WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)- Right now about 90,000 grandparents in Pennsylvania are raising their own grandchildren. One local lawmaker thinks the court system could do a better job helping families facing some tough circumstances.
Many people may be unaware that grandparents have no legal rights as far as custody or control of their grandchildren is concerned in Pennsylvania. Grandparents want that to change and Wednesday they gave state officials an earful.
The majority of the people at a forum at Wilkes University are grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. There are many reasons they were thrust into the situation, including domestic violence in the home involving the parents and the ever-growing opioid addiction epidemic.
Beth O’Boyle gained custody of her grandson but it was not easy nor was it cheap.
“They need financial help with the legal system,” she said. “Most lawyers want a retainer of a couple thousand dollars even before you can walk into the courtroom and most of these grandparents don’t have that.”
Joining the grandparents are members of local community groups that try to help them out.
“There are a lot of citizens who really don’t understand the extent to which grandparents raising grandchildren exists and today’s event will make it much more viable and meaningful,” says Howard Grossman of NEPA Intergenerational Coalition.
“The sad reality is that grandparents take on this responsibility and they need support in doing so and this discussion is great, it allows people to come together and share ideas to come up with some solutions,” says John Aciukewica, Executive Director of C.A.S.A.
State Representative Eddie Day Pashinski has introduced House Bill 1539 that would give grandparents legal rights for custody of their grandchildren.
“Grandparents right now always have to go to court to do anything in order to take care of these children, their grandchildren,” he said. “1539 would give them that emergency guardianship during that period of time.”
Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne was on the panel hearing from the grandparents.
“We as state officials, we as local officials, and our community providers need to pause,” she said. “We need to listen to the voices of the grand parents, what their journey is, what the challenges are, what the stigmas are so seeded with this to make sure they have the resources available to them to be successful as possible raising these children.”
Secretary Osborne says grandparents raising their grandchildren also saves taxpayers money, lots of money. It would cost Pennsylvania around $1 billion if all of those children had to be placed into foster homes.
Lawmakers are expected to debate the house bill introduced by Representative Pashinski by the end of the year. He is confident it will be passed.