More Utahns raising relatives' children due to parents' substance abuse

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18 2013 7:46 p.m. MDT

Nathaniel and Miriam Childs are raising their nephew, Andre. The Taylorsville couple have guardianship of the 10-year-old boy and are raising him as their own. Photo taken Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — They're in practically every neighborhood, grandparents and other relatives who have stepped up to raise their grandchildren or other child relatives.

According to the Children's Service Society's analysis of U.S. Census Bureau figures, 10 percent of Utah children are being raised by a grandparent or other related adult because their birth parents are unable to care for them.

They are couples like Nathaniel and Miriam Childs, who are raising their nephew, Andre. The Taylorsville couple have guardianship of the 10-year-old boy and are raising him as their own.

As is the case with so many children being raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles and even siblings, Andre's mother, Miriam's sister, is addicted to drugs. Experts say poverty and mental illness also play a role.

After watching the boy flounder in the care of relatives out of state, the couple made a deliberate choice to give the boy the stability and predictability his life had lacked, Nathaniel Childs said.

Married for 32 years, Nathaniel and Miriam Childs had raised three children. They were at place in life where they were contemplating a future as empty nesters and making plans for their retirement.

At the same time, Andre's life was becoming increasingly unstable, Nathaniel Childs said. At one point, Andre's mother asked the couple if anything happened to her if they would take care of Andre. They said they would. A short time later, he was living in their home.

"All of sudden it becomes very real. You have to stick by your commitment. I am, and my wife is, really committed to this child and his successes," he said.

Although they are experienced parents and Miriam Childs is a schoolteacher, raising a relative's child poses different issues than parenting a biological child.

Not knowing where to turn, Nathaniel Childs called the state Division of Child and Family Services. The division referred him to the Children's Service Society's Grandfamilies program.

The program helped guide the couple through the legal and emotional challenges of parenting their nephew. In particular, Nathaniel Childs wanted legal guardianship to ensure he and his wife could make decisions on Andre's behalf.

The Grandfamilies program also reassured them that they are among tens of thousands of Utahns who are providing kinship care to grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other relatives.

"The thing people don't know is, they're not the only ones in the situation they're in," Childs said. "As soon as you're able to convince yourself you want support of people in similar situations, you find your stories are strikingly similar."

Some families hesitate to reach out for help because of shame, says Jacci Graham, co-executive director of the Children's Service Society. Academic researchers from Utah Valley University found some family members had been toughing it out on their own before reaching out for the assistance of the society.

On Wednesday, the agency rolled out the website grandfamiliesutah.org to assist families online. The website provides practical advice and referrals to programs and services, including support groups offered by the Children's Service Society.

Elder Merrill Bateman, former president of BYU and an emeritus general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he has become painfully aware of the significant challenges these families face as he has served on a statewide committee on kinship care.

When he first learned of the issues, Elder Bateman said he reasoned, "They raised children before. Why can't they raise the second generation?"

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