(WETM) — It’s something that has become more and more familiar each day: More grandparents are raising their grandchildren as their own. The cause for many is the Opioid Epidemic.
According to a 2017 report done by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, about 90,000 grandparents are responsible for the basic needs of kids under the age of 18. That’s approximately 195,000 kids averaging out to 7.5% of kids in the state of Pennsylvania.
The report also showed that 20% of grandparents are living under the poverty line.
In December of 2019, 18 News Reporter Tai Wong met a couple who were raising their grandson, Arthur. Since then, a support group in Lawrenceville reached out to 18 News about a group called “Grandsavers are Lifesavers.”
The group is made up of grandparents or older adults who have taken the responsibility of raising children other than their own due to financial issues, drug addiction or abusive relationships.
This group came together after one grandparent reached out to Jane Montague, former RB Walter Elementary School principal, about losing her daughter to opioids. The grandparent took the responsibility of raising their grandchild and did not know what to do.
Montague already knew about Theresa and Randy Swain – a couple who is raising their grandchildren – and informed them about the news she got.
“And that was it,” said Swain. “We started the group.”
Grandsavers are Lifesavers kicked off its fifth year back in October of 2019. The group meets every second Wednesday of each month at the Williamson High School in Lawrenceville.
“When we first started, all we did was talk. That was it, you just talked,” said Swain. “You realized you were not the only grandparents. The children realized, ‘oh my gosh, I’m not the only one being raised by my grandparents.'”
Grandchildren are also gaining a positive affirmation being a part of the group. Through monetary donations and fundraisers, Grandsavers are able to raise money to go on outings such as bowling, Knoebels Amusement Park, swimming and more.
Grandsavers are Lifesavers recently became a 501-3C. Anyone who donates is able to write it off on their taxes.
Pennsylvania 68th District Representative Clint Owlett attended a meeting and listened to the grandparents speak up and share their stories. He told Wong that it was the hardest meeting that he ever sat through.
“It’s overwhelming to hear what these folks are going through,” said Owlett. “This is the ripple effect of abusive habits that people are in, and to hear what they’ve gone through and the sacrifices that they’ve made for these kids…it tugs at your heart and you can’t help but want to help and do whatever you possibly can.”
Many grandparents mentioned financial issues. At the meeting, some spoke out about needing to use their retirement funds to help raise these children, but still aren’t receiving help from officials.
“These grandparents are raising these kids on a shoestring budget,” said Owlett. “A lot of them are tapped out as far as their income so financially. I think there’s more we can do.”
Owlett said these are the problems that they will be looking at in Harrisburg.
“These are true heroes in our communities,” said Owlett. “Being able to tell their stories and for people to hear whats going on, and to create a network and support base to help each other out is huge.”