As Mother’s Day approaches, it seems appropriate to give homage to a new breed of mother who has stepped up in the face of adversity to be a role model, counselor, teacher, taxicab and, well, mother.
We are, of course, talking about grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren.
Karin Flositz, CEO of the Community Partnership for Children, said there are 389 children placed with relatives in Volusia County.
CPC partners with public and private agencies, the courts, policymakers and community members to develop and maintain resources that support children and families. Through its efforts and involvement of the community, children are kept safe and families are made stronger.
Substance abuse and domestic violence are the main reasons biological parents are not able to care for their children, Ms. Flositz said.
Sara Odzinski of the CPC said, “As the kinship manager, myself and the licensing specialists work closely with relatives who have children placed with them by the court and we have heard many challenges from caregivers. There are many challenges for grandparents taking over as the role of the ‘parent’ or permanent guardian of their grandchildren. One of the biggest challenges is going from being fun grandma to being in the parental role.
“The children come with trauma from their abuse and the removal and may have behavioral issues,” Ms. Odzinski said. “Therapeutic services . . . may be needed to provide counseling for the child and guidance to the caregiver on implementing rules, structure and providing discipline ideas. The children may be struggling educationally or their medical and dental needs could have been neglected. There are many appointments to attend and frequent visits to the home from child welfare professionals.”
She added, “Grandparents caring for grandchildren impacts the dynamics of the extended family as well. Grandma’s house may have been available for respite for Aunt Sue's and Uncle Charlie’s children when they have date night or a weekend getaway, but now with grandma being a full-time caregiver, she may be too tired to continue in that supportive role. Grandparents are also put in the difficult position of ensuring the safety and well-being of their grandchildren while still being concerned about the safety and well-being of their own child.”
Port Orange resident Deborah Van Deventer at 72, along with husband Mark, have been raising six of seven grandchildren at various times for the last 25 years. An adult grandson lives with them along with 12-year-old Stephen and 10-year-old Kayla.
Ms. Van Deventer described the trials and tribulations watching her adult sons struggle with addiction and mental health issues along with similar problems with their girlfriends, prompting the need for her and her husband to put travel and other plans on hold so as to be there for their grandchildren, who need counseling along with basic needs.
“I saw every one of them born,” she said. “These kids (currently with her) had nothing. There (was) nobody to take them. We have spent everything on our children. All of the money that we had. We just live off (Mark’s) pension and our Social Security now. (The children) had to go on Medicaid.”
If not for the Van Deventers, the grandchildren would be ‘in the system.”
She said taking them in was “Something that we had to do. After seeing all seven born, I couldn’t allow it. I do think raising these kids is making me younger than I am. I’ve lost over 30 pounds and I can sing rap with the best of them. I’m a grandmother, but I’m a mom.”
Ms. Deventer said the future is looking much brighter, though, as Stephen and Kayla’s father who now lives with them has been drug free for four years and is working full time. He is on track to hopefully resume custody in one year with his own home.
Mark Van Deventer said his wife is a mother and a grandmother so that makes her the provider, the protector, all of that at all these different levels.
“It’s just a lot of work. I’m very concerned about her health,” he said. “Any grandmother that raised a family and now they are raising another family, it takes a toll physically, mentally, emotionally, monetarily. In the last 30 days we’ve spent at least $500 just in shoes and clothes for those kids.”
Carolyn Phillips, 67, also of Port Orange, has raised 10 out of 13 grandchildren over the years at different times even now frequently helping out financially. She had grandchildren living with her since she was 43. She said of grandmothers in these situations, “I’m glad we’re around to do it because the necessity is there. These kids need somebody. Sometimes it angers me to not have any personal life. But you have no choice but to step up. I have a daughter that’s a single mother because her husband is an addict. I’ve been helping her for years as he’s been in and out of jail.”
Occasionally she has housed both her adult children and grandchildren at the same time. Ms. Phillips agreed some have been due to spousal military deployments, but in other cases mental health and substance abuse issues have been a primary reason for her to have needed to intervene.
Any given day you can see grandmothers in line at elementary schools waiting to pick up their grandchildren, many of whom live with them.
But perhaps Ms. Odzinski said it best by stating “Even with the greatest challenges come the greatest rewards. The snuggles, the hugs, the school art projects on the refrigerator. The first steps, the first words and the first lost tooth. And, most importantly, the peace of mind knowing their grandchildren are safe and sound in their home.”