WILKES-BARRE - Local grandparents who are raising grandchildren due to the opioid crisis pleaded with Gov. Tom Wolf and area lawmakers on Wednesday to do more to help.
Wolf heard stories of children being improperly unified with addicted parents, challenges in getting trauma counseling and financial woes during his visit to the Jewish Community Center.
“Pennsylvania can do better,” Brenda Saba, of Wyoming, told the governor. “I’m 55 years old, but I feel 75. I’m tired.”
She and her husband adopted their grandson in 2009, and she’s been a vocal advocate for grandparents like her.
“Anyone who can sit here and tell me reunifying children with chronically addicted parents is a good idea doesn’t get it,” she said.
Other grandparents told Wolf how once they officially adopted their grandchildren, state aid, such as food stamps, were cut dramatically. Foster parents gets as much as four times as much, they said.
“The whole point of this is we understand Pennsylvania can do better,” Wolf said, noting discussions like this one will help state officials respond better to the problems.
More than 80,000 grandparents are raising grandchildren in Pennsylvania, many because of the opioid crisis.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-120, Wilkes-Barre, says he has two House bills aimed at helping the situation.
One would grant grandparents temporary emergency guardianship to allow them to make basic legal decisions, like medical care, just like a parent. The parent would be evaluated every 90 days to see if they were in recovery.
The other is the Kinship Caregiver Navigator Program, a website and a toll-free hotline for grandparents to let them know services available.
Addicts normally are not in the right mindset to care for a child, yet sometimes still want to, Pashinski said.
“All they think about is their next fix, but they want that child too,” Pashinski said.
Pashinski saluted the grandparents for their commitment to raising the next generation of their family. He said they are saving the state $1 billion a year that would otherwise be paid to foster families.
John Calomino, 57, of Shavertown, told the panel about how he and his wife are caring for their 8-year-old granddaughter.
“She was born severely drug addicted,” Calomino said.
Their other grandson is being cared for by his other set of grandparents.
“Yes, opioid addiction has hit us hard,” he said.