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Actively Aging: Grandparents raising grandchildren as children

Eau Claire (WQOW) – Grandparents raising their grandchildren as their own children is more common than many realize.

Like a game with dice, life can be unexpected. Robyn Lee’s role reversed from grandparent to parent.

“It’s different than what we anticipated,” said Lee. “All of a sudden we’re raising three kids again. Both the parents are incarcerated so the children will be with us for the long haul.”

Lee, who lives in New Auburn, said it was the result of drugs, alcohol and mental illness.

“And it all kind of goes together. Drugs can really enhance the mental health issue,” Lee said.

Her situation mirrors that of many within the actively aging population. Dana Greicar, an options counselor for the Aging and Disability Resource Center in Eau Claire, said there are more than 60,000 grandparents raising their grandchildren in Wisconsin.

“And those are only the situations that are reported,” Greicar said. “So I’m sure that there are more that aren’t reported.”

Lee said most grandparents feel too old to be put in this type of situation.

“Most of us are in our retirement age and thinking that we were going to be able to do road trips or go on trips with our spouse and do that alone,” Lee said. “But it’s, you know, we can’t think about ourselves in this situation, we have to think about the kids that need our care.”

Lee leads a grandparents and others as parents support group called GAP. They meet the first Thursday of every month at River Pines and Prairie Point in Altoona.

“We offer moral support, emotional support, we might laugh, we might cry, we tell our stories to each other,” Lee said. “We have a lunch that is provided to us by a church in Bloomer. We have a speaker that comes in.”

About eight people currently attend the group but there’s space for many more.

“There are so many more people that I’ve talked to in the area that are in the same situation as we are,” Lee said.

According to Angie Pichler, a social worker with the Eau Claire County Foster Care Program, in 2018 there were 67 children in Eau Claire County that were placed with a family member. Throughout the course of 2018, 162 children were known to be in a relative’s care; either because it was voluntary, or ordered by the court.

Bridget Curran

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