Grandparents step in when addiction leaves thousands without parents

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The opioid epidemic could have left them orphans. Instead, more than 12,000 children, abandoned by addicted parents in Massachusetts, are being raised in loving homes.

Grandparents raising their grandchildren are saving the state millions and keeping those kids out of foster care.

They do it out of love.

But Boston 25 News anchor Vanessa Welch discovered when she traveled the state talking to these families, it's not easy - and they could use the state's help.

Vicky Ruvido of Braintree remembers the Thanksgiving Day 5 years ago when her daughter returned home, and her life changed.

Her daughter was high on heroin, and visibly pregnant.

Three months later, Vicky Ruvido became a grandmother. Her daughter left the hospital instead of going into treatment. Vicky took custody of the baby girl.

“I was this baby's only chance,” Vicky recalls.

Instead of looking at retirement, Vicky started looking into how to pay for daycare.

“Making college tuition payments, paying a mortgage - I'm a single parent, I have been for a long time. I just couldn't do it,” Vicky said.

Margo Chevers runs support groups for families like Vicky’s, and said the financial stress of taking in a grandchild suddenly can often be difficult.  She’s heard tragic stories, and has lived through it herself.

Margo is raising her great-granddaughters, because their mom struggles with mental illness. The girls appreciate her sacrifice.

“Who is my mom?  I say, it's the person who picks me up every day. Even though it's my grandma, because I love her like my mom,” said Alyssa Turgeon.
 
“I'm grateful we're not in foster care. We might've gone to foster care and been separated,” adds her sister Alexandria Benson.

“We're saving these children. They're not going into a stranger's house,” Margo said.

These grandparents are also saving the state millions by keeping thousands of kids out of foster care.  They do it without many of the resources foster parents get easily.
    
A state commission on "Grandparents Raising Grandchildren" toured 8 communities with the Attorney's General's office last fall: Boston, Worcester, Lowell, Dartmouth, Bourne, Pittsfield, Westfield, and Greenfield.

They found a 55% jump in "kinship caregivers" since 2010. They found a lack of resources was the biggest concern for those families.

“You go into court, you get custody. Nobody tells you that there is any help anywhere,” said Margo.

House Bill 2274 was filed this year to make those resources more available. It's still in committee. Retired GRG Chair and State Rep. John Lepper raised his grandchildren after his daughter overdosed. He's pushing the state to pass the bill.

“Providing assistance to those that are doing it on their own in terms of daycare, in terms of legal assistance, in terms of housing, so they don't end up needing more social workers,” is important Lepper said.

It took years for Vicky to gain access to daycare vouchers, transitional assistance, and health care. She cut her work hours and moved-in with her parents. But she says it's all worth it to do what's right for her family.

“I do have hope.  And my hope is through my granddaughter, because she looks at me every morning with those big blue eyes and says ‘Nonni, i love you’.  And she's my hope and my joy. And I know that my daughter will be okay,” Vicky said.

The Massachusetts Dept. of Children and Families tells Boston 25 News it’s seen an influx of children because of the opioid epidemic.

“Tragically, this crisis impacts not just the individual with addictions but their loved ones, in particular children. DCF continues to institute systematic reforms addressing numerous factors, including substance use disorders and family instability, that cause an increase in the need for foster care. We remain vigilant in our efforts to do what is best for children and urge public support in increasing our supply of caring foster homes,” said DCF spokesperson Andrea Grossman.

You can learn more about the resources for grandparents raising grandchildren here.

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