Grandparents stepping up for children of opiate addicts

- Child welfare systems across the country are straining to place children of opioid-addicted parents in safe homes. 

The addiction to heroin, fentanyl, and opioid-based pain pills is a problem that continues to affect many families. To keep young victims of the crisis out of the foster care system, grandparents and other relatives are stepping forward to take on the task of becoming parents.

Debra Floyd is a grandmother of 18 who never pictures she would become a mom again at the age of 62.

"My boys are 38 and 42," said Floyd. "My niece has six children. She ended up losing her first three children to the system."

In 2014, Floyd took her then 2-year-old nephew into her home to raise him as her own. The other children were placed in the care of Floyd's mother and other relatives.

"It was supposed to have been for four months, but now it's been four years since I've had him," said Floyd.

She found help at the Children's Home Network in Tampa. 

Larry Cooper, the chief of prevention and intervention, said the Children's Home Network is currently seeing a 15- to 30-percent increase in the need for foster care in Tampa Bay and across Florida.

"We've had parents die from overdoses. We've seen parents who are homeless or really doing a lot of at-risk behaviors," said Cooper. 

To keep children with their natural families, the Children's Home Network offers a program called Kinship, which helps grandparents and relatives navigate through their change in roles.

Workers, some of them grandparents in the same situation, teach others how to enroll children into school, where to find legal advice and how to apply for public benefits, such as food stamps and medical insurance.

"Grandparents now are having to do diapers, midnight changes, feeding babies, toilet training and temper tantrums," said Cooper.

Even with a small amount of monthly financial help, Floyd said her new responsibilities are challenging.

She and other grandparents go to a support group at the children's home to find comfort and advice.

"I've gone there many days crying. 'God I can't take this anymore,'" said Floyd, "but [there's] always somebody there, another parent, another grandparent, that's either going through what I'm going through or sharing their experience. It's like medicine."

Like most of the relatives with Kinship, Floyd said she wants to see her niece regain custody of her children.

According to Floyd, her nephew's mother has been clean for a year and a half now, and she is working to rebuild her life without drugs.

"It's magnified the issue for me personally, because I look at my own family and then I look at my neighborhood, how this opioid issue has almost degraded the neighborhood. Something needs to be done about it," said Floyd.

On Friday, May 4, the Children's Home Network will host a fundraiser event called 'A Night to Remember' to raise money for programs like Kinship. It will take place at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, 522 N Howard Avenue, in Tampa, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., featuring a live band.

For more information on Kinship or to seek assistance, visit www.childrenshomenetwork.org/kinship-services.

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