Grandparents as Guardians

Leo was 12, his brother, John, was 17 years old when their grandmother filed for custody and guardianship.{{more}} John himself was a drug addict – his mom introduced him to heroin when he was 15. No one knew. Mom had a job. She had a home. Mom gave Leo marijuana to try but he had seen what drugs had done to her and to his brother and he refused. He called his grandma for help. As Leo said, “my mom wanted a drug partner – that’s why she hooked John but he got too sick and had to go to a hospital.” Leo was wiser than many 45 year olds but as fragile as an infant.

Nationally, nearly 7.8 million children live in a home in which a grandparent or other relative is the “householder.” Of those children, one million live in such a home where neither parent is present. In Connecticut 61,408 children live in non-parent homes with nearly 20,000 grandparents as the primary or sole caregiver. (2010 Census).

Children and families from all walks of life present to the state’s probate courts due to parental abandonment, neglect and abuse. Often, the underlying cause is a parent’s drug and alcohol addictions, incarceration and psychiatric disorders. Our community of Orange is not immune to these problems and challenges.

A relative or the parent may apply to the probate court for temporary custody and removal of guardianship rights and avoid placing the child in a foster home. In an emergency, an ex parte order of temporary custody may be granted to allow for immediate placement of a child at serious risk of harm. In non-emergency situations, a family conference is held within two weeks and the first court hearing no later than 30 days after the applications are filed. The final guardianship hearing occurs within 90 days, after completion of the DCF’s investigation.

When a parent abuses drugs or alcohol, the entire family faces crisis. The grandparent who steps in to care for her grandchildren must put retirement on hold. She must return to parenting long after she thought those days were over. She feels anguish for her own child but rises to the challenge to protect her grandchild. The addicted parent also suffers – not only from addiction but from the guilt and responsibility for failing as a parent. But worst of all is the price paid by the minor child who has often acted more as a parent than vice versa.

He often feels abandoned and betrayed by the parent but at the same time is worried for her safety. The world of drug and alcohol addiction is harsh and painful. To the entire family. As probate judge, I ensure the safe placement of a child and the necessary therapeutic and other services he needs. Someday, the hope is that mom will get treatment and be reunified with Leo. Until then, the probate court works to strengthen and enhance Leo’s opportunities for success.

The Milford-Orange Probate Court is located at the Parsons Complex, 70 W. River St., Milford. Hours are Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Telephone inquiries may be made to: 203-783-3205.