.”

Though the Wades say raising their grandkids is not the path they envisioned for themselves, it’s a task they fully intent to carry out until the boys are ready to be on their own, even if their daughters come around at some point and want to assume custody.

The Wades said that when Shane and Landon are ready to graduate high school, they will be the ones sitting in the front row.

“We’re going to take credit for that,” Bonnie said.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.


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