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Meth Addiction Puts Parenting Burdens on Grandparents

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Children of parents debilitated by methamphetamine addiction often end up living with their grandparents, who must put off retirement just when they thought their child-raising years were over, the Chicago Tribune reported Jan. 10.

Tennessee residents Delta Cottrell, 56, and her husband, Paul, 57, are caring for their 7- and 11-year-old grandchildren because Delta's addicted stepdaughter lost custody of the kids. “When this happens, your whole life is imposed upon, but it is by choice because there is no other way,” said Paul. “I would not take anything for my children, but our new lifestyle means there is no time for me, and more of my hard-earned money is going toward things I had not planned for.”

Often, “grandfamilies” are seen as the only alternative to foster care and child-welfare systems that are staggering under the impact of meth addiction and other problems. The 2000 census showed the 4.5 million U.S. children lived with their grandparents, up 30 percent from 1990, and another 1.5 million live with other relatives.

In states like Montana, Iowa, and Oregon, the majority of foster-care placements are due to meth. “Because of meth and other problems, grandparents have become lifelines for so many hurt children,” said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, an advocacy group for grandparents.

The trend has prompted advocates to ask Congress to provide more support to grantparents who are raising their grandchildren, as well as asking states to give grantparents the same rights as foster parents and ease licensing laws.

“In the foster care system, there are restraints on how many bathrooms you can have. You have to go through parenting classes, and there is oversight,” Butts said. “Under current rules, a grandparent would have to ask the court if the child can travel outside the state or spend the night with friends. These rules are outdated.”

Grandparents also have to deal with the health problems often suffered by children from homes used as meth labs. Illinois has established a “subsidized guardianship” program that gives grandparents financial assistance as well as the same rights as foster parents in raising their grandchildren. 

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